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Olli Jokinen a Low-Risk/High-Reward Gamble for Rangers

Feb 2, 2010 – 1:08 AM
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Christopher Botta

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When the Flames lost 11 of 12 games in a nightmarish January slide, Olli Jokinen contributed only three goals and two assists. Calgary made the $5.5 million center a scapegoat, shipping him to the New York Rangers for little in return.

In a long-gestating deal finally completely early Tuesday morning, the Flames traded Jokinen and gritty, fighting fourth-liner Brandon Prust to the Rangers for long-time underachieving forwards Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins.

Kotalik, who has another two years on a contract averaging $3 million per, was run out of New York by Rangers coach John Tortorella, who scratched him in eight of the last nine games. You would have thought no team would take on Kotalik and his contract, but this is the second time in the last seven months that Rangers GM Glen Sather has miraculously escaped one of his own bad offers.

The first time also involved Higgins, when Sather acquired the Long Island native last summer in a stunning salary dump of Scott Gomez on Montreal. Higgins is a former second-turned-third-line player with the Canadiens who produced at a fourth-line clip (six goals and 14 points) despite averaging 18 minutes a game with the Rangers.

Flames GM Darryl Sutter must have thought over the weekend that any kind of shakeup would be good for his failing team. In dealing Jokinen and Dion Phaneuf, Sutter clearly doesn't believe in the theory that the team acquiring the best player wins the trade.

Of course, the story here is Jokinen, a pending unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Finnish Olympian joins his sixth team in 12 NHL seasons, quite astonishing -- even in the new NHL -- for someone of his talents. Although his production is down compared to his career to date, Jokinen was third on Calgary with 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists).

Before joining Calgary last season, Jokinen was known for being the best player in the game to not appear in the playoffs. Calgary's dumping of Jokinen will not improve his reputation as a team-second player. It is, however, a shot at redemption on a grand stage.

Jokinen is such a superior player to Kotalik and Higgins that this is a short-term gamble well worth taking. Jokinen is playing for a contract, while the Rangers are fighting for the playoffs. They are an unlikely match, but they should be good for each other.
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