April 6, 2012
Damage control for Flames' Jokinen
By Eric Francis, QMI Agency
No one disputes the fact Olli Jokinen wasn’t right during the final three weeks of the season.
However, there is now debate over whether his late-season struggles had to do with an injury or not.
And getting to the bottom of the issue will undoubtedly factor into the decision on whether or not the Flames choose to try re-signing the team’s top centre this summer.
Jokinen’s agent, Ian Pulver, told the Calgary Sun his client has been suffering from a debilitating mid-body injury that turned an otherwise solid season into a colossal disappointment starting in mid-March.
“He has played with some significant mid-body injuries to try doing the best he could for the team,” Pulver said.
“Olli is somewhat of an iron man. He hasn’t missed a game and he should be applauded.”
A source inside the dressing room, familiar with Jokinen’s ailment, says an MRI showed a mild abdominal strain.
“It’s not something that hindered his play,” said the source.
“Guys play through stuff far worse than that this time of year. Talk that it’s much worse is just an excuse.”
To Jokinen’s credit he has refused to use an injury as an excuse for an horrific stretch that has seen him go minus-14 in his last 10 games — a stretch that has seen him score twice and add no assists — while the club lost eight times and fell out of playoff contention.
Asked point blank last week if he was playing while injured, the Finnish veteran simply said he didn’t want to comment.
Up until his late struggles, the 33-year-old was considered one of the bright spots of an otherwise lost season for the Flames. Not only was he the club’s top centre who drew praise for his selfless defensive play, he also briefly topped Jarome Iginla for the team points lead.
“Olli was one of the most versatile and durable centres in the NHL and one of the main reasons the Flames stayed in the playoff race as long as they did, and anyone in the Flames organization knows that,” said Pulver, whose main goal is to extend Jokinen’s stay in Calgary by at least another two years, as opposed to shopping him around the league as an unrestricted free agent.
“He once had reputation of being selfish, but now he’s quite the opposite.”
Jokinen has indeed developed into a true pro, cutting alcohol out of his diet a handful of years ago, dedicating himself to being in tremendous shape, hiring a personal masseuse and consulting with a sports psychologist before every game.
The last two seasons he has made US$3 million and is undoubtedly worthy of a raise.
Due to a shortage of UFA centres and the recent contracts handed out to various players like Toronto centre Mikhail Grabovski (five years/$27.5 million) Jokinen may very well command more than $5 million on the open market: a price the Flames will likely have little interest in coughing up especially if they feel Jokinen’s injury was not debilitating enough to explain his play down the stretch.
His 23 goals and 61 points represents a bounce-back season for Jokinen, who has made it clear he and his family would like to stay in Calgary for the duration of his career.
With major changes on the horizon for a franchise clearly in need of a makeover, there’s a very real possibility the organization will opt to replace Jokinen with a younger, cheaper player.
Of the 10 free agents Feaster will have to decide on this summer Jokinen’s status will say the most in terms of how drastic the Flames plan on trying to makeover their roster.
On Twitter: @ericfrancis