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Dealing with the Joker

Does Chevy make a serious effort to re-sign the Finn, or let him go?

Posted: 04/11/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Dreadful his first year with the Winnipeg Jets, Olli Jokinen redeemed himself this season -- but where does he go from here?

The big centre, scheduled to become a free-agent in July, says he can maintain his current level, or even raise it. But what if he is to regress?

Good Olli is worth an extension and another year. Bad Olli should get a bye-bye wave.

So which of these personas will appear next season? Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needs a third-line centre and if Jokinen can replicate this season and be re-signed for the right price, it's a good investment.

But, if Jokinen turns in a high-priced bust of a campaign as he did in 2012-13, Cheveldayoff would be cursing himself for re-signing him. So, Cheveldayoff must determine whether he wants the 35-year-old to return. Term and price will be key aspects to any deal he and Jokinen discuss.

'I was able to get my game to where it needed to be.

Crazy as it sounds, I think I can get better. People told me when I was 21, I was done playing in the NHL. This is 14 years later'

-- Jets centre Olli Jokinen

Think about it: Would you bring back Jokinen for one year at a reduced rate? Say a one-year deal somewhere in between $2.5 million and $3 million?

Prior to Thursday night's action the Finnish Olympian (he collected a bronze medal in Sochi and now has two of those and a silver) had 18 goals and 24 assists while playing out the final games of a two-year deal that paid him $4.5 million annually.

Jokinen struggled to find his legs in the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13 and finished with seven goals and seven assists in 45 games. But last summer he changed his training program and arrived in Winnipeg a little lighter and brimming with confidence.

"Let's leave it at this. You ain't seen nothing yet," said Jokinen on the eve of training camp. "You ain't seen nothing yet."

Thursday morning he was asked if he'd lived up those words. Rather than pound his chest about his improved numbers, Jokinen upped the stakes, saying he's got even more to give.

"I was able to get my game to where it needed to be. Crazy as it sounds, I think I can get better. People told me when I was 21, I was done playing in the NHL. This is 14 years later. People told Teemu (Selanne) he was done when he was 33. He's 43 now and still playing," said Jokinen. "When you get older you have to have that drive to get better every summer. I can get better. To me, 35, I'm still pretty young."

Jokinen was matter of fact when asked if he'd be in the NHL with one team or another next season if it wasn't Winnipeg.

"Yes," he said, looking directly into the eyes of his questioner. "The marketplace is pretty fair and everyone knows what everyone makes. So, I'm prepared for a different salary if that's what happens. When you get older, it's not just about that. It's about winning. I've never thought about the numbers and what it means in terms of how much money I'll get paid."

Jokinen said he'd listen to an offer from the Jets prior to free agency and isn't set on going to the market to test his value. Playing for a winner would be preferable, but not a must for Jokinen and he'd be content to stay in Winnipeg and help build a club he thinks is trending up.

"The team is going in the right direction under Paul's (Maurice) direction. He's put his foot down. That's a positive step," said Jokinen. "I don't mind Winnipeg. We've enjoyed our time here. It's been good. The last time I was a free agent, I knew by now that I was going to be moving on. I don't know that yet. We'll see what happens."

Maurice doesn't doubt Jokinen can get better.

"Olli Jokinen as he is today works for me. The question is, and now I'm drifting into management areas that I'm not qualified to speak on, a gentlemen of his age that scores 18 goals... can that be presented to other teams as, 'I'm a pretty good player still.' He is," said Maurice. "Olli's figured it out. He can still play a number of years. He's been really good here and I've loved having him."

Jokinen and Maurice have a say in this but the biggest falls to Cheveldayoff. He needs to determine if Jokinen can back up his words or if age will prevent further growth.

These are the bets GMs get paid to make and then live with the results. Good and bad.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2014 C3

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