As I look back at last season, I’ll confess that for all the annoyances I may have had with certain players on last year’s Flames’ club, I’m not sure that they always were properly deployed by their coach. One particular gripe that I had virtually all season was the insistence of Brent Sutter to use Regehr or Staios on the PP unit. Neither man has any recent history suggesting that they add any offence, and what made that choice even more galling was the fact that the Flames employed players that had excelled as PP point men elsewhere, and I’m not talking about defencemen either.
Olli Jokinen was on the receiving end of plenty of people’s bad feelings during his first stint in town, and I certainly wasn’t shy about the fact that I thought his EV play was an anchor on the team. I can’t imagine that his work in his own end or his playmaking skills will magically improve over the summer, but one place where he might do better is on the PP, if he’s used properly, since he had a clear history of positive value as a PP point man with the Panthers.
I decided to take a look at the video of Jokinen’s 18 PP goals during the 07/08 season this evening, if for no other reason than to see if my memory of him as a PP shooter was accurate. I also wanted to watch him during a season where he was in a settled role on a team. My memory is just fine, as it turns out. He had at least 8 goals where he had clearly started the play on the point, as often as not scoring by brute force, hammering the puck past the goalie. He also looked a lot more comfortable in that role than he ever looked as a Flame on the PP. More time and space is pretty important for a guy who looks like he’s handling the puck with an axe most nights, and playing at the back on the PP afforded him that luxury.
The numbers bear that out, of course. Florida finished that season with the 6th best PP, and Jokinen’s own productivity was markedly better than his time in Calgary. He averaged 4.88 PTS/60, which was 29th best for forwards that averaged at least 2 minutes a game on the PP. Only three defencemen finished with a better rate, but Jokinen was used at center as well, so that comparison wouldn’t be wholly accurate. Still, that’s miles better than his 3.13/60 average from last year.
The biggest area of drop-off for Joker as a Flame was his shots on goal total. He finished last season with 190 SOG at 5v5, which wasn’t dramatically different from his 212 in 07/08, but his overall total for last year was 236, well off his 340-350 shot totals post-lockout in Florida. Given that PP shooting percentages are 25-30% higher than at EV, it’s hardly any wonder that his goal totals went down the drain. He lost roughly 100 higher percentage shots. Part of that, in my view, was the makeup of the Flames’ PP. Jarome Iginla has been the focal point of the team’s PP for his entire career, and Dion Phaneuf was clearly the primary shooter from the back. Jokinen was always going to be the third option in that scenario, and it was to his detriment.
This season does offer Jokinen new hope, and the influx of top-sixish forwards since last January might allow the Flames the chance to shift Jokinen to the back. Tanguay, Stajan and Hagman would all rate PP time, along with Iginla, Bourque and either Langkow or Backlund depending on number 22’s health. Throw in Moss on occasion, and the Flames should have enough options at forward to move Joker to the back on the PP. Phaneuf’s absence would also make this sort of move simpler, since his role as the main shooter on the blue fits Olli Jokinen’s one plus skill as a player quite nicely. He’s much better getting the puck and shooting it ASAP as opposed to attempting to create for others, as we’re all too aware.
I’ll add a few words about Ales Kotalik here, even though I don’t know if he’s got any hope of being in Calgary this season. When I looked at his 12 PP goals in 07/08, I saw exactly the same sort of utilization from Buffalo as Florida engaged in with Jokinen. Kotalik played on the point much of the season, ending the year at just under 4 PTS/60, and he had half a dozen PP goals that were shots he blew by the goalie from deep. He never got much of a sniff in that sort of role with the Flames, and I doubt if he and Jokinen played the PP point in 10 games combined with Calgary. Crazy , really. It wasn’t like the Flames had Dan Boyle or Mike Green hanging around as better options.
I do hope that Brent Sutter, in his search for more offence this coming season, examines the potential make-up of his PP unit. People can talk about schemes all they like, but using your best players in roles that suit them is still the most likely path to success. The Flames can’t really count on Joker to be a PvP killer, so maximizing his ability on the PP is the best hope of getting value from him. If nothing else, using him on the point would mean never seeing Regehr or The Steady One in that role, and I’d like to think that is something we’d all agree would be a positive.