Olli Jokinen is starting to feel his age.
While mulling over a US$9-million, two-year contract offer from the Winnipeg Jets, the 33-year-old centre started examining the team’s roster. And he was surprised with what he saw.
“I looked at the lineup and I think I’m the oldest player on the team right now,” Jokinen said Tuesday after signing the deal. “I’ve always been around older players and more experienced teams.”
In Winnipeg, that role will fall to him. But Jokinen was brought in to be more than just a veteran presence around the dressing room.
The Finn is coming off a 61-point season in Calgary and became the Jets highest-paid forward. Clearly, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff expects him to provide an offensive boost to a lineup that relies on scoring by committee.
Jokinen is willing to do whatever coach Claude Noel asks of him.
“When you get older, you want to win and you want to be part of something good,” he said. “I think there’s something good in the players already in Winnipeg. I think they’re a good team.
“Whatever my role’s going to be, I’m going to do the best I can.”
Jokinen’s free-agent decision came down to three teams. He knew his time was up with the Flames as soon as the regular season ended, although he still considers his second stint with that organization successful because of the impact coach Brent Sutter had on turning him into a more effective two-way player.
Many scoffed when Calgary signed Jokinen to a two-year deal in July 2010—just months after dealing him away at the trade deadline—but he feels he proved the doubters wrong.
“I think the last year and a half I changed my game to be a better overall player,” said Jokinen. “And credit goes to Brent. He (taught) me how to play good in both ends and how to play other teams’ top lines and how to be more helpful to the team.”
Jokinen has seven NHL seasons with at least 20 goals under his belt and found free agency “a little bit stressful,” especially when it came down to making a decision.
He was intrigued by the opportunity to live in a hockey-mad city and play in front of the enthusiastic fans at MTS Centre. A native of Kuopio, in northern Finland, he wasn’t the least bit concerned about the city’s notoriously cold climate.
“My family loves living in Canada,” said Jokinen. “They’re not afraid of the cold weather. My kids, they love snow.”