Let’s cut right to the chase, shall we?
If Darryl Sutter’s love for Olli Jokinen was so unconditional, so boundless, why in tarnation did he ever trade the big load?
Why not simply extend him at season’s end?
In other words, why sacrifice honest toiler Brandon Prust, why willingly take on two-plus years of indifference from Ales Kotalik, for absolutely no good reason?
Reasonable questions. Simple questions.
Zero answers yet from the Calgary Flames boss.
But that — the looming financial waste of last season’s well-documented panic — is only one part of Thursday’s development, which saw the Flames, shockingly, unbelievably, startlingly, bring back the underachieving Finn.
For two years yet.
“This really ties our centre-ice position together nicely,” stated Sutter, via news release. “Adding Olli gives us a good mix at centre ice with (Matt) Stajan, (Daymond) Langkow and (Mikael) Backlund.”
On his way out the door that February evening at the Pengrowth Saddledome — little more than an hour after the Flames’ rollover against the Philadelphia Flyers — Jokinen admitted he didn’t do enough here, but he understood what had to happen.
“Eleven months ago when I got traded here I was super-excited . . . I was hoping that I could stay here the rest of my career,” Jokinen, in a rare burst of candour, had informed reporters. “But, like I say, it’s a brutal business. That’s the way it goes. It comes with the salary. When you make $5 million, 11 goals is not going to cut it. It’s definitely a slap in the face to get traded.”
A slap in the face, a goodbye, a farewell, an exclamation mark on a blockbuster gone bad.
That night, there had been a distinct — and merciful — finality to it. Fair enough. Deals don’t always pan out. It happens. Move on.
Then Sutter compounded the Jokinen deal by head-scratchingly accepting Kotalik from the New York Rangers. But now, instead of walking away from the mess, Sutter has stubbornly strutted back into it.
Having somehow decided the Flames — and their fans — need 164 more regular-season looks at Jokinen, the Jolly Rancher has handed him a deal worth $6 million.
The move could not be more unpopular in the city. Go online for a sampling of the outrage. (“Just in time for Stampede. A new dance, the Sutter two-step. One step forward and two steps back.”
Or, “This is the most useless GM in the league and I WAS an ardent Flame supporter for many years, but I AM DONE until Sutter is removed.”)
When Mike Keenan arrived, there had been winces. When Todd Bertuzzi signed, there was an outcry. But this? A large segment of the Flames faithful is in a lather. This morning, 9 a.m. sharp at the Saddledome, the GM will explain.
Jokinen has already spoken. And even he had been caught off guard by Sutter’s gambit.
“Obviously, I was a little bit surprised to get a call from Darryl,” he said on a conference call. “When I heard what he had to say, there were never really any other options for me. I wanted to come back. I’m thrilled to come back.”
Jokinen insisted the reduced salary — as opposed to the $5.25 million he pulled down last winter — should ease his on-ice anxiety. Sipping briefly from the Kool-Aid pitcher, perhaps Jokinen, head straightened and wallet lightened, could produce 30 goals, 70 points.
However, you could also argue that pressure is greater than ever.
“But my mind is pretty clear right now and the price tag is not as heavy as last time. I know it will work out,” said Jokinen. “I’ve got to get back to being physical and being a hard guy to play against.”
Days ago, Jokinen didn’t sound like a man itching for a ticket to Cowtown.
“There was one (Calgary) reporter who was saying, ‘Put all the blame on Olli.’ He wrote a story saying I’m a bad guy and all that stuff,” Jokinen told reporter Michael Russo in Minneapolis.
“The whole media and everybody picks up that story. Then the day after when Iginla and all my ex-teammates are defending me, that story is only in one paper. Nobody picks up that story nationwide. Usually stuff like that doesn’t sell.
People can say what kind of bad guy you are and all of that stuff, but it’s hurtful. It’s definitely been tough being traded few times, but I think it comes with the salary, comes with the price tag, you know?”
Of course, Jokinen’s acquisition wasn’t Sutter’s only move Thursday. Sutter also secured the services of Alex Tanguay and tough guy Raitis Ivanans, of the Los Angeles Kings, and grinder Tim Jackman, of the New York Islanders.
There’s no telling if Sutter is done. Some may be begging him to stop before he remembers where he left Wayne Primeau’s number.
During his sermon to reporters Thursday — before the Jokinen deal was announced — Sutter had been asked about further dealings.
“Well, obviously, that’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “I’ve said all along, this is not a deadline day. Lots of things can happen in the next 90 days . . . in just trying to make it all work.”
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