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Jets sign Jokinen to two-year deal

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Ask 10 different National Hockey League types about Olli Jokinen — the Winnipeg Jets’ spiffy new free-agent addition — and the answers will be varied and sprinkled with both an assortment of platitudes and unflattering adjectives.

He’s played in 1,042 NHL games with six different teams — including twice with the Calgary Flames — and once wore the captain’s ‘C’ in Florida. He’s a big body at 6-3, 210 pounds, has shown a deft scoring touch with four seasons of 30-plus goals and a career-high 91 points.

And yet he was also once labelled a ‘cancer’ by Matthew Barnaby and, for all his size and skill, has been traded five times in his career.

Still, knowing all the that Jets’ brass inked the 33-year-old Finn to a two-year, $9 million contract — even with all his warts, real or otherwise — mainly for this reason: he’s a big body who helps fill an organizational need at centre.

"We’ve very, very excited to get him," said Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff in a conference call Monday night. "He’s got size and a tremendous amount of experience. We believe that with adding the size of (Alexei) Ponikarovsky (signed Sunday) and now Jokinen that we’re a much bigger and harder team to play against.

"We’re excited to bring a front-line player, a Top 6 player, into the organization. We worked extremely hard at this deal as we did on other deals that didn’t come in our direction. All you can do is put your best offers forward and we’re very happy to have Olli as part of the Winnipeg Jets family."

Jokinen is coming off his best offensive campaign in six seasons, having scored 23 goals and adding 38 assists in 82 games last season with the Flames. After the season it was revealed he had played the last month while battling serious pain from an abdominal tear — an injury that required surgery.

Praised by the Flames for his grittiness while dealing with that pain, it was thought he would finish his career in Calgary.

But in May the Flames signed Czech centre Roman Cervenka to a $3.7 milion and in the last week have taken on a ton of salary with the additions of Dennis Wideman and Jiri Hudler and the re-signing of Lee Stempniak, Blake Comeau and Cory Sarich.

All of that, coupled with the thin crop of available free-agent centres, made Jokinen a tasty option for a Jet franchise that has struggled to get big production from its centres.

Bryan Little was the Jets’ No. 1 centre in 2011-12, finishing sixth in team scoring with 24 goals and 22 assists.

"His size comes to the forefront," said Cheveldayoff.

"He’s difficult to handle when he gets moving and he does move very well. He likes to shoot the puck and he’s not afraid to do that and there’s lots of opportunities for him to score and opportunities for other players to score off of rebounds and create plays.

"He has been a very durable player over the years. And

any time you can add a player of this stature, a player who has the ability to make plays and to score, it creates other opportunities for players like Evander (Kane) You have to respect players like Olli when they’re on the ice all the time and I think that attention helps other players to play their game as well."

Jokinen will speak to media via a conference call from Finland on Tuesday, but did use his Twitter account to express his excitement in joining the Jets:

‘Very excited about joining the Winnipeg Jets and getting a chance to play in front of the loudest fans in Canada!’

Cheveldayoff said contract discussions with Kane, a restricted free agent, are continuing and that the pursuit of a back-up goalie to replace Chris Mason will continue into Day 3 of NHL free agency.

"We’re not done by any stretch of the imagination yet."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Monday, July 2, 2012 at 8:48 PM CDT: Adds Twitter comment

10:42 PM: Adds writethrough with quotes, details

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