TORONTO – Of the 1,226 career games Olli Jokinen has played in the NHL, six stand out above the rest. They all came with the Calgary Flames during a first-round series against Chicago in 2009 and amount to the entirety of the veteran’s playoff experience.
“Best time of my life,” Jokinen recounted Tuesday. “That’s what you play for. It was good. I still remember those games.”
The Finn has put together the kind of playing career that would be the envy of most NHL players. He’s won Olympic medals and compiled impressive statistics and become a millionaire many times over.
But if you ask Jokinen if he’s also missed out on something, he doesn’t hesitate: “Absolutely.”
“I think any player, (when) you come in the league, that’s what you play for — winning the Cup,” he said. “It’s been tough, that’s for sure.”
Imagine the range of emotions he’s gone through in the last month alone.
Jokinen went from playing for the league-leading Nashville Predators to being scratched by the league-leading Nashville Predators to being traded to the cratering Toronto Maple Leafs in the blink of an eye. Talk about an unexpected turn of events.
On the day that deal was completed, Leafs GM Dave Nonis phoned Jokinen and told him that he would work hard to flip him to a contender before Monday’s trade deadline.
So now, he waits.
The home dressing room at Air Canada Centre isn’t a very comfortable place for any players at this point and Jokinen is the least settled of the bunch. The 36-year-old took up residence in a local hotel while his family stayed behind in Nashville and has basically placed his life on hold until seeing where his fate lies next week.
One thing he won’t do is look back on a long career with regret. He dismissed any notion that he’s been unlucky to see so little playoff action — “I made my decisions to be in those places,” Jokinen said of his eight previous NHL homes — but admits he’s become more anxious to maximize his chances at returning to the post-season.
“The last couple deals I signed it was based on that,” said Jokinen. “I had options. … When I signed back with Calgary (in 2010), I thought we had a chance to win and go far there. Same with Winnipeg; looking at the roster, to me it’s the same as now, and it looked like a playoff team.
“Same as last summer. I chose to go to Nashville — I predicted right, they have a good team, you know? But I didn’t see this one coming.”
Jokinen has been critical of how he was used by the Preds, and is back playing centre in Toronto. He set up James van Riemsdyk for the overtime winner in Saturday’s win over Winnipeg and is getting more ice time than he received in Nashville.
Despite having a down season offensively, the Leafs believe a market exists for Jokinen’s services. He’s earning $2.5-million on an expiring contract and could provide some useful depth for a team gearing up to make a long playoff run.
To this point, that’s only been something Jokinen could dream about.
“Years go by fast,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get lucky one of these days. We’ll see.”
With the passing of time comes a new perspective.
Jokinen smiles now while recounting a decision he made at the end of his rookie season with the Los Angeles Kings. He appeared in eight regular-season games after coming over from HIFK Helsinki in 1998, and was given the opportunity to stick around as an extra player for the post-season.
Instead, he chose to join Finland for the IIHF World Hockey Championship — and wound up waiting more than a decade before finally experiencing the Stanley Cup playoffs.
While it’s something that remains a distinct possibility for this season, he’s trying not to focus on the fast-approaching deadline. After all, another early summer beckons if the Leafs are unable to deal him.
“It’s out of my control, you know?” said Jokinen. “This is my job and it’s the same with me as you — you try to do your job the best you can every day. Things like that, you can’t worry about.
“You’ve got to control your emotions, control things that you can control and that’s putting the work in every day.”
Anything, really, to take your mind off the waiting game.