CALGARY – Darryl Sutter continued his overhaul of the underachieving Calgary Flames on Monday night.
One day after sending defenceman Dion Phaneuf to Toronto in a seven-player deal, the Flames general manager dealt centre Olli Jokinen to the New York Rangers as part of a four-player trade. Also heading to Broadway is rugged fourth-liner Brandon Prust in exchange for centre Christopher Higgins and right-winger Ales Kotalik.
Rumours started swirling about the potential trade Sunday night, and 24 hours later – some 90 minutes after a Flames’ 3-0 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers – the deal was finalized.
“Definitely, it’s a slap in the face to get traded,” said Jokinen as he exited Pengrowth Saddledome.
“It was a long day. We heard everything yesterday, last night I was kind of surprised. I wasn’t expecting to get moved but it’s part of the business and I’ve got to move on.”
Despite the rampant trade speculation, both Jokinen and Prust were in the lineup against the Flyers.
“You’ve got to play hard every time you go on the ice, no matter what kind of distractions you have going on and you play for that sweater – the logo on the front of you – so long as they haven’t told you you’re not part of the team,” Jokinen said.
Prust added that Sunday was a sleepless night.
“My phone was going off the hook last night, just waiting to hear confirmation and pacing around for hours. I guess I didn’t sleep too well,” said Prust. “Then you come out here and you have to get focused and get ready to help your team get two points.
“We’re professionals and you’ve got to go about business a certain way. It was definitely a different way, but it’s done now.”
The swap comes a day after the Flames pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent Phaneuf, winger Fredrik Sjostrom and minor-league defenceman Keith Aulie to Toronto for blue-liner Ian White and forwards Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers.
Jokinen was acquired by Calgary from the Phoenix Coyotes at last year’s trade deadline.
The 31-year-old had 11 goals and 24 assists in 56 games with the Flames this season, and is in the final year of a contract that’s paying him US$5.25 million this season.
Jokinen got off to a roaring start in Calgary, scoring eight goals in his first six games with the Flames.
But he was held off the scoresheet in last season’s final 13 games as Calgary struggled down the stretch before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs.
“Eleven months ago, when I got traded here I was pretty excited,” said Jokinen, who has 248 goals and 305 assists in 854 career games with Los Angeles, Florida, Phoenix, Calgary and the New York Islanders. “I enjoyed my time here, and I was hoping I could stay here for the rest of my career.
“Like I say, it’s a cruel business, but that’s the way it goes. It comes with the salary, you make $5 million, 11 goals is not going to cut it.”
Jokinen struggled this season, despite spending much of the time on the Flames’ No. 1 line with Jarome Iginla.
“I think it goes hand in hand with the way the team plays,” said Jokinen, when asked about his lack of chemistry with the Flames’ captain.
“I think at the end of the day, I don’t think that was the biggest reason I got traded. The main thing is we lost so many games.”
In 490 games with the Rangers, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers, the 31-year-old Kotalik has 129 goals and 144 assists. He has eight goals and 14 assists in 45 games this season.
Kotalik, a minus-18 with New York, has two years at $3 million per season left on his contract after this season.
He was sent back to New York on Sunday during the Rangers’ three-game Western swing after being told a trade was imminent.
Higgins signed with the Rangers in the off-season after the Montreal Canadiens traded his rights to New York prior to the July 1 free agent signing period.
He has 90 goals and 75 assists in 337 career games. However, the 26-year-old has struggled this season, collection just six goals and eight assists in 55 games with the Rangers.
Prust, 25, who has one goal and four assists in 43 games this season, was a third-round pick of the Flames in 2004. He was traded to Phoenix as part of last year’s deadline deal that brought Jokinen to Calgary.
Prust was then traded back to the Flames last summer for Jim Vandermeer.
“It’s sad to leave again. I’m leaving all of my buddies here. It’s become my home, but at the same time I’m moving forward, and looking forward to it,” said Prust.
“Calgary’s become my home, and I’ll always respect the city and the organization. They gave me an opportunity and this is just the business side of the game. This is the ugly side I guess you could say.”
Jokinen and Higgins can both become unrestricted free agents after this season, while Prust is eligible to be a restricted free agent.