CALGARY – Olli Jokinen will be better and cheaper his second time as a Calgary Flame, according to general manager Darryl Sutter.
Sutter signed Jokinen five months after trading him to New York and also acquired former Flame Alex Tanguay on the first day of free agency Thursday.
The GM says those moves are complementary. Sutter is banking on Tanguay, a playmaker who had the best season of his career as a Flame, to boost the numbers of both Jokinen and captain Jarome Iginla. Calgary had the worst offence in the NHL last season at 204 goals and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Jokinen signed a two-year, $6-million deal, which is a pay cut from the $5.25 million he made last season.
“It wasn’t just Olli, it was Olli and Tangs together that we felt was important,” Sutter said Friday at the Pengrowth Saddledome. “After discussing it with the players, Jarome, Olli and Alex, that’s what they felt they missed, that playmaker with them and Tanguay is capable of that.”
The reaction of Flames fans to Jokinen’s return ran the gamut from incredulity and anger to faith that Sutter may be onto something in recycling former Flames.
Jokinen had 19 goals and 31 assists in his 75 games with Calgary over parts of two seasons. He was sent to the Rangers with Brandon Prust on Feb. 1 for forwards Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.
What bothers Flames fans is their team gave up their first-round pick in this year’s draft to get Jokinen from Phoenix at the 2009 trade deadline. When the Finn was dealt to New York, Kotalik and Higgins had little impact on the Flames after their arrival and won’t in the future.
Higgins was limited to 12 games because of injury and signed with Florida on Friday. Kotalik, who had five points in 26 games, cleared waivers this week.
Jokinen, 31, and Tanguay, 30, don’t make what was already one of the oldest clubs in the league any younger.
The reality is Calgary has little room to manoeuvre under next season’s salary cap of $59.40 million, but needed players who have demonstrated offensive prowess playing on the first line alongside Iginla.
“At the end of the day, those are the two guys that best fit us,” Sutter said. “A lot of it was going to be based on the fit with Jarome and what it was going to cost us, not only dollar-wise, but if you were trading out and the trading out part of it was not one we liked.”
The plan is for Tanguay to distribute the puck to Jokinen at centre and Iginla on the right wing.
“Most of what that line’s production is based on is Jarome’s performance,” Sutter said. “We feel him being very comfortable with those two guys is a huge offset.”
The need for depth at centre has become important as Sutter revealed Friday that Daymond Langkow is not progressing as hoped from a season-ending neck injury.
“It’s still an issue,” said Sutter. “We’re 100 days post-injury. We thought he would be further along than he was and he’s still not. He’s in that 60-per-cent area. It ties into big Olli too.”
The Flames also announced Friday the signing of enforcers Raitis Ivanans and Tim Jackman to two-year contracts.
Jokinen told reporters Thursday he struggled under the weight of expectations his last go-around in a Flames jersey. By saying “the price tag is not as heavy as last time” he suggested he could play better for less money.
“From a point-production standpoint his assists were where you want them to be, but his goal-scoring wasn’t,” Sutter said. “He took a lot of heat for all our performances.”
Tanguay had 81 points and chemistry with Iginla in 2006-07, but he fell to 58 points the following season. He waived his no-trade clause and was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens.
Tanguay said he wanted out of Calgary after his second season there because he was used in a defensive role and spent little time on the power play under former head coach Mike Keenan. Tanguay wanted a larger role more befitting his $5.25 million salary at the time.
He felt the Lightning slighted him similarly last season. Tanguay says his ice time dropped to two and three minutes a game and that a job on Calgary’s first line is what he needs to resurrect his career.
For Sutter, less expensive versions of known commodities allow him to stay in the running to sign restricted free agent defenceman Ian White. He’s not willing to offer White more than a two-year deal.
“We’re not prepared to go past two years on anybody right now,” he said.
Also, Sutter hasn’t ruled out re-signing popular winger Craig Conroy if the 38-year-old believes he can make the Flames lineup.
Ivanans, from Riga, Latvia, has accumulated 564 penalty minutes in 280 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings. He’s six foot four and 240 pounds.
Jackman, a second-round pick in the 2001 draft by Columbus, spent the last two season with the New York Islanders and led them in penalty minutes each year. The six-foot-four, 210-pound forward has 28 points and 357 penalty minutes in 191 NHL games.