CALGARY, CANADA - MARCH 9: Olli Jokinen #13 and Miikka Kiprusoff #34 of the Calgary Flames celebrate their win over the Winnipeg Jets in NHL action on March 9, 2012 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Mike Ridewood/Getty Images)
Since the Winnipeg Jets have returned to The Gateway to the West, I have been a man divided. Constantly at odds with myself, I spent the majority of the 2011-12 season mulling over different scenarios through internalization. Burning questions etched themselves in my mind as I struggled to understand whether certain on-ice trends were aberrations or whether they spoke to the overall theme that the year would entail. This offseason, things have not improved. More and more these questions linger as I struggle to answer them the best I can.
This week, we will be highlighting the five most important questions surrounding the Winnipeg Jets as the 2012-13 regular season approaches.
Today, I review the offseason signing of Olli Jokinen.
Can you tell me why the Jets decided to sign soon-to-be 34 year old Olli Jokinen to a 2-year 4.5MM contract. Are they crazy?!
I don't know what led you to that conclusion.
As if I should be surprised you disagree...
Obviously depth at centre was a glaring weakness for this team last year. Jim Slater was the only reliable face-off taker for the Jets since Nik Antropov and Alexander Burmistrov were downright putrid in the dots, both finishing the season with a FO% under 45%. That forced Claude Noel to rely too heavily on the fan favourite GST line in the defensive zone, which -- more often than not -- led to getting scored on. Not that Jokinen is a world-beater at winning face-offs (posting 46% and 47% success rates his past two years), but he's markedly better than the Russian duo of Antropov and Burmistrov. With Jokinen's addition, Noel has the flexibility to shift Burmistrov to a wing position, if he so chooses.
Not to mention that Jokinen was one of the most coveted centres on this summers UFA market. Such was evidenced by the contract he's being awarded.
Pssh, 4.5MM for a guy to win 4.5/10 faceoffs. Get real! Now that he's calling Winnipeg home, what can fans expect from him in terms of production?
Keeping in mind that he turns 34 years old in December, fans shouldn't expect him to post consecutive 60-point seasons with the Jets. I fear that -- because he makes a ton of money -- he will be ostracized like Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey because people can't see their underlying value.
Not to say that an underwhelming statistical season from Jokinen shouldn't be criticized, but if he were to score around 50 points -- which he should -- then he is well worth the investment. His addition will make life easier on the rest of the team's top-six.
Only fifty!? You dolt! That seems pretty low considering he currently boasts the highest average annual value of any Winnipeg forward. How will Claude Noel utilize him?
This was talked about ad nauseam in July
, but there are two trains of thought: The question is whether Noel wants to keep the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line together. Should that be the case, Jokinen would centre the second line with Evander Kane
and either Alexander Burmistrov
or Kyle Wellwood
flanking him on the wings. Should Noel dismantle the current top line, I think Jokinen will be paired with Blake Wheeler and one of either Kane or Andrew Ladd.
I still have great disdain for you, but you're starting to win me over to your way of thinking. He sounds like a pretty versatile cat. Since he's only signed to a 2-year deal, is it fair to say that Jokinen is the current placeholder at the centre position until Mark Scheifele is ready to be an NHL regular?
It would appear that way, yes.
Make no mistake, Scheifele is TNSE's guy. From his style of play on the ice to the way he conducts himself off of it, Scheifele might as well have the True North emblem tattooed on his forehead. Therefore, management will be as cautious as possible when it comes to maximizing his development.
He showed flashes of brilliance at the Canada-Russia Challenge in mid-August. If he comes and blows up training camp, it will at least garner him a temporary spot in the team's line-up to start the year. But Kevin Cheveldayoff won't think twice to re-assign him to junior for another season should he not be producing or developing to their standards.
With Jokinen, the Jets have afforded themselves a two year security blanket for Scheifele to improve. It will allow him the opportunity to log more minutes in the OHL this year and the ability to line up against the world's best at his age group in this winter's World Junior Championships.
Jokinen's signing even buys Scheifele a year of AHL conditioning -- should TNSE feel he needs it. His signing should produce both short-term and long-term gain.
What does Jokinen's signing say to future UFA's about the Winnipeg Jets?
It tells UFA's that TNSE is committed to building a perennial contender. If you are a character guy that they feel can come in and better this hockey club, then they'll be tendering you an offer. But it doesn't end with just Jokinen. They have proven it by keeping the Thrashers core intact: resigning Andrew Ladd
, Ondrej Pavelec
and Tobias Enstrom
to long-term deals.
UFA's should feel that this is a team on the rise that takes winning seriously. I'd venture that Jokinen's addition will entice more of the top free agents to consider Winnipeg as a viable destination.