I’ve always felt as though Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli does his best work on the peripheries of his lineup.
Has Pete Chiarelli already screwed up the Oilers? https://t.co/0lBJVCpGZr
— Candy Corn's Taste (@davelozo) October 26, 2017
Is that damning with faint praise? Perhaps, but it’s not meant to be tongue-in-cheek or sarcastic. Take this off-season, for example. Chiarelli put the Oilers in cap hell, certainly, but some credit is due for what he did with the pennies left in his pocket after the Kris Russel and Leon Draisaitl extensions.
The Yohann Auvitu Contract was a savvy gamble on a player who showed well in a smaller sample with high-upside and no real risk. Ty Rattie as AHL depth with unrealized NHL potential made sense, too. And all this came after some, mostly, tidy work retaining the Oilers’ own. Best of all, though, was the move to sign Jussi Jokinen to a one-year deal for just $1.1-million.
— OilersNation.com (@OilersNation) July 8, 2017
The Edmonton Oilers’ addition of Jussi Jokinen on a bargain bin contract last week was a good one, because the Finnish wing brings an established level of ability to the club, something that the team badly needed at that position.
To say it hasn’t gone according to plan since would be something of an understatement. Jokinen has but one assist in the nine games he’s played and was a healthy scratch as recently as last Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in overtime against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The most recent report out of Edmonton concerning Jokinen indicates the club may already be out of patience. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector is reporting that the Oilers are looking to deal Jokinen, and Chris Johnston even went so far as to suggest that they could consider putting him on waivers for reassignment if they couldn’t consummate a deal.
All of this gave me flashbacks. No, not to when the Florida Panthers bought him out this off-season to set the stage for his one-year pact with the Oilers. I’m thinking a bit further back, all the way to 2012-13.
Jokinen started that season with the Carolina Hurricanes, but poor on-ice on personal shooting percentages submarined his offensive production to just 11 points in 33 games. The Hurricanes GM at the time, Jim Rutherford, first reassigned Jokinen to their farm team, then followed it up by trading him for pennies on the dollar to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the final ten games with of the season with the Penguins, Jokinen put up 11 points. In the three seasons that followed Jokinen averaged over 53 points with the Penguins and Panthers respectively.
That was five seasons ago, so I can’t say with any confidence that I expect Jokinen to bounce with the Oilers or any other team to the tune of an over a point per game pace in any kind of worthwhile sample. Jokinen is 34-years-old now so that just isn’t realistic.
It’s far more unrealistic to expect Jokinen to continue at this pace offensively. Let me explain.
There’s a legitimate case for Jokinen as one of the most effective members of the Oilers supporting cast. The Oilers control their highest ratio of on-ice shot attempts at five-on-five with Jokinen on the ice and the best ratio of expected goals. The Oilers are generating unblocked shot attempts and expected goals with Jokinen on the ice, too.
It’s not like the Oilers are generating good control of the puck and scoring chances due to Jokinen shutting things down. Quite the opposite is true. Goals aside, the underlying data suggests the Oilers have been at their offensive best with Jokinen on the ice.
Small sample warnings abound, but if I’m the Oilers, I’m more concerned about reacting to results-based statistics than process-oriented ones over a nine-game look because the more layers you peel off this onion, the less pungent the scent.
Personally, Jokinen isn’t quite as prolific. He’s only the third-most productive Oilers player at generating unblocked shot attempts (13.63 an hour) and fourth-most productive at generating expected goals (0.81 an hour).
Finding cheap help at the bottom of the Oilers lineup is going to become an annual chore. This off-season might’ve been the first snapshot into a world after the McDavid and Draisaitl extensions. And the Jokinen deal is proof that Chiarelli still has a good eye for cheap help.
You’d hate to have the Oilers not think this through and pick apart pieces off the bottom of their roster that could otherwise prove useful with a little bit of patience. And Jokinen can be just that. It’s not often you can find players with special teams chops and the versatility to play every forward position relatively well for just a song in free agency. And when Jokinen starts to get the odd bounce, that’s exactly what the Oilers will have.