For Carolina fans, watching Jussi Jokinen this year was frustrating in many different ways. Finding a spot for him in the lineup was one side effect of the Jordan Staal trade, as Eric's younger brother was occupying the second-line center spot that Jokinen held for almost all of last season. I made a suggestion to play him on the wing becuase he has done it before and has produced in that role. The injury to Tuomo Ruutu also made putting Jokinen at one of the left wing spots in the top-six an attractable option, but the team opted to keep him at center and put him on the third line to start the year.
On paper, this made sense. Jokinen has never been a "tough-minute" player before in his career, so using him in a sheltered third-line role could play to his strengths. Jokinen was coming off a down year production-wise, but what he normally gives you in a year would be excellent for a third-liner. In a sheltered role, all he really had to do was drive the play and provide secondary scoring, both of which he is capable of. He is also very good at winning faceoffs, which is probably one of the reasons why they wanted to keep him at center. Keeping Jokinen in the top-six would have been most fan's preference, but using him as the third line center was not a bad plan going into the season. Unfortunately, it ended poorly.
Jokinen went the first 11 games without scoring a goal and had only one point during that stretch. To make matter worse, he went the first 20 games of the season without scoring an even strength goal and was on the losing end of the scoring chance battle. With Jokinen's skill-set, one would think that he is more than good enough to thrive in a sheltered, offensive role but for whatever reason, it just was not working in the first half of the season. He looked lost, frustrated and out of place on the third line.
As the season went on, Jokinen started to play better and he really seemed a lot more comfortable once moving over to the wing after Riley Nash took over the third line center role. The bad news was that Jokinen still wasn't producing much on the scoresheet and a lot of it had to do with poor puck luck. Jokinen has never been the most accurate shooter and there were definitely some moments where he would badly miss the net on an open shot or fumble the puck in the slot, but a lot of the numbers suggested that Jokinen was going through a patch of terrible shooting luck and he would eventually rebound from it.
The Hurricanes couldn't afford to wait for his luck to turn around, though. The team was going to be in a salary cap bind next year and they certainly could not to afford to commit $3 mil. per year to a player who was going to be on the third line when everyone in the top-six is healthy. Trading him made sense with the team's playoff hopes fading fast. How GM Jim Rutherford handled this situation, however, was less than ideal. Rutherford killed any value that Jokinen might have had by placing him on waivers and after he went unclaimed, he was forced to trade him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a minimal return.
Still due $3 mil. next year, it was probably tough for Rutherford to find a new home for Jokinen in the middle of the year since he had only 11 points in 33 games at the time and this is probably why he was traded away for nothing. Even with Jokinen's poor numbers, holding onto him and then trading him at the end of the year wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world. The best case scenario is that his luck turns around (which it did in Pittsburgh) and he fetches a decent return this off-season and at worst, he could have gotten Carolina a mid/late round draft pick. Waiving Jokinen and then trading him to a future divisional rival just reeks of poor asset management on the part of Rutherford.
So now that we've reviewed how Jokinen's career as a Hurricane came to an end, let's take a closer look at how he performed with the Hurricanes this season.
With the Hurricanes, Jokinen's usage at even strength was pretty inconsistent. He started off as the third-line center and Muller usually didn't play him more than 12-13 minutes at even strength on most nights. This changed a little once he was bumped up to Jordan Staal's line but it didn't last long, as you can tell from the graph here. Jokinen's Behind The Net data is mixed with his games in Pittsburgh so it isn't valid, but I can tell you that his deployment was mixed in Carolina. On some nights he was sheltered and kept away from the opposing team's more talented forwards (i.e. whenever he was on the third line) and other nights he was used in more of a tough-minute role, mainly when he was on Jordan Staal's wing. It makes it kind of tough to judge his overall underlying numbers with the Canes because the team didn't really have a defined role for him. This likely contributed to his struggles and why he was traded.
5v5 Fenwick Diff/20
5v5 Chance Diff/20
I did not include Jokinen's overall numbers because it includes his numbers with the Penguins and this is a review of his performance at a Hurricane. It wouldn't make sense to compare him to the rest of Carolina's forwards if we included data from when he was with a different team. That being said, Jokinen's performance with the Canes was not all that bad, at least not at even strength. He was a positive possession player for the entire year and was at least doing part of his job well as the team's third line center. Controlling scoring chances, on the other hand, was something Jokinen struggled with.
His defensive performance wasn't considerably worse than the the rest of the forwards, but his offensive production was pretty low for his standards. Earlier I talked about how he had a lot of moments where he would fan on clear scoring chances or miss the net on open shots and that definitely contributed to his low offensive numbers. He ended the year with a scoring rate not too far off from what it was last year thanks to a hot streak in Pittsburgh, but something just was not clicking for him in Carolina. Whether you want to blame it on bad luck, the team misusing him or Jokinen's own faults is up to you. I think it was a combination of all three.
5v5 Zone Entries
Neutral zone play is where Jokinen was one of the better performers on the team, as he had control of the puck on over 55% of his even strength zone entries. The Hurricanes bottom-six had so much trouble with carrying the puck in regularly and creating offense off the rush, so this was one area where it was nice to have Jokinen around for. Although, he did not handle the puck in the neutral zone as much as his linemates (Bowman, Staal, Dwyer), but it's always nice to have another guy who can carry the puck in often, especially on in the bottom-six.
Season Grade: C
If I'm grading Jokinen's performance with the Hurricanes, then I think an average mark is fair. He was disappointing in a lot of ways but Jokinen still did a lot of things well and I thought he really started to find his legs once he got moved to the wing. Jokinen was also being a tad misused as the third line center because while he can win draws, his neutral zone performance and underlying numbers suggest that he isn't someone who can be the play-driver on a line. This is why I liked him in the top-six where he doesn't have to be that guy and why he played so well after being traded to Pittsburgh (that and he scored on over half the shots he took).
That being said, Jokinen was likely going to have to adjust to being a bottom-sixer on this team because when everyone is healthy, there isn't a lot of room for him in the top two lines, especially after Tlusty's emergence. He couldn't do that and it was going to be tough to keep him and his $3 mil. price tag on the team throughout the next year regardless. I don't fault Rutherford for trading him, but he could have handled it a lot better.
The Final Word
As bad as the Jokinen trade turned out, the cap flexibility the Hurricanes got out of it is pretty huge since the team has other needs this off-season and someone was going to be traded to make space regardless. Here's to hoping that they put this space to good use because the whole Jokinen situation left a bitter taste in a lot of Carolina fans mouth's this year. Watching a former player thrive for another team is never fun and watching Jokinen score at nearly a point-per-game rate with the Pens after being snake-bitten with Carolina all season was extra frustrating. It seemed appropriate for Jokinen to have a two-goal game against Carolina on the final game of the season because that's just how things went for the Canes in 2013.
I'm not sure if Jokinen will continue to produce at such a high level for the Penguins next year because they aren't using him much when all of their centers are healthy, but I wish him the best. He was a class act in Carolina and it's a shame that his career as a Hurricane didn't end on a higher note.