A fine mess, Olli

Jean Lefebvre
November 26 2009 08:58AM

So here's the question everyone dwelling in the Flames area code of the National Hockey League map must be asking themselves on an hourly basis: Did Olli Jokinen all of a sudden become rotten or did he fool everyone by being a mediocre player with respectable-to-robust numbers for all those seasons out of NHL limelight with the also-ran Florida Panthers?

Let's remember that Jokinen was well on his way to becoming a first-round (third overall) bust after putting together four very uninspiring seasons while playing for three teams (Kings, Islanders, Panthers) at the beginning of his North American career. Then, as the story goes, Mike Keenan fish-slapped some sense into him (although the involvement of a post-Rangers Iron Mike should automatically cast serious aspersions on the whole affair while setting off alarm bells from Vancouver to Boston) and all of a sudden Jokinen became a capital-P Player and the capital-B, capital-C Big Centre that the Flames so coveted and supposedly came close to acquiring on several previous occasions.

But even as Jokinen was putting together four 30-goal seasons with Florida, some critics were unmoved. A former Florida teammate of Jokinen's who now works in a different club's front office suggested that even during his most productive seasons with the Panthers, the centreman was a very flawed hockey player. There are also insinuations that all of Jokinen's seasons of playoff-less hockey are not as conincidental as one might have first assumed.

So the working theory now is that Jokinen has been exposed because regular viewing by an audience that once worhsipped the Finn from afar has revealed the warts that were there all along. In addition, a big-time goalscoring slump (three goals in the past 36 regular-season games) has made fans less likely to overlook any deficiencies than was the case during the wild honeymoon period that saw Jokinen pot eight goals in his first six games with the Flames.

The Battle of Alberta's Matt Fenwick rightly rolled his eyes when Jokinen made the following comment:

"I think I have seven or eight times I hit the post so far this year, if half of those would’ve gone in, nobody would be questioning anything."

While it's probably true that Jokinen having seven goals instead of three would have pleased many of the same Flames fans who spoke glowingly about Todd Bertuzzi's 15-goals-in-66-games campaign with Calgary a season ago, Matt is absolutely correct when he points out that puck luck has almost nothing to do with the reasons so many discriminating observers are so down on No. 21. Matt also notes that the few pucks Jokinen has actually put into the net have scored low on artistic merit.

All that said, logic suggests that things are bound to improve at some point. Jokinen may never become the wondrous player Flames fans dreamed about during the Florida years (and it's possible he wasn't that guy even when he was, if you catch our drift) but he probably won't continue to be this awfully unproductive. For starters, his 4.9% shooting rate is less than half of his next-lowest percentage since Keenan supposedly kick-started Jokinen's career in 2002-03.

What's worse from Jokinen's standpoint is that puny percentage is coming on far fewer shots (something else the BoA post mentioned). The chrome-domed pivot's shots-per-game rate over the past two seasons is down 28 per cent from his three final years with the Panthers and the Florida off-ice officials' reputation for being trigger-happy on the shot clock can only partially account for that whopping difference.

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Lefebvre is in that awkward stage of hockey following -- old enough to fondly remember the Cleveland Barons and too set in his ways to accept charity points and games where there's a winner but apparently no loser. As a long-time ink-stained wretch, he's also a firm believer in the old Bobby Knight quote about journalists: "All of us learn to write in second grade, but most of us go on to better things."
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#1 Matt
November 26 2009, 09:33AM
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It's a real noodle-scratcher, ain't it.

In some areas, I can at least imagine he's either (A) gotten worse or (B) in a bad slump. For example, he seems to have a lot of trouble getting a handle on loose pucks in the scoring areas; this clearly hasn't always been the case. And I'm pretty sure his shot has been harder and more accurate in the past than it has been for most of his time in Calgary.

However, there are some parts of the game where it's impossible to believe he was ever any better than he is now. As Robert Cleave and many others have pointed out, his own zone positioning and play down low is generally abysmal.

As well, I haven't seen the slightest gift for taking the puck away from the other team, whether it be via anticipation, or that fabulous big body presence. If I'm looking for a centre to force an opposing D to turn the puck over, I'll take Langkow or Conroy 100 times out of 100 over Jokinen.

The good news is (apart from Olli's expiring contract), Lombardi didn't really look that hot last night.

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#2 walkinvisible
November 26 2009, 03:51PM
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interestingly, i posted a very similar subject over at www.hitthepost.ca today ---a different slant but largely same same...

the thing that KILLS me with olli: his career -85 (no matter how you value +/-, that's an absolutely BRUTAL statistic), and his PPG v. EV.

it's not pretty...

...and all of this business about players being accountable is starting to look like a front. unless, of course, your name is sjöström (who's play has admittedly not been awesome, but drawing pressbox time over minute-eaters prust and mcG is a headscratcher, unless he's actually been injured.)

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#3 Chris
November 26 2009, 06:15PM
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Here are four solutions for the Joker problem: 1. LTIR...could happen; 2. Trade...not bloody likely, who would be stupid enough to take him now? 3. Buy-out...what do you think the chances of that are? And, what would the consequences be? 4. Wait until next year. I for one will be happy to see Jokinen "Finnish" his hockey career playing for Jokerit Helsinki.

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