The trade of Mike Ribeiro opened up an even greater need at center for the Stars than they already had. In recent days it has come out that Olli Jokinen will definitely be changing addresses next season, and he is easily the top center available on the free agent market.
Jokinen is a big bodied scorer who comes with some baggage. He isn't a long term fit considering that he turns 34 in December. As a stop gap option Jokinen is intriguing. He has the ability to play a strong two way game, and as we've discussed, that appears to be the direction the Stars want to head with the roster. Jokinen also hasn't scored less than 50 points since he was 24. At his best he's a very good player.
Unfortunately he isn't always at his best. There are some off ice and intangible (yes, intangible!) issues to consider. After the jump we'll see how Jokinen fits into the Stars lineup, speculate about a potential contract, and do all of the usual most likely pointless things we normally do with potential acquisitions.
Olli Jokinen came into the NHL with a lot of promise. He was the third pick in the 1997 draft of the Los Angeles Kings, and he was picked right behind Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He was involved in two massive trades early in his career that helped cement Mike Milbury's reputation as a mad man. A few days after the Stars won the Cup Jokinen was traded to the Islanders as the key component in a deal for Ziggy Palfy. The next year he was traded with Roberto Luongo to the Panthers for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. Oops.
His career took off with the Panthers. He became an offensive force, ultimately topping out with seasons of 89 and 91 points in 2006 and 2007. Effort and fitness questions have dogged him throughout his career. It would be unfair to comment on his on ice effort having not watched him much over the past several seasons, but in an interview with Eric Francis from January Jokinen seems to have matured quite a bit.
First, he talked about his decision to quit drinking six years ago:
"I've been sober six years now," a candid Jokinen told the Calgary Sun, sharing his alcohol issues publicly for the first time.
"I don’t want to be one of those guys who sits in the bar after I’m done playing and says, ‘What if?’ I don’t like to use the word ‘if.’ Whatever the length of your career is going to be, you want to make the most out of it. You want to be in a position to look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, ‘I did everything I possibly could to be the best I could.’ "
Those sound like the thoughts of a man in a good place mentally. He goes on to discuss his efforts to be prepared both mentally and physically to play:
As part of Jokinen’s increased focus on fitness, he now employs a full-time masseuse he figures has done wonders to help him remain healthy. He’s only missed three games over the last 21/2 NHL seasons.
Add to that a personal sports psychologist he works with on game days, and it’s no wonder he’s evolved into one of the Flames best players this year.
That's a lot of dedication. His offensive ceiling isn't what it used to be, but the lifestyle changes at least appear to have helped him focus more on his career. In 2012 the Flames really leaned on him to be a leader of the team. They dumped all of their most difficult minutes on Jokinen. He played against the toughest competition on a nightly basis. He was ok in that role, but he's neither a checking center or Pavel Datsyuk. Ideally a team will get him slightly easier minutes.
The Stars could use Jokinen in a similar role, but not nearly as extreme. One need the Stars have from a second center is a responsible defensive game to allow Jamie Benn more offensive attack time. Jokinen fits the bill in that regard, and he would give the Stars similar offensive production to what they got from the departed Mike Ribeiro. An interesting possibility would be to put Loui Eriksson and Jokinen together to develop a very strong two way line behind the pair of Michael Ryder and Benn.
The Stars are realistically going to be looking for a stop gap solution to the second line. Jokinen offers a unique possibility. He won't cost anything to trade for since he's a free agent. His contract shouldn't be too prohibitive. He's coming off of making three million with the Flames after making five with the Rangers. He could be seeking a two year deal for eight million. Would the Stars be interested in making that deal? I think they would, but we'll see for sure in short order.