Olli Jokinen said he had three offers on the table, but it took one look at the Winnipeg Jets' roster to convince him where to sign.
Jokinen and the Jets agreed late Monday night to a two-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not released, but TSN reported the average annual value is $4.5 million.
"It came down to, I looked at the Winnipeg lineup, and they're an up-and-coming team," Jokinen said on a conference call from his home in Finland. "I thought it would be a good fit for me. I can help the team take that next step. But the biggest thing is when you look at the lineup and you look at the guys on the team … I want to be a part of that."
In their first season in Winnipeg, the Jets finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of a playoff spot, but Jokinen believes he's joining a team that can make the postseason.
"If you look at the lineup from the goalie we have [Ondrej Pavelec], he's a tough guy, he just signed a big deal," Jokinen said. "Obviously, [Dustin] Byfuglien and [Tobias] Enstrom on the defense. They have very young, good, exciting forwards in [Blake] Wheeler, Bryan Little. … I know most of the guys from playing against them. There's lot of talent. There's a lot of good young players. It was an exciting team to watch last year, an exciting team to play against. They got high speed, they skate well and they play exciting hockey. It's going to be great. I can't wait to get started."
Neither can Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who said Jokinen is the type of player his team needs.
"Olli is someone that we identified when we went through the process of identifying the players that would be available at the free agency time," Cheveldayoff said. "We were looking to get a centerman if we could and we were very fortunate to get him. We're very excited about getting him. He's got the size, a tremendous amount of experience. He had great consistency over the years. With adding the size of [Alexei] Ponikarovsky and now Jokinen, we're a bigger and harder team to play against.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to bring in a front-line player and top-six player into the organization."
Staying in Canada also was something Jokinen was hoping to do. Having spent most of the past four seasons playing for the Calgary Flames, he came to appreciate the passion of Canadian fans.
"I wanted to make sure my family is comfortable," he said. "My family loves living in Canada. They're not afraid of cold weather, my kids love the snow. So that was a very easy decision at the end of the day to choose Winnipeg."
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At age 33, Jokinen said he's also looking forward to spreading the wisdom of his years to some of the Jets' younger players.
"I was lucky enough … when I was in Florida, I had the chance to play with guys like Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ed Belfour," he said. "A lot of older guys came in. We didn't make the playoffs with the guys we had in Florida, but as a younger player, I learned a lot from those guys. It was an eye opener, how hard you have to work to stay in this League. … Hopefully I can bring that in the [Jets'] room."
Cheveldayoff said, "He's someone that when we did actually speak with his representative and spoke with him in the end here, he's very excited about being at the forefront of a group that has young players that have a chance to continue to grow and get better. He's really looking forward to the opportunity to contribute in that regard."
Jokinen said he feels like a different player now than he was when he was younger, and credited former Flames coach Brent Sutter with helping him transition from purely an offensive-minded player to a two-way center.
"The last year-and-a-half, I changed my game to be a better overall player and that credit goes to Brent," Jokinen said. "He taught me how to play good in both ends, how to play against other teams' top lines, and how to be more helpful for the team than just scoring goals."
Jokinen was third on the Flames with 23 goals last season, and second with 61 points while playing all 82 games. In 14 NHL seasons with the Kings, Islanders, Panthers, Coyotes, Flames and Rangers, Jokinen has 292 goals and 391 assists in 1,042 games. He's fourth all-time among Finnish-born players in games played and points (683), and third in goals.
Jokinen said it was too soon to start thinking about whom he might play with or what role he might fill with the Jets. He said at this point in his career, all he wants to do is win, and he'll do whatever is necessary to make that happen.
"When you get older you want to win and you want to be part of something good and I think there's something good already in the players in Winnipeg," Jokinen said. "I think there's a good team. Whatever my role is I'll do it the best I can."
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