Now that the Olli Jokinen-to-Broadway trade has been completed one big question remains: will it be worth the wait for both the Rangers and the Flames?
Seemingly done on Sunday, only to be held up then nearly dead late Sunday/early Monday, the anticipated trade of Jokinen and rugged Brandon Prust to the Rangers for forwards Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik finally was consummated in the wee hours of Tuesday morning.
What held the trade up and nearly sent it sprialing to its death even after all four players had heard their names mentioned in various media reports about the deal?
Some reports claim it was Kotalik's fault, that he couldn't decide whether or not to waive his limited no-trade clause. Other reports state that fault lies with the Sutter brothers who insisted that Jokinen be in the lineup for last night's tilt against the Flyers at the Saddledome.
Either way it was a confusing, bizarre, somewhat embarrassing, and potentially damaging (if the potential trade had completely blown up) situation.
Prust said that he was up and pacing all of Sunday night/Monday morning waiting to hear official word from the Flames. When the call didn't come, he and Jokinen---fatigued both mentally and physically---dressed and played in the eventual 3-0 loss to the Flyers. As soon as the game was over the two learned of their fate.
"You play hard every time you go on the ice no matter the distractions," Jokinen said after the game. "You play for that sweater and the logo on the front."
The 31 year-old Jokinen, a former 3rd overall pick of the LA Kings and a six-time 20-goal scorer, did not seem happy at all about the trade. He said, "It's a real slap in the face to be traded."
He has now been traded five times in his 11-year career. This is the first time Jokinen has responded to being traded in this angry of a fashion. Perhaps he feels that the Sutters are making him---along with Dion Phaneuf---the scapegoat for Calgary's brutal play through January.
"I was hoping to stay here the rest of my career," said Jokinen. "It's a brutal business. But it comes with the salary we make. $5 million, 11 goals, that's not going to cut it."
Of course had Jokinen been more on a pace for, say, the 29 goals he scored a year ago, he wouldn't have been traded. But he hits the nail on the head by pointing out that a salary in excess of five mill, coupled with a scant 11 goals, just doesn't cut it.
I got to know Olli a bit when we were both with the Islanders back in 1999-2000, his only year on the Island after being acquired from LA in the Ziggy Palffy trade and before being shipped to Florida along with Roberto Luongo for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha---quite possibly one of the worst trades in NHL history. Of course he was just a kid, 21, back then, but his commitment to the game did not seem great. He wasn't in the best of shape, hadn't learned to compete and battle every night just yet. But Olli was a good guy, quick with a smile and a joke.
Jokinen matured greatly down in Florida, eventually becoming the captain, an All- Star, and 39-goal scorer and 91 point-producer. He most definitely has shown the ability to be a star, a big physical presence with a sweet skill set to boot. But he is dogged by claims that he is not a team-first player. And last spring was his first go-round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Winning is not in his genes yet.
But all that said, Rangers GM Glen Sather made a good deal here. First he received the best player, by far, involved in the trade. Second Sather acquired a true heavyweight in the 25 year-old Prust, a role that has been passed back and forth this season between the game-but-overmatched Aaron Voros and 37 year-old Donald Brashear. Third Sather rid his club of Kotalik's inflated contract, which called for two more years at $3 million per for the underperforming winger. Fourth he included Higgins, an UFA this coming July who had struggled mightily on the offensive side of the puck in his first year on Broadway. And finally Sather can clear Jokinen's $5 million plus off the books next summer because he, too, is an UFA. So whether or not Jokinen lights it up or not, the Rangers have freed up money next summer, which they wouldn't have done if they were still tied to Kotalik's contract.
As for Sather's counterpart, Darryl Sutter, he completed a true housecleaning this weekend, moving two big names in Phaneuf and Jokinen, along with their big contracts. But did he get enough in return for either player? Time will tell.
So Jokinen and Prust are in Los Angeles, and both will be in the lineup tonight for the Rangers. Jokinen will even center red-hot Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal on the club's top line. Whether he remains there or shifts to a second line to, in theory, spread out the offense, well, only time will tell again.
Rangers' coach John Tortorella knows Olli really well. As coach of the Lightning, Torts saw Olli at his best with the Panthers on a regular basis. Their relationship will be an interesting one to watch develop, or erupt depending upon how you think things will go.
"I'm excited to head back to the Eastern Conference and play for an Original Six team," Jokinen said last night. "And it's a chance to play with one of the better players in the league right now in Gaborik."
A quick final word on Kotalik and Higgins as they leave New York. These are two good men, who both worked hard, but just did not get the job done offensively. Projected as two of the team's top six forwards, neither fit that bill this year. Higgins was a force on the forecheck and was a huge part of the team's excellent penalty killing unit. But he just could not score. And Kotalik quickly fell out of favor with Torts because of his middling play at even strength. He found his way to the press box when he could not even help out the team on the power play, which is his specialty.
To Kotalik's credit, he was a true professional even as things spiraled downwards for him. He was always available for interviews, and was polite, funny, and gracious. Most importantly he was good supportive teammate.
Higgins grew more and more withdrawn as the season progressed. The sarcasticly funny Long Islander replaced by a much more quiet player who never said so, but sure seemed to want out of New York. But he, too, remained a good, hard-working teammate right up until the end, and should be commended for that. Higgins never stopped working as hard as he could to turn things around.