CALGARY – Not usually one for dramatics at the NHL trade deadline, Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter pulled off the eye-catching deal of the day by getting veteran centre Olli Jokinen from the Phoenix Coyotes.
The acquisition of Jokinen and defenceman Jordan Leopold from the Colorado Avalanche plugged a couple of injury holes in the Flames’ current lineup, but the hope is giving up young players and draft prospects for these veterans will take the Northwest Division leaders deep into the post-season.
Both Jokinen and Leopold are expected to be in Calgary’s lineup Thursday in Philadelphia.
Jokinen, acquired from Phoenix for centre Matthew Lombardi, winger Brandon Prust and a conditional first-round draft pick this year or next, has never played in a Canadian market or in the NHL post-season before. The Flames also picked up a third-round draft pick in the deal.
Leopold returns to the Flames fold after Sutter dealt him to Colorado three years ago. Defenceman Lawrence Nycholat, claimed off waivers Tuesday, prospect Ryan Wilson and a second-round pick was the price the Flames paid to get the get the 28-year-old back.
“We wanted to get a centreman and we wanted to get a defenceman,” Sutter said. “We knew we’d have to pay a price.
“Being able to accomplish this today was important.”
Calgary’s second forward line has been decimated with injuries. Sutter revealed winger Todd Bertuzzi underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday to repair cartilage and is out of the lineup for a month.
He joins forwards Rene Bourque (high ankle sprain), centre Daymond Langkow (hand), Wayne Primeau (foot) and defenceman Mark Giordano (shoulder) in sick bay.
Langkow is day to day. Bourque is at least a month from returning. The only way Giordano, who had shoulder surgery last week, will return to the lineup this season is if the Flames are still playing in May, which made finding a replacement defenceman a priority for Sutter.
“I was looking for a defenceman, partly related to Gio’s injury and partly related to the right fit,” Sutter said. “I wanted someone I knew or that the players knew.”
In another minor transaction, the Flames sent minor-league goaltender Kevin Lalande to Columbus for a fourth-round draft pick.
Leopold, six feet and 205 pounds is a quick, puck-moving blue-liner who had 20 points (6-14) and is a minus-10 in 64 games this season. The native of Golden Valley, Minn., is a rental player because he becomes a unrestricted free agent July 1.
He was Robyn Regehr’s defence partner for three years during his previous stint in Calgary
“Once I left Calgary a couple years ago, I know Darryl didn’t really want to part ways, but it’s the nature of the beast and it’s the business,” Leopold said. “I thought maybe in the long run that maybe Darryl was thinking about me and apparently he was.”
But the big catch of the day was Jokinen, whom Sutter said he’d tried to land last summer when he was property of the Florida Panthers, but the price was too high.
“He’s a big, first-line centreman who scores and plays tough. He can play against the big guys on the other team,” Sutter said.
Jokinen, six foot three and 215 pounds, had 21 goals and 21 assists in 57 games for the Coyotes this season. The 30-year-old Finn could appear in his first NHL post-season with Calgary (38-19-6).
Jokinen is expected to centre Calgary’s first line between wingers Jarome Iginla and Mike Cammalleri, who are the club’s top scorers.
He’ll also reunite with head coach Mike Keenan, who coached Jokinen in Florida for three seasons starting in 2001-02.
“When he came to Florida I was a fourth-line player,” Jokinen said. “I became a lot better hockey player under him. He knows what I can bring to the table.
“A player like me, who has never been in a hockey market, it’s really exciting. You’re going to a place where you can’t hide.”
Jokinen is earning US$5.25 million this season and will make $5.5 million next year, but Sutter said he wasn’t getting squeezed against the US$56.7 million salary cap.
“If there’d been more deadline, we had more room,” Sutter said.
Lombardi, 26, had spent his entire career with the Flames, putting up 167 points (65-102) in 347 career games. Prust, 24, recorded two points (1-1) in 25 games for Calgary this season.
The Flames were one of the big movers Wednesday in stark contrast to last year when Calgary was silent at the trade deadline. Sutter says uncertain economic times his NHL brethren conservative this year.
“It’s a little bit of a different climate because we’re not different than what’s going on in the world, not knowing what’s going to happen after next year,” he said. “I don’t think you’ve seen any long-term deals move yet today.
“Are there any that were over one or two years remaining on contracts? Probably not.”
Sutter’s willingness to part with young players and draft picks for veterans indicates he feels his club can go deep into the post-season.
“We’re a team that’s got to get healthy before you see what kind of team we are,” Sutter said.