CALGARY – The Calgary Flames looked to their past on the opening day of free agency.
General manager Darryl Sutter brought centre Olli Jokinen back into the fold just five months after trading him to the New York Rangers and also signed former Flame Alex Tanguay on Thursday.
Jokinen agreed to a US$6-million, two-year deal while Tanguay signed a $1.7-million, one-year contract.
Jokinen’s return is a head-scratcher. He was dealt to the Rangers on Feb. 1 for forward Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik—two players who aren’t likely to return next season.
“I was a little surprised to get a call from Darryl today,” Jokinen said during a conference call. “When I heard what he had to say, then there were no other options. I wanted to come back.
“Knowing the coaching staff and how they run the team over there, for me it’s a great place to play. I’m thrilled to come back.”
He had 19 goals and 50 points in 75 games over parts of two seasons in Calgary before getting traded.
Sutter did not speak to the media Thursday about his rationale for re-acquiring Jokinen, but said in a statement: “I believe Olli and Alex complement each other and it was very important for us to be involved in signing both of these quality players.
“This really ties our centre ice position together nicely. Adding Olli gives us a good mix at centre ice with (Matt) Stajan, (Daymond) Langkow and (Mikael) Backlund.”
Jokinen was originally acquired to be a first-line centre and was paired with captain Jarome Iginla. When he was dealt away in February, he called it a “slap in the face.”
Time has healed any wounds.
“Of course I was disappointed and upset when I got traded,” said Jokinen. “Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different teams. For me, there’s no better place to play than in Calgary.”
Jokinen had eight goals in his first six games with the Flames after he arrived from Phoenix in 2009, but was kept off the scoresheet the rest of the season. He had 11 goals and 24 assists in 56 games the following season before his trade to New York.
The veteran believes he struggled under the weight of expectations created by his $5.25-million salary.
“My first 10 games when I came to Calgary, that’s the way I should play every single night,” Jokinen said. “There was a lot of pressure and maybe I wasn’t ready to handle that kind of task. My mind is pretty clear right now and the price tag is not as heavy as last time.
“I’ve got to get back to being physical and a hard guy to play against. I think I have to use my size a little bit more and being a little more selfish and shooting the puck more. I think last year I got caught trying to be a nice guy, please my teammates and passing the puck more.”
Jokinen has 252 goals and 316 assists in 881 career games with the Flames, Los Angeles Kings, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, Phoenix Coyotes and New York Rangers.
Acquiring Jokinen, 31, and Tanguay, 30, doesn’t make what was already one of the oldest clubs in the league any younger, but Sutter needed help on offence.
Calgary was the lowest-scoring team in the NHL last season at 204 goals and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Tanguay had the best season of his career in 2006-07, when he had 81 points while play for the Flames. After seeing his production dip the next season, he requested a trade and was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens.
Tanguay had 10 goals and 27 assists for the Lightning last season when his salary was $2.5 million.
“It wasn’t about money. It was about an opportunity,” Tanguay said. “Knowing where I’m going, knowing the players there, they’ve got a lot of good shooters offensively, but I’m not sure I can’t be of help passing the puck with the team.
“I want to get back to the level I think I can play. Last year was a difficult year for me. After last season, there are a lot of people doubting my ability.”
Tanguay says he wanted out of Calgary in 2008 because, under head coach Mike Keenan, he was used in a defensive role and spent little time on the power play. Tanguay wanted a larger role more befitting his $5.25 million salary at the time.
The native of Ste-Justine, Que., was limited to 50 games with the Habs in 2008-09 because of a shoulder injury and he compiled 16 goals and 25 assists.
“We felt we missed that type of player in the lineup, the guy that can make plays and do some good work on the power-play,” Sutter said. “He’s a good player.”
In 739 career games with Colorado, Calgary, Montreal and Tampa, he has 203 goals and 617 points. The Avalanche drafted Tanguay 12th overall in 1998 and he won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001. Calgary acquired him in 2004 in a trade that sent defenceman Jordan Leopold and two draft picks to Denver.