CALGARY - Olli Jokinen is hoping his is not a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.
With just one year left on his two-year deal, the 32-year-old Flames centre says he’d like nothing more than to sign another deal to extend his stay in Calgary. And he’s willing to talk contract as soon as the Flames are.
“Absolutely,” said Jokinen, who will make US$3 million this season.
“My kids and wife love it here. The school system is great. People are really nice and hockey matters. A lot of times you try to go somewhere else and think it might be better but it isn’t always true. I know that. Hopefully, I have a lot of years left here.”
A year ago those words would have scared most fans.
But after a full season anchoring the Flames second unit Jokinen atoned somewhat for his first disastrous go-round with the club.
Finishing third on the team last season with 54 points, including 17 goals, Jokinen was chiefly responsible for going up against the opposition’s top trio.
And while his minus-17 rating might suggest he struggled in that capacity most would agree the big Finn was a far more useful piece than he was during his previous incarnation in Calgary.
“I felt really comfortable playing against the other team’s top line — it’s an important role and one I’ve never had before,” said Jokinen, who wore the associate captain’s A on his jersey for Calgary’s split-squad game against Vancouver at the Dome Tuesday night.
“It’s not all about the points but you look at (Vancouver’s Ryan) Kesler and he has a similar role and scored 40 goals. It’s no secret I’d like to score that many goals but I don’t want to put that extra pressure on myself. Neither do the coaches. The biggest thing is to play that 15 to 20 minutes with a defensive mindset. Thing is, a lot of times it can be easier to score when you have that defensive mindset than it is when you’re the guy everyone is expecting to get the puck.”
When Jokinen was first acquired by former GM Darryl Sutter in late 2008/09 the four-time 30-goal scorer was being paid $5.25 million to not only get the puck by way of dominating battles, but finish plays with it.
Despite endless attempts to use him alongside Jarome Iginla, the duo rarely meshed, prompting Sutter to trade Jokinen before the following season after scoring just 11 times in 56 outings.
When bizarrely re-signed by Sutter as a free agent in the summer of 2010 he was the talk not only of the town, but of the hockey world.
Now the talk is all about the fact his bald head is now adorned with hair.
“New season, new tricks,” laughed the much more relaxed veteran.
Jokinen responded to the furor over his re-signing as a free agent last summer by suggesting the smaller paycheque would take pressure off him and help him be a more productive player, albeit in a lesser role.
Last season was considered average by most, but respectable given how much he was paid.
“The first 30 games we were looking for the rest of the players outside Jarome and Alex (Tanguay) to find the right linemates,” explained Jokinen.
“Somehow, I really clicked with (Curtis) Glencross and things got better.”
Given he’s playing for another contract, he hopes things will go better still as he’s penciled in to open the season between Lee Stempniak and Rene Bourque.
“You know the owners here are willing to do whatever to have the best possible chance to win and while you never know about the economics, if you go somewhere else here you know they’ll be close to the cap,” said the former Panther, Coyote and Ranger.
“I’m open to talking (contract) — I just have to get (former teammate-turned executive Craig) Conroy to use his power.”
Fact is, Jokinen’s play will go much further towards determining his future than Conroy will.