Sports Outside the Beltway

Florida Panthers deal Olli Jokinen to Phoenix

In return for trading their team Captain and all-time leading scorer, Florida gets a petrified starfish and a bag full of potporui*two defensemen . From the Palm Beach Post-

Olli Jokinen insisted he wasn’t bitter, but his words said otherwise.

The Panthers’ captain and all-time leading scorer said Friday night he got the trade he had come to expect when General Manager Jacques Martin dealt him to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton and a second-round pick in this weekend’s draft.

The player Florida selected with the draft pick was-

Name: Colby Robak

Position: Defenseman

Team: Brandon (WHL)

Height/weight: 6-3/194

Birthplace: Dauphin, Manitoba

Career highlights: No. 13-ranked North American skater and seventh-rated defenseman in a draft deep with defensemen. … Was Brandon’s only 16-year-old rookie in 2006-07. … Was a member of Canada’s gold-medal entry in the World U-18 tournament in April.

Quote: “He (has) lots of good tools. He’s a big kid, gets around the ice real well. All his basic skills are strong. He played real well for us.” – Canada U-18 coach Pat Quinn

Another defensemen. I haven’t a clue about how good Robak will be. All I know is it will be sometime before Panther fans know themselves.

How about the defensemen Florida acquired.

Ballard, 25, clearly was the key to the deal. Martin said the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder fills what he had identified as the team’s No. 1 off-season need, a puck-moving defenseman. He was taken 11th overall by Buffalo in 2002.

“He’s a real competitor, a real gritty player,” Martin said. “He’s in your face. He’s physical. He’s a great skater, moves the puck. He’s just a solid all-around defenseman.”

Darren Pang, the Coyotes’ TV analyst and former NHL player, gave Ballard a glowing review.

“An extremely competitive player who basically puts his heart on his sleeve every time he steps on the ice,” Pang said. “He’s a model for great skating (and) a wonderful character guy. They got a wonderful hockey play in Keith Ballard.”

Boynton, 29, was a first-round pick by Boston in 1999 who plays with an edge. He is also expected to earn a spot in the Panthers’ top four.

Like Robak, I know little about these players. Both were in the western conference, and I seldom watch games played by teams(also rans) like Phoenix unless they are playing Florida.

Florida has traded their best scoring threat for two players who seldom put pucks in the net or even assist on goals. These better be two great defensemen to fill the scoring void the Panthers have now.

Note- Florida has a young and upcoming player named Shawn Matthias. Florida GM Jacques Martin must be hoping for Matthias to fill the gap Olli’s departure creates. For I wouldn’t be counting on veterans like McLean, Dvorak, or Zednik to pick up the slack. They’ve proven what they can do in the NHL, which is far less than Jokinen.

BTW I like Shawn Matthias, but he is as of yet, untested but for a few games in the NHL.

What’s the reason given for trading Jokinen?

Martin downplayed talk of a rift between himself and Jokinen and said there was nothing personal involved in the trade.

“I enjoyed working with Olli. He’s an excellent player,” he said. “I look at improving our hockey club and never looked at things from a personal standpoint. I wouldn’t have made the trade if I didn’t feel it was good for the organization.”

Asked about the rumored rift, Jokinen replied, “We’re definitely not going out to dinner. It’s a different relationship than I had with Mike.”

Mike is Mike Keenan, former Panther head coach and Martin’s predecessor as Panther GM. Keenan, who is now with Calgary, was the person mostly responsible for the Roberto Luongo trade which was a fiasco for Florida. My gut feeling is the Jokinen trade we be regarded similarly in a short time.

BTW Florida acquired Luongo and Jokinen in the same trade with the NY Islanders eight years ago. Only seems appropriate Florida return the favor by letting these two key players get stolen back?

Back to why Florida traded Jokinen.

Martin said the bottom line to the deal was he addressed his team’s shortcomings on defense, which were apparent last season when the Panthers led the league in shots against for the second time in three seasons.

“Last year, I indicated that I would improve our goaltending and we have no regrets there,” he said. “We acquired a goaltender (Tomas Vokoun) who gives us a chance to win every night.

Florida has no lack of defensemen, including a very good to excellent one in Jay Bouwmeester. After that you have Bryan Allen, Karlis Skrastins, Cory Murphy, Mike Van Ryn, Magnus Johansson, Wade Belak, Steve Montador, Branislev Mezei, Jassen Cullimore and a couple of other warm bodies.

I’m counting Belak and Montador as defensemen. They are also forwards, and Martin likes to play them there. Truth is, both players don’t score enough to be even 3rd or 4th liners in my book. Belak is there to hit and intimidate players, which he’s fairly good at, however he puts pucks in the net once every four or five years.

Florida had injury problems at defensemen last year, Van Ryn, Mezei, and Murphy missing large chunks of the season. Set aside Montador and Belak, I don’t see Florida hurting if Bouwmeester, Allen, Murphy, Van Ryn, and Skrastins stay healthy. What’s the big need for Ballard and Boynton?

Martin seems to like acquiring defensemen. Allen came in the Luongo trade, Cullimore was signed or traded for during last off season,Johansson was acquired during last season as was Skrastins and Belak. Didn’t these players shore up Florida? If they didn’t, what does that tell us about Martin’s ability to evaluate players. Will he any better with Boynton and Ballard.

Palm Beach Post hockey writer Brian Biggane has something interesting to say at his Panther blog.

One league executive, who team was rumored to be among those pursuing Jokinen, called the former Panthers center “a dog” late Friday night and said any talk of sincere interest on the part of his team was “a plant.”

Panther fans today are bemoaning Jokinen’s departure, many insisting they won’t renew their season tickets as a result. But the league view on Jokinen is he’s a player who lost his motivation after Mike Keenan headed out of South Florida and has been on a steady decline ever since.

I liked Jokinen and still do, as a person. He was always helpful with the media. But as the old saying goes, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. It’s no coincidence the Panthers never made the playoffs during his seven years in their uniform.

We read and heard so much about Sidney Crosby and his leadership a few weeks back. Jokinen was not a good leader. First guy off the ice almost every practice. Very involved with his own issues. A negative influence for Nathan Horton who, with his significant role on the team, pulled down everyone else.

“This isn’t a guy you want on your team,” the league exec added.

Biggane relates Jokinen’s habits only after Florida deals him. Why wouldn’t a reporter paid to cover a sports team not relate the truth about a key player? So that key player keeps talking to the reporter, but isn’t the reporter supposed to report the whole news?

I’m not a big Brian Biggane fan, so I’d take his Jokinen revelation with a large lump of salt. The annonymous NHL executive doesn’t help persuade me of what Biggane is writing either. Couldn’t the reporter find at least one person in the NHL willing to go on the record about how Olli really is?

Bottom line- I think the Florida Panthers have made another bad trade. ESPN’s Scott Burnside once called Florida the most dysfunctional franchise in the NHL. I have a hard time disagreeing with Scott, and I’m a big Panther fan.

*- I borrowed this wisecrack from baseball stat man, Bill James. He used it a long time ago to describe some MLB trade.

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