I’ve taken a look forward in my most recent articles, but perhaps it’s time to glance backwards and paw through the wreckage that was the Olli Jokinen experiment. While his acquisition was met with a nearly unanimous chorus of cheers last year, I was far more apprehensive:
At first blush, I don’t like this move for Calgary. Firstly, because I think the team needed to add to their forward depth (rather than swap one for two). Secondly, because I don’t think Jokinen brings value for his relatively steep 5M+ contract (whereas Lombardi was outperforming his 1.8M deal) and thirdly, I hate giving up Lombo AND a first round draft pick for this guy.
Here’s Jokinen’s underlying ES stats. They are underwhelming this year (and were in Florida last season as well). Jokinen brings size up the middle and is a good PP trigger man, but he’s never been much at 5on5. Here’s hoping Keenan can coax more out of him.
Olli spent many of his prime years putting up big numbers in the SE division. Forget, for now, that the SE gooses offensive counting numbers by up to 14%, the real issue with Jokinen is that he was frequently deployed in favorable circumstances as a Panther. By which I mean, Jokinen garnered his impressive totals by playing against secondary competition at even strength and with lots and lots of power play time. For example, during his final season in Florida, Jokinen scored a healthy 34 goals and 71 points. However, nearly half of his total came on the PP (31) and his 5on5 efficiency was fairly average (1.73 pts/60). To put that latter stat in perspective, Brett McLean scored at a rate of 1.75 ESP/60 on the same team that year. Jokinen was also middling in terms of outshooting (-3.32/60 corsi rating), well behind the likes of Horton, Booth, Weiss and even Richard Zednik.
In short, despite the big totals, Jokinen was never a "#1 center", if one defines such a creature as top line option who plays competently against other top lines.
I made a similar point in my Jokinen preview this off-season:
However, A lot of that can be disregarded as a guy having a bad year in bad circumstances. And that’s true – moreso than just playing on a lousy team. I looked at the starting locations for everyone in PHX last year and Olli was actually buried a bit by Gretzky in the desert: -80 (offensive-defensive draws) in terms of zone start. Of the 418 draws Jokinen took in Coyotes colors, only 81 of them (!) or 19% came in the offensive zone.
In PHX, Jokinen was played in a role counter to his nature and it killed him. In Calgary, and in better circumstances, his corsi (+11.09) and ESP/60 (1.98/60) improved, which points to potentially better things next year…assuming the team continues to move the puck forward as well as it did last season AND Brent Sutter deploys Jokinen in a sheltered, scoring role, where he belongs.
The final point is the salient one in regards to Jokinen’s failure as a Flame this season because that’s precisely what Brent didn’t do. The club started off with Iginla and Jokinen paired together on the top line. As I’ve mentioned previously, they faced all the other big guns every night, in fact often starting many shifts in their own zone. That’s a really tough assignment and one usually reserved for either shut-down units whose sole purpose is not to get scored on, or supremely dominant players like, say, Pavel Datsyuk. As a result, through the first 30 games of the season, Iginla and Jokinen struggled. They had the worst scoring chance differentials on the team. They were also bottom of the barrel by most other advanced metrics, including corsi and ES scoring efficicency. Only a November where Iginla scored on nearly 30% of his shots kept them within perceived spitting distance of respectability.
Sutter eventually began to spread out the tough matchups in December when it was becoming clear that Jokinen and Iginla weren’t simply going to "figure it out" and were obviously in over their heads. Jokinen was dropped down the depth chart come January and many of the hard minutes were going to Langkow and Bourque. As a result, by the end of his time in Calgary, Jokinen was almost even in terms of scoring chance differential – the reversal a natural consequence of the big guy playing against third liners at ES. Had he been playing against lesser lights his entire time in Calgary, he probably would have enjoyed more success. Of course, sheltering a guy who makes more than $5 million doesn’t seem sensible or efficient on it’s face, but, well…that’s why I didn’t want Ollii Jokinen in the first place. When you trade for that kind of contract, you either try to garner value by forcing the player to play against type in a vain hope he’ll take a step forward…or you bite the bullet and put him in a position to succeed. The Flames (mostly) went with the former, unfortunately.
Of course, another process that suppressed Jokinen’s worth as a Flame was his career low shooting percentage. Operating at 6.8% – well below his career average of 10% and change – had him about 5 goals below his expected rate through 56 games. "Olli Postagain" was a rather apt nickname for the snakebitten forward this year. It’s not anybodies "fault" really; just the hockey gods having a laugh.
In conclusion, a combination of misidentification of player type, circumstances and luck ensured the Flames got the very worst of their big trade deadline acquisition. Jokinen’s certainly not the front-line difference maker he was made out to be previously, but he’s probably not as bad as he seemed during his time here either.