Does Olli Jokinen get a bad rap? He's only 31, and since 2001-02, he's scored 36, 26, 38, 39, 34 and 29 goals.
Last year was the first year since 2001-02 that he scored fewer than 26 goals -- 15 with Calgary and the Rangers.
I talked with Jokinen this morning from his home in Parkland, Florida. The former Panthers captain said he simply had one bad year, is training hard and is determined to once again prove himself to the NHL. He also maintains he's not the cancer he's sometimes portrayed to be.
Once considered a No. 3 overall bust, Jokinen nearly quit the NHL and returned to his native Finland before breaking out in Florida under the coaching of Mike Keenan. He turned into a goal scorer and All-Star.
But even in Florida, every time he scored 30 goals, nobody believed it was the real Olli Jokinen. He had to sign one-year deal after one-year deal after one-year deal until finally earning a four-year, $21 million deal before the 2006-07 season. He says he understands he might have to sign a short-term deal again and isn't afraid of that.
I'd think the Wild would be interested in signing Jokinen to a short-term deal a few days into free agency -- depending of course what happens July 1 or 2. GM Chuck Fletcher has a history with Jokinen -- there when GM Bryan Murray swindled the Islanders into a Jokinen-Roberto Luongo trade and was interim GM at one point. It would be ironic if Jokinen is signed by the Wild since the Wild long pursued Jokinen in trades with Florida.
Jokinen says it's too early to tell where he'd sign, but he is intrigued by Minnesota. He thinks it's a better team that it finished last year and says Finns Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Antti Miettinen "love playing there" and raved about it throughout the Olympics.
"I know there are lot of Finns that live in Minnesota. We were joking that Finnish people that want to move to the U.S. must look at a map and say, 'Where is the weather most like Finland?'"
By the way, on an aside, Jokinen said he nearly bought a 20-percent share stake in HIFK Helsinki last summer. In his conversations, he said the Helsinki folks were telling him about some future stud top-10 pick named Mikael Granlund.
Here's a Q&A with Jokinen. It gets good in the middle:
What’s your thoughts entering free agency? “We have to wait and see what’s going to happen and what kind of offers. For me, I kind of had a tough year last year. First time I scored less than 25 goals for a long, long time, you know? I’ve been training hard all summer to add some muscle so I can get back to where I was. I know I will get back. For me, I have some ideas where I want to go, but at the end of the day, I’m just going to wait and see what teams are interested. You just want to go somewhere where you can fit well. You want to play your own game. That’s what every player looks. There’s some players who look to sign for a lot of money and they don’t really care where they go play, but for me, I just want to go to a place where I can enjoy playing and where there’s that confidence from the management standpoint as well that I can do some stuff.”
Does Minnesota intrigue you? “It’s one of those teams you hate to play against, that’s for sure. They have good goaltending over there, they have good No. 1 center over there with Mikko. It’s sold out every game, you know? You want to play places like that where there’s a hockey state in Minnesota.”
What do you most want at this stage in this career? “It’s kind of tough because you don’t know who’s going to be out there. You don’t want to make too many plans ahead. It’s not like I’d be like, ‘You know what, I don’t want to go to that place.’ I don’t think there’s a place in the league you don’t want to go.”
Do you think because of the year you had and because frankly some people may think you’re a risk that you may have to sign a short-term deal to get your career back on track? “Well, I’m open for anything, you know? I just got to see what’s out there. You never know what’s out there to be honest. But for me, I don’t have a problem to sign short-term. I think I’m in a different position than a lot of the other free agents. I lot of the guys are ready to cash in. They want to get a long-term deal. Who wouldn’t want that? I think every player would love to have a 10-year deal in their pocket. But for me the biggest thing is to go to the place where I can be myself, where I can enjoy hockey. That’s the biggest thing. You want to go to the place where you have a chance to win, too. You want to be in the playoffs. You want to be a contender. You don’t want to go places where they’re just hoping to get in. You don’t get any younger. I’m 31. I still think I can play six, seven years at this level. I’m in better shape now than I was five years ago, four years ago.”
Do you think you’ve gotten a bad rap? I mean, I am asked 20 times a season, ‘You know Olli. What kind of guy is he? Can you win with him?’” "Yeah, you know what, some of the reporters, they came up, and you guys have a lot of sources, and people give bad information that’s not necessarily true. Any place I’ve been going, all I have to say is just ask my teammates who I played with. They can give the feedback what kind of guy I am. Obviously if there’s 25 guys on the team, there could be one or two guys who say, ‘You know what, he’s the biggest [jerk].’ But if 99 percent of the guys you played with like you, I think that’s OK, you know? I think it’s pretty obvious what a couple media people try to do. It’s pretty much coming out of those few people’s mouth. I don’t know if you read anything last year when you were up in Calgary with Minnesota, there was one reporter who was saying, ‘Put all the blame on Olli.’ He wrote a story saying I’m a bad guy and all that stuff. The whole media and everybody picks up that story. Then day after when Iginla and all my ex-teammates are defending me, that story is only in one paper. Nobody picks up that story nationwide. Usually stuff like that doesn’t sell. People can say what kind of bad guy you are and all of that stuff, but it’s hurtful. It’s definitely been tough being traded few times, but I think it comes with the salary, comes with the price tag, you know?”
So you believe you can rebound? “Last couple years I’ve been getting 50 points. Two years ago, got 29 goals, and everybody was saying it was my worst year I ever had. Last year I scored 15 goals, but people don’t remember, if you look around the league, a lot of guys who score 40 points, it’s an unbelievable year for them. But my standards last two years haven’t been as good as I can be. I can definitely increase that. I always say if you make $5-plus million in this league, you better be a point-per-game guy, 35-plus goals. And I was doing that a few years ago. There’s no reason why I can’ t be that again. I think everybody’s going to have a bad year once in awhile, and that was my worst year in 8, 9 years last season. But I already put that behind. As soon as the season was over, you analyze what you did good and what you can improve on, and you go into the summer with a good feeling. There’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. You’ve got to look ahead and try to stay positive. You’ve got to bounce back and prove it to everyone again. You know more than anyone. All my whole career’s been like that. I always remember after first four years, I was almost out of the league. I was 22 and people were saying, ‘he can’t play in this league.’ Then I started scoring 30 goals and people were like, ‘it’s a one-year thing, do it again, do it again, do it again.’ I did that five, six years and then was the first time I got my four-year deal. But I went like three, four years there with one-year deals. I always have to prove it. So I think I’m at a point in my career where I still want to prove it and definitely be that bounceback guy next year, and be back in that top-20 scoring in the league. There’s no doubt in my mind that I can do it.”
Looking forward to tomorrow? “I’m interested to see what’s out there. Like I said, I’m in a different position than a lot of the other free agents. I signed my big deal four years ago, you know? Obviously I’d love to get a deal like that again, but you have to realize it’s probably not going to happen. So you have to look for whatever is the best fit. That’s the biggest thing as a play. You want to have fun, you want to enjoy going to the rink and you want to be part of something where you have a chance to win.”