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Sutter: Jokinen reaction 'positive'

by Dave Lozo /
Just when you thought Olli Jokinen was out, Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter pulled him back in.

After an unproductive 75 games over parts of two seasons with Calgary, Jokinen was shipped to the New York Rangers on Feb. 1. It appeared to be the end of the 31-year-old center's time in Western Canada, but Sutter surprised just about everyone by signing Jokinen to a two-year, $6 million contract exactly five months later.

Sutter also shrugged off the negative fan reaction, saying, "the reaction has been really, really positive ... from people that are important."

But why would a player who wasn't wanted in February be welcomed back in July? Sutter said the big reason for Jokinen returning to the fold was because of another former Flame who was brought back via free agency -- Alex Tanguay, who signed a one-year deal Thursday after spending two seasons in Calgary between 2006 and 2008.

Sutter said he expects Iginla, Jokinen and Tanguay to comprise the Flames' top line next season.

Another reason for Jokinen's reappearance was financial. He'll be making about $2 million less per season than he did during his first go-round with the Flames.

"I think when we traded him, we said that if we could get him at a number that worked for us, we'd pursue it again," Sutter said Friday. "It wasn't just Olli. It was Olli and Tangs that was important. After discussing it with the players, Jarome (Iginla) and Olli, what they felt they missed was the playmaker with them and certainly Tanguay is capable of that."

Tanguay had a career-high 81 points in 2006-07 with the Flames, but the 30-year-old saw his point totals dip to 58, 41 and 37 over the next three seasons with the Flames, Canadiens and Lightning, respectively. That still left the question that needed to be asked of Sutter during the press conference at Pengrowth Saddledome -- why bring back Jokinen at any price when his numbers (15 goals, 35 assists) were so undesirable that he was dealt for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins?

"We really missed him," Sutter said. "The biggest gap we had in our lineup after we traded Olli was his size and speed in the middle. From a point production standpoint, his assists are where you want them to be, but his goal scoring wasn't."

When asked why he would go back to something that didn't work, Sutter said, "We think that it quite honestly did work and it was probably not being able to get that other position player there such as Alex. They tie together."

Another reason the Flames needed to turn to Jokinen again is the slow recovery of center Daymond Langkow, who suffered a freak neck injury during a game against the Minnesota Wild in March. While falling to the ice, Langkow absorbed a slap shot by defenseman Ian White (a restricted free agent) to the back of his neck. Sutter said he was unsure of Langkow's availability for the start of the season.

"It's still an issue," Sutter said of the injury. "We are 100 days post-injury and we thought he'd be further along than he was and he's still not. He's probably in that 60 percent area. So, I know we're 100 days away, but it's still a concern.

"From a professional standpoint, we have to do everything to make sure that he's able to perform. Also we have to separate that out and make sure it's not something that's very long term. Quite honestly, it tied big into what we did."

What the Flames did was hop in their time machine and bring back a couple of names from the past. And Sutter said he has complete confidence in what Jokinen and Tanguay together will bring to the team.

"If we didn't believe in him, we wouldn't do it," Sutter said of Jokinen. "He had 35 assists last year. Although, if he scored 10 more goals ... when we traded Olli, I said at that time and it doesn't change, he probably took a lot of heat for all our performances, and he was the wrong guy. He's all-in. Those two kids are so excited about it. It's awesome."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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