What is Winnipeg Jets centre Olli Jokinen worth?
The Winnipeg Jets have many decisions to make this offseason, one of which is the determination of who will play third line center for the organization at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.
Olli Jokinen manned that slot during the latter part of the 2013-14 season when Mark Scheifele emerged as a point-producing center at the ripe age of 20 years old. Jokinen was signed two seasons ago with the primary purpose being to fill a gaping hole up the middle until Mark Scheifele was ready to take the reigns in the Jets’ top-six.
While Scheifele appears ready to take on an offensive scoring role with the club, the Jets do not appear to have anyone in the system yet able to shoulder the responsibility of third line center.
As currently constructed, the Jets have Bryan Little, Mark Scheifele, Olli Jokinen and Jim Slater to play the middle. It was readily apparent during the 2013-14 season that aside from maybe Eric O’Dell, the Jets did not have anyone on the active roster capable of playing center.
The most talked about center in respect of taking over a center spot in the future is Adam Lowry, son of former Flames winger Dave Lowry. Lowry scored 17 goals and had 16 assists in 64 games for the St. John’s Ice Caps during the 2013-14 AHL season. However, one would have to think the Jets would be reticent to begin the 2014-15 NHL season with two youngsters in Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry manning two of the top three center spots.
That brings us back to Olli Jokinen. The Finnish center was signed by the Jets during the summer of 2012 for a tidy sum of $9.0 million on a two-year deal. With his deal expiring shortly after the Stanley Cup Finals, the veteran center will be an unrestricted free agent—meaning he can sign with any of the 30 NHL teams without the team having to give up any compensation to sign Jokinen—aside from money, of course.
With few options internally, the Jets may very well consider bringing the veteran Jokinen back into the fold. Based upon the fact that Jokinen signed with the Jets in 2012 for a two-year deal for $9.0 million when it was very apparent the team was far from competing for a Stanley Cup, we will assume for the purposes of this article that Jokinen would sign anywhere—if the dollars are reasonable—for another two-year term.
In light of Adam Lowry’s prospects of eventually making the big club and the fact that he ought to be ready to play after two full seasons in the AHL, we will assume that the Jets will not offer Jokinen a two-year deal this time around.
With that said, let’s evaluate what Jokinen would be worth on the open market if he were to sign a one-year contract.
Finding comparables for Olli Jokinen is no easy task. One comparable, albeit a few years younger than Jokinen, is Derek Roy of the St. Louis Blues.
There are certainly size differences between the two to go along with the age difference, as Roy is diminutive and Jokinen is big and strong. Nonetheless, there are some production comparables when looking at the two veteran centers.
The centers have similar point production, although Roy plays fewer minutes. They also have similar face-off success—however Jokinen took far more face-offs than did Roy in the 2013-14 season.
Last off-season season Roy signed a one-year, $4.0 million deal with the Blues. While we were not privy to the negotiations, we can assume Roy was not offered a two-year deal at fairly similar prices because he likely would have accepted such an offer. That may be further indication that Jokinen is in store for a one-year contract this off-season.
So, are there other comparables?
Daniel Briere signed a new contract this past off-season quite similar to the contract signed by Jokinen during the 2012 off-season. Briere signed with the Montreal Canadiens for two seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15) for two-years and $8.0 million.
Expectations for Daniel Briere were a lot higher than the production put forth by the former Flyers forward. Over the three seasons prior to this one, Briere posted scoring total of 68 points, 49 points and 16 points in the lockout shortened season. The Habs believed last season was an aberration—hence signing Briere to a two-year deal—but that has not proven to be the case in 2013-14.
Again, another reason to give GMs pause with veteran center signing for more than a one-year team.
A further addition to this analysis is Matt Cullen of the Nashville Predators. Like Briere, Cullen signed a two-year contract this past off-season
The lack of success for Daniel Briere and Derek Roy should cause some GMs to ponder the risk versus reward of signing veteran players to term in excess of one season. As you can see with Jokinen, Briere and Roy, it is difficult to receive value for such contracts.
Also of note, among the four centers, Roy received beneficial face-off location in the offensive zone this past season (as per behindthenet.ca) while the other three were tasked with more defensive zone face-offs than offensives zone draws.
The strict averages pit Jokinen at a contract in the realm of $3.8 million per season on a two-year deal. Having said that, the lack of success of Briere and Roy may result in hesitation from NHL GMs with respect to handing out two-year deals to fading point producers.
Accordingly, Jokinen’s market value is likely in the realm of a one-year, $3.75 million contract.
I would personally look elsewhere (topic for another day) rather than sign Jokinen to a one-year deal at $3.75 million.
Ian Pulver of The Will Sports Group, Jokinen’s agent, almost assuredly disagrees; so expect to see the veteran agent seeking a deal in free agency similar to the Matt Cullen contract signed in the summer of 2013: Two years, $3.5 million cap hit per season.
Richard also broke down “What is Michael Frolik worth?” back in January. Stay tuned to Illegalcurve for more UFA contract analysis.