For years, the common lament around Calgary was the lack of a true #1 center. Some guys weren’t skilled enough (Conroy) and some guys weren’t big enough (Langkow) to fit the commonly held profile of the archetypal #1 pivot. As a result, Darryl Sutter busied himself for a couple of seasons pursuing the 6’3″, 215 pound Olli Jokinen – and this past March, he finally landed the big Fin. Problem is, the team didn’t get any better with Jokinen’s addition. The mythical “big body presence” trumpeted by shrill, talking heads on hockey broadbasts couldn’t overcome Kipper’s poor SV% or the rash of injuries. It didn’t even prevent a damaging power play drought that afflicted the team for the last 10 games of the year. And it didn’t overcome many of Jokinen’s individual failings.
In my own estimation, Olli Jokinen isn’t a #1 center. Hell – he’s barely a center at all. Firstly, he’s terrible at winning face-offs. His FO% last year was a putrid 43.4% – good for 82nd in the league. Secondly, he’s no better than mediocre in the defensive zone, which is a pre-requisite for anyone to be considered a capable center in the NHL. Unlike wingers, pivots have a significant degree of responsibility down low in their own zone. They also frequently have to be the first foward back on the back-check. A defensively lax centerman is a bigger liablity than a so-so winger.
Thirdly and finally, Olli Jokinen isn’t much of a puck distributor – my final criteria for a top-notch center. Jokinen is a shooter; a guy who bursts over the blueline and looks to rip the puck into the top corner. He shoots from may positions and all angles. What he doesn’t do (from what I’ve seen) is establish position in the offensive and look to get the puck into open areas. His size, speed and overall skills are perhaps indicative of your ideal first line centerman, but his decision making surely is not.
There’s another reason to move Jokinen to left wing – the Flames depth chart. Let’s go through it by position:
Van Der Gulik
See the issue? The roster, as currently constructed, has depth down the middle but is short on the wings, especially when it comes to offense. Moving Jokinen to the left side would bump guys like Bourque, Glencross and Nystrom back down the depth chart where they’d be more comfortable and it makes room for the likes of Boyd (or Backlund) at his natural position. It also means no more Jokinen losing draws in his own zone and then flailing away during the ensuing attack.
Jokinen – Langkow – Iginla
Bourque – Boyd – Moss
Bourque – Langkow – Iginla
Jokinen – Boyd – Moss
Won’t happen of course, but does this make sense to anyone else?