Jokinen: Toronto would be ‘a great place to play’

Toronto Maple Leafs' Olli Jokinen, left, and James van Riemsdyk celebrate the Maple Leafs' overtime win during NHL hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets in Toronto on Saturday, February 21, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/CP)

TORONTO — Olli Jokinen wasn’t even a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs long enough to collect a memento from his two-week, six-game stopover.

But that didn’t keep the veteran centre from raving about the organization following the end of his brief tenure.

“All I have to say — I’ve been in New York, I’ve been a lot of nice places but nobody’s got a setup like Toronto with the locker-rooms and everything,” Jokinen, now a member of the St. Louis Blues, said after Friday’s practice at Air Canada Centre. “It was amazing to see in two weeks, everything’s first class. It would be actually a great place to play.”

The well-travelled Finn has seen just about everything over his career. The Blues are the 10th different NHL organization he’s been a part of and they’ll be the third team he’s played for in less than a month when he makes his debut Saturday against Toronto.

Jokinen signed with Nashville as a free agent over the summer and called it a “punch to the stomach” when the Predators included him as a throw-in to the Cody Franson/Mike Santorelli deal with the Leafs on Feb. 15.

That took him from the top team in the NHL to one in the midst of a historically bad run for the organization. The 36-year-old immediately noted the negativity in the dressing room. However, beyond that, he liked what he saw about the setup.

“You’ve got breakfast, lunch — hot breakfast, hot lunch — every day, meals after the game,” said Jokinen. “Everything is top notch. You go to the rink and you’ve got cold tubs, hot tubs, saunas — it’s not those metal ones, you know? They’re built-in ones.

“Big gyms.”

At a time when some are portraying life for the Leafs as a burden, Jokinen tells a much different story. He almost sounded like a pitchman.

“All the staff, team service guys, all the trainers, they’re unbelievable guys,” said Jokinen. “It’s not just the players, it’s the staff around the team. I feel really bad for them — it’s a good group of people. Everybody says it’s like the New York Yankees in baseball playing in Toronto.

“I liked the two weeks. I don’t know why the free agents don’t want to sign here. Maybe it’s because of you guys; I didn’t mind you guys.”

If there was one thing he gleaned about the current plight of the team, it’s that all of the conversation around the Leafs has become a distraction.

Jokinen noted that interim coach Peter Horachek urged players to turn the focus internally, but doesn’t think that message was always heeded. During previous stops in Calgary and Winnipeg, among others, he’s learned to tune out the distractions.

“The guys have tendencies when things go well, they like to go read stuff about themselves,” said Jokinen. “They get in this cycle that they have to read about themselves all the time. But one (piece of) advice for the players that play in a Canadian market, or any market: At the end of the day, all that matters is what the coaches say, management says and your teammates. That’s it. And your wife.

“I think here with the players, they pay too much attention what the people outside say because at the end of the day it shouldn’t matter.”

It’s not his problem any longer.

Jokinen is heading back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for just the second time in his career and hopes to provide the depth necessary to help get the Blues over the top. With only seven points in 54 games this season, he was extremely grateful that Leafs GM Dave Nonis managed to move him at Monday’s deadline.

“They could’ve done anything: They could’ve put me in the minors, they could’ve told me to stay home, ‘We just ate your salary’” said Jokinen. “It was a very respectful move by Dave. He handled it very well.”

It’s worth noting that Jokinen is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He sure sounds like a guy who wouldn’t mind coming back to Toronto if the opportunity ever arose.

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