This was a trade I was not expecting. Okay, maybe for the two teams that were ultimately involved, I was surprised.
Hours before last night's first round selections were made at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa, speculation grew to a heightened level that Florida Panthers captain Olli Jokinen was definitely on the trading block and ready to be had.
Steve Gorten of the South-Florida Sun-Sentinel offered the first hint early in the day yesterday that Jokinen was on the move as Panthers general manager Jacques Martin looked to make a trade in which he'd receive a first round draft pick. Within an hour of the draft, Jim Gintonio of the Arizona Republic revealed in his Ice Chips blog entry that the Phoenix Coyotes were a contender for Jokinen's services and trade negotiations were underway.
Within the first few minutes of TSN's telecast of the draft, it was announced that the Panthers traded Jokinen to the Coyotes for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton as well as the 49th overall draft pick in this weekend's draft. It wasn't the kind of deal many expected in what Florida received as compensation, especially because Martin wanted to get that first round draft pick.
Martin focused on acquiring players that can add depth to their blueline and he received that in Ballard and Boynton.
"I really felt we needed to improve our defense," Martin explained to the media after the trade was announced. "When you look at teams that are successful, you need defensemen who are mobile, defensemen that can move the puck. I feel Keith Ballard is a #2 defenseman. He's a tough player to play against, a real shutdown defenseman who can move the puck. He has good speed, a lot of grittiness, and he's physical. Nick Boynton is another who can play on our top four. He's a first-round pick, and (head coach) Peter (DeBoer) coached him in the World Championships."
Rumors had frequently circulated that Martin and Jokinen did not seem to see eye to eye during the three years they worked together. It came to a breaking point when the Panthers GM expressed his disappointment in Jokinen's production last season as discussed in a radio interview on WFTL-AM nearly a month ago.
Jokinen explained to Gorten last night that had a feeling his time had come where a change of scenery was needed.
"I was lucky enough to stay here for eight years. That's a long time," Jokinen said. "I would have liked to stay, but as a player, too, how long can you take it? Since Mike (Keenan) left, I think he was the guy who really wanted me here. So when he was gone, at that time I thought, 'It's just a matter of time before I'll have to leave."
But Martin denied the trade was a decision that was based on how he feels about Jokinen.
"It's not personal at all. I enjoyed working with Olli. He's an excellent player. I looked at improving our hockey club," Martin explained. "I don't look at things from a personal standpoint. At the same time, I wouldn't have made the trade if I didn't feel it was good for the organization."
Dave Joseph pointed out in his article at the Panthers official web site that the 25-year-old Ballard was surprised he got moved from Phoenix to Florida, but likes the trade that was worked out.
"I think it's a good deal for both teams," Ballard said in a conference call last night. "You look up front (with the Panthers) and they have a lot of good young players. And they have Jay Bouwmeester on the blue line. He's a real big defenseman, one of the better skaters in the league. He's the real deal."
On the Coyotes side, managing partner and head coach Wayne Gretzky said parting with two key players was no easy task in making the ultimate decision to pull the trigger on the trade.
"To get a good player, you have to give up good players," Gretzky said to Gintonio from Ottawa. "We know Keith is a hell of a competitor and Nick is one of the best team guys we ever had. But at the end of the day, we really needed a big centerman. We needed a guy that had a presence up front who could play 80 games with Shane Doan and have a big solid line."
Phoenix received the Panthers' all-time leading point scorer where he amassed 188 goals and 231 assists for 419 points in 567 games. This is despite the fact that the 29-year-old Jokinen was unable to lead his team into the Stanley Cup playoffs during his seven years in Florida. While the team captain during the last four years, his best season in the National Hockey League came during the 2006-2007 campaign when he put up 91 points for an entire 82-game schedule. While his numbers dropped some for last season, he still led the Panthers with 71 points, including 34 goals.
Coyotes assistant general manager Brad Treliving spoke to the team's television color analyst Darren Pang to discuss the trade.
"One of the most difficult things to fill is that #1 hole," Treliving explained. "You look at our division and the (Joe) Thorntons, the (Ryan) Getzlafs, somebody that can match up, play big minutes and provide offense. Really going back, it's been a hole within the organization for a number of years. You have to go back a ways to find a true #1 center that's played there."
With the likes of Coyotes captain Shane Doan and promising young forwards Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and Kyle Turris, acquiring Jokinen may be the one piece to the puzzle to get Phoenix back into the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
"To get that big, big centerman was invaluable to us," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said to Matt Paulson of the East Valley Tribune. "It takes so much of the heat off a Kyle Turris or Marty Hanzal or whoever plays behind him. We're really, really happy things unfolded the way they did."
Certainly Jokinen is thrilled at the prospects of playing with Doan among others in the Valley of the Sun.
"Hopefully, I'll be the missing piece in Phoenix and we can take the next step," Jokinen said. "It's going to be a lot of fun to play on the same team with Eddie Jovanovski and Shane Doan. There's a lot of good talent over there."
Jokinen has two years left on his current contract at a total of $10.75 million and isn't eligible for free agency until prior to the 2010-2011 season. But for now, contract is not an issue at this stage. Just getting Jokinen was the most important part of the Coyotes building for future success.