Re-signing Jokinen a King-sized task

Olli Jokinen has expressed interest in signing an extension with the Flames, but will the surging...

Olli Jokinen has expressed interest in signing an extension with the Flames, but will the surging centre's price end up being too high for the club? (CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/Getty Images/AFP)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:46 AM ET

CALGARY - On Sunday, he scored the game-winning goal, shut down the Minnesota Wild in the final minute and won the final faceoff to ice the victory.

At the tail end of an NHL season during which Olli Jokinen really did do it all, the only question left is … does he ride horses, too?

Last spring, Ken King and the Calgary Flames found a way to convince pending free agent Curtis Glencross to swallow a whole bunch of money waiting on the open market by taking him on an influential horseback ride.

The made-in-Alberta approach worked.

Olli is this year’s Glencross.

While Jokinen made it clear more than three months ago he and his family very much want to remain in Calgary for the rest of his career, the Flames opted not to entertain the possibility of re-signing the 33-year-old centre during the season.

It will end up being a very pricey move if he is re-upped after the season since Jokinen has been the Flames top centre — by far.

Not only has he focused on shutting down the opposition’s top line, but he’s one point behind Jarome Iginla for the team’s scoring lead.

In his last 45 games, Jokinen has 16 goals and 44 points and has been one of the driving forces behind the Flames’ annual second-half resurgence.

He’s found a way to mesh with Iginla on the top line when called upon and has also continued to build on his tremendous chemistry with Glencross.

Just imagine the Flames centre-ice ranks without him this season or next.

Recent deals signed by Tuomo Ruuttu (a US$4.75 million cap hit), Ales Hemsky ($5 million) and Mikhail Grabovski ($5.5 million) have upped the ante for Jokinen, who will be the league’s most coveted unrestricted free agent centre July 1 if the Flames don’t saddle him up by then.

Jokinen used to make $5.25 million before returning to the Flames as a UFA two years ago at $3 million. His stock was down due to plunging stats and rumours around the league he was a bad teammate.

The Flames knew otherwise and gave him a low-ball offer as then-GM Darryl Sutter also knew Jokinen’s family loved it here. Fact was, the Flames had major cap issues and Jokinen had few options.

Both situations have changed.

Although it’s scary to think about how barren the middle of the ice would be in Calgary next year without an impact player like Jokinen in the lineup, it’s unfair to simply suggest the Flames must sign him at all costs.

The organization is working hard to get younger (forced to in many ways), and the organization has missed the playoffs the last two years largely because Sutter continually signed and re-signed older players in what is becoming more and more a young man’s league.

At 33 but in phenomenal shape, Jokinen is likely hoping to cash in with a long-term deal, which would likely scare the Flames. Jokinen’s agent, Ian Pulver, says the parameters of any possible deal have not been discussed with the Flames, as the club wants the focus to remain on the playoff race.

They’ve agreed to keep things quiet until after the season at which point the Flames will undoubtedly take their best shot at keeping Jokinen for something significantly south of $5-million annually.

King better have his best horse ready to go, as this one won’t be easy.


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