Jokinen wants to stay with Flames

Calgary Flames' Olli Jokinen. (JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)

Calgary Flames' Olli Jokinen. (JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY)

Eric Francis, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

Olli Jokinen wants to retire with the Calgary Flames.

And with that in mind, his agent recently flew into Calgary and met with Flames GM Jay Feaster to start the ball rolling on trying to extend his NHL contract.

While the notion of re-upping the 33-year-old centre would have been pure folly when he was brought back here two summers ago, his leadership and inspired play this season have essentially put the Flames in a position where they can’t afford not to re-sign the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.

Without him, the Flames could theoretically start next season with Mikael Backlund, Blair Jones, Roman Horak and Matt Stajan as the club’s starting middlemen.

Jokinen, 36-year-old Brendan Morrison and converted centre David Moss are all UFAs in July.

As any GM will tell you, finding a big, strong, productive centre may be one of the toughest — and most important — commodities to land when piecing together a winning squad.

And they don’t come cheap, although Jokinen sure did last time.

Jokinen was signed here as a free agent on a memorable July 1, 2010, for almost half (US$3 million) of the $5.5 million he previously made. His stock was low for many reasons.

“I was coming off an off-year of 50 points, and at the time, I was getting bad press as being a bad teammate,” Jokinen said.

“(Then-Flames GM) Darryl (Sutter) knew that wasn’t the case, but at the same time, when things like that are flying around the media, it’s easy to jump in and believe the story. I was surprised Darryl called, but I wanted to come back. I don’t think there was too much (salary-)cap room here.”

Jokinen said he also accepted less money in exchange for a no-trade clause, as his family loves Calgary.

“It gives security, and you can tell your wife and kids that ‘even if it doesn’t work out, we can choose to stay here if we like,’ ” Jokinen said. “At the end of the day, you can control your fate a little.”

His fate now lies with Jay Feaster, who will have 13 contracts expiring this summer from the current roster. It means he’ll have more money to spend, and Jokinen will command a raise if he stays.

Having finally found a way to mesh with Flames shooting star Jarome Iginla, Jokinen anchored the club’s top line most of the year while also focusing on a defensive side of the game that has helped him become the team’s most consistent skater this season.

“They need to sit down and figure it out, because it’s no secret I want to stay,” Jokinen said of the preliminary contract talks between his agent, Ian Pulver, and Feaster.

“I know how the business goes, and nothing is set in stone. They know what I want, and the ball is in their hands.”

Armed the last couple years with a renewed focus on fitness, Jokinen’s dedication and preparation goes far beyond what his reputation suggests.

He quit drinking six years ago, he consults with a personal sports psychologist before every game and is committed to showing up every game mentally fresh. Unselfish on the ice as opposed to being a pure shooter when he arrived, he is a playmaker now.

While it’s clear a player with Jokinen’s numbers could command upwards of $5 million on the open market, Pulver refused to throw out comparables.

“His No. 1 priority is to stay in Calgary,” Pulver said.

“He likes the ownership, the management, coaches and teammates and loves playing in front of 20,000 (fans) every night and wants to win there. He’s taken his commitment and preparation on game day to a higher level than most.”

Unlike past years, Jokinen insists his contract situation won’t be a distraction.

Instead, it’s an opportunity — for both sides.


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