WINNIPEG - The newest Winnipeg Jet to hit town, and its biggest free agent acquisition, had an interesting comment, Thursday, about his short time in the city.
“We’ve only been here for a week,” Olli Jokinen was saying. “But it feels like we’ve been here for months already.”
He meant that in a good way. The place feels like home for the former Calgary Flame, Phoenix Coyote, New York Ranger, Florida Panther, New York Islander and L.A. King (exhale, here).
It’s the next few months that could really drag on. Might even make friendly old Manitoba a little ornery.
The possibility of the NHL shutting down for the second time in his career could result in Jokinen doing many more family skates like Thursday’s, when he had his two daughters on the ice with him, and nobody else.
Jokinen could be well past his 34th birthday by the time he plays his first game as a Jet.
He’s been down this road before, of course, the memory of the lost 2004-05 season still fresh in his mind.
Not because of how miserable it was, either.
Jokinen had a blast the last time the NHL locked out its players and stuck it to its fans, traveling and playing around Europe (Switzerland, Sweden, Finland) with his wife and young kids.
“My kids weren’t in school, yet, so it was a lot easier that time around to see the world and play hockey at the same time,” he said. “It was fun. It’s OK to do it once, but not twice in your career.”
This time it’s different.
The Jokinens have already got the girls into a school and bought a house here. So if the league shuts down again, dad isn’t in a big hurry to play overseas — even though he is now a part-owner of his old Finnish team, HIFK in Helsinki.
“That would be the one option,” he said. “I’m hoping I don’t have to use Plan B. Plan A is to get the kids in school, get settled here and keep training... and when you get that call that the deal’s done, you’re ready.”
When that may happen is anybody’s guess.
Talking to Jokinen you quickly realize how far apart the two sides are — and how much animosity remains from the last war.
“We missed one season, already,” he said. “This system the league put in, we missed a year, we rolled our salaries back 24%... are we the ones going to roll back and give this, give that? It’s frustrating. But like everybody’s been saying, all we want is a fair deal.”
On a point of principle, he’s right, of course.
And he’s right when he says it’s time for the owners who are making gobs of money to start sharing with those losing gobs of money.
But in the same breath Jokinen also showed how out of touch with reality the whole thing is, including the players’ stand.
“Owners have to figure it out. You gotta ask them if they’re willing to share. I guess everybody wants to make the money, nobody wants to pay the employees.
“It’s probably the same situation for you guys, too,” he continued, nodding at the media types before him. “All of you guys would want to get a raise. All you guys wouldn’t be too happy if you would have to roll your salaries back.”
Trouble is the rollback the average player took last time would have been four or five times what the average media hack in that scrum earns in a year.
The players, or owners, for that matter, won’t get one tear drop of sympathy from the ticket-buying public, nor should they.
Somebody asked Jokinen what he, the hockey owner, would pay Jokinen, the player.
“That’s a good question,” he said, smiling. “I don’t know. Probably nothing.”
If Jokinen is playing for nothing in Finland later this winter, that’ll tell you everything you need to know.