Flames expect Jokinen, Tanguay to pay dividends
When NHL free agency opened July 1, the Calgary Flames made just two moves. But because of those moves, they became one of the most-talked about clubs of the summer.
Flames General Manager Darryl Sutter started the day by announcing the signing of left wing Alex Tanguay. Later, he added center Olli Jokinen to his group.
Both players had fairly successful stints with the Flames in the past few seasons -- Tanguay had 40 goals and 159 points from 2006-08, while Jokinen had 19 goals and 50 points in 75 games in parts of two seasons from 2008-10. However, the team never advanced past the first round of the playoffs with either player on the roster, and their re-signings brought howls of protest from Flames fans.
Sutter, however, ignored the criticism, saying, "the reaction has been really, really positive … from people that are important."
One of those people was long-time captain and franchise cornerstone Jarome Iginla, who opened training camp on a line with Jokinen and Tanguay.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to play with Alex and Olli,'' Iginla told reporters. "Everybody was excited and it was a good pace."
That's not something Iginla might have said last season regarding playing with Jokinen. Iginla had one of the worst seasons of his career, finishing with just 32 goals and 67 points, while Jokinen slumped to just 11 goals in 56 games prior to being traded to the New York Rangers.
With their top offensive guns firing blanks, the Flames finished with just 201 goals, the second-fewest in the League.
Jokinen willingly took the blame for his role in the disappointment, saying he changed the style of play that had made him so successful.
"Looking back, I think I tried to change my game a little too much to be more of a playmaker, more of a passer, instead of being a shooter and being a threat to score there," Jokinen said. "I was looking to make plays a lot more than I'm used to."
With Jokinen trying too hard to be a set-up man for Iginla, it hurt both players, and the result was the team suffering through a 10-game losing streak in January and finishing 10th in the Western Conference.
Jokinen was traded to the Rangers in February and, on his way out, absorbed the brunt of the blame for a lost season.
"I thought Olli at times last year took the brunt of things he shouldn't have," coach Brent Sutter told NHL.com. "A lot of people were on him, media-like. I thought it was unfair in certain ways. Fingers got pointed at him a lot and sometimes it was pointed in the wrong direction. That's OK. Olli grew up from it, and he'll be a better player for it. I had no issues at all with Olli last year."
"They were the first team to call," Jokinen said. "Never really came to a point that I was talking with other teams. I got the call from the Flames and it took 45 minutes to get the deal done. That was it."
During that time, Jokinen made one important phone call -- to Iginla.
"He wanted me to come back," Jokinen said. "He thought it was a great thing for me to come back. It was an easy decision after that, to hear what he was saying and the management was thinking. It was a very easy decision for me to come back."
Tanguay felt the same way.
"I'm very excited. This is a great opportunity," he said during a conference call to announce his signing. "I think that when I sat down with my agent at the end of the year, looking at the opportunities and places that I could see myself fit in to, I think that Calgary was at the top of the list. That's why when they came calling that I took the deal."
Tanguay returns under somewhat better circumstances then when he departed. After scoring 22 goals and a career-best 81 points in 2006-07, coach Mike Keenan came on board the following season and Tanguay slumped to just 18 goals and 58 points. He left for Montreal that summer. Last season, with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he had just 10 goals and 37 points.
Tanguay chalked up last season to lingering pain from a shoulder injury that limited him to just 50 games the previous season with the Canadiens.
"I think everybody knows that I've had a bad year last year. It was unfortunate," he told NHL.com. "I'm certainly looking to improve. This is a good situation for me. If I do what I have to do, I'll be in good position to help this team. I'm certainly looking forward to training camp and prove myself. But I can talk all I want now … I'm a better player than I was last year."
"I think everybody knows that I've had a bad year last year. It was unfortunate. I'm certainly looking to improve. This is a good situation for me. If I do what I have to do, I'll be in good position to help this team. I'm certainly looking forward to training camp and prove myself. But I can talk all I want now … I'm a better player than I was last year."
-- Alex Tanguay
"I want first and foremost to prove to myself that I can be that top player in the League again," Jokinen said. "For me, once you've been over a point per game guy in this League, you want to get back on it and be that guy. That's the big motivation for me coming into the season, to prove to myself that I can still be that player. I still feel like I have a good six, seven, eight years left; physically and mentally I'm in better shape than I've ever been this time of year.
"Is there a lot of pressure? Yeah, there is. People are just waiting for me to fail, our team to fail, but I can't control what other people are thinking. Only thing I can control is how I'm going to play and how our team is going to play."
That's where Tanguay comes in. With Jokinen and Iginla being shoot-first players, the line needs a playmaker like Tanguay, who has had at least 30 assists eight times in 10 NHL seasons.
"I like to look at myself as a playmaker before a shooter and Jarome is more of a shooter than a playmaker," Tanguay said. "He can always find a way to get into the net. He's so gifted physically. But he's a pure goal scorer. I'll try to get him the puck as much as possible. Give him the puck in good areas. Just give him the puck and get out of the way."
"The whole lynchpin was Tanguay," Flames Assistant GM Jay Feaster told NHL.com. "One of the big problems was Olli tried to become something he's not and that's be a playmaker. He and Jarome are both shooters. Putting them together, he (Jokinen) felt he had to set up Jarome. But bringing in Tanguay, he's the playmaker and that's what they felt they needed for both guys."
Jokinen said he plans on returning to a shoot-first mentality, whether he's playing with Iginla or not.
"I have to be that same Olli Jokinen that I was in Florida," he said. "I had 350 shots every year, I scored high 30s (goals). I don't see any reason I can't get those numbers again. … It's a mental mindset, what kind of mindset you want to have going into the season and how you want to focus and how you want to stay fresh all the time. I'm definitely looking to get back to being in the top 10 in shots again. I was there for the first three or four years after the lockout. There's no reason why I can't do that again."
If he hits his numbers, the Flames should be able to hit the postseason numbers they want.
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer