Signing center Olli Jokinen to a contract on Wednesday was the completion of a multiple month-long process between the forward and the Nashville Predators.
Twenty-seven hours after the opening of the NHL’s free agency period on July 1, the Predators were one of four teams that had not inked an unrestricted free agent (UFA) to a contract. That short wait paled in comparison to the length of the unofficial evaluation the club has been undergoing, however. Months earlier–after ending the 2013-2014 NHL season playing for the Winnipeg Jets–Jokinen suited up for Finland at the 2014 World Championships, and that’s where his thoughts first turned to Nashville.
On Saturday, the veteran forward explained that talking to Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne (who also played for Finland at the World Championships) was the first of many steps in his journey to the Music City.
“I actually talked to Pekka at the World Championships. [We talked] a lot about the situation here and the team. I was trying to gather as much information as I could about the teams I thought might work for me,” Jokinen said. “And with Peks being here a long time and telling me about the city, it was clear it was first class. Plus, there’s the excitement of the new coach too.”
The 35-year-old center initially started doing his homework on the Predators back in May while in Minsk, Belarus. And after the 30 NHL teams were allowed to begin conversations with impending UFAs on June 25, Jokinen only added another outlet to gather information from: new Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette.
“Obviously with the excitement and the passion about the game and ideas of how [Laviolette] was going to coach this team, that was one of the biggest reasons I decided to come here,” Jokinen said. “Speaking with him, I got excited. I thought I could start playing tomorrow.”
The Finn also said that playing against teams coached by Laviolette for a number of seasons helped to give him a clear picture of what playing for the bench boss would be like. The balanced offensive attack and organization of those squads specifically appealed to Jokinen.
But even after the hard sell of the Predators by Rinne and Laviolette, Jokinen still had one more step in his courtship with the Nashville Predators. He needed to evaluate the team’s assets himself.
“Clearly this is a really good hockey team. Having a healthy Rinne gives you a chance to win every night. You’ve got the best defenseman in the league with Shea Weber. And you’ve got the best young defenseman in Roman Josi,” Jokinen said. “And now you’ve got James Neal to go with Mike Fisher, Matt Cullen and other players who’ve played for a long time. And a lot of really good young players too.”
Hearing Neal mentioned as a reason to choose to play for the Predators has to please Nashville General Manager David Poile. It was only four days prior to the opening of free agency that the GM traded for the goal-scoring winger–a piece that has eluded the Predators roster for multiple seasons.
Assuming Jokinen’s thoughts first turned to Nashville as a potential landing spot while at the World Championships, that’s nearly eight weeks the forward was considering the club (and it could have been longer). But even with that lengthy time period and with talking to the Predators coach and goaltender, Jokinen still required more. He needed a team that promised a good chance at the playoffs and that would compete for the Stanley Cup.
Good news for the Predators, because they’re closer to that goal then they’ve been in years.
“For me this was the best option to come to a team that not only wants to get to the playoffs but wants to go far. You can see the parts of the team and know it’s ready to win a lot,” Jokinen said. “I think it’s a great situation.”