It was bound to happen. That’s just how these things go when playing against your old team. So when Jussi Jokinen recorded his first hat trick in six years Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, was anybody really surprised?
But regardless of what Jokinen did, it’s what he didn’t do in Raleigh that really matters.
After being acquired in late 2009 for two cap dumps and a fourth round pick, not much was expected of him. Maybe he’d score a few goals and find a home on the bottom six. That spring, however, he became a folk hero, scoring clutch goals and becoming Martin Brodeur’s mortal enemy. The following year he scored 30, though the ‘Canes struggled as a team.
It was all downhill from there, though, as his goals and points diminished over the next several seasons. In the lockout shortened-season he scored just six goals for Carolina and eventually found himself first in the press box, then on waivers where he went unclaimed. General manager Jim Rutherford ended up working out a deal that sent him to Pittsburgh, though the ‘Canes retained some salary.
It wasn’t an indictment on Jokinen — sometimes players just need a change of scenery. And it wouldn’t have been his first. Both the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning decided to move on from him.
Despite his renewed success in Pittsburgh, Rutherford made the right decision. With all the recent additions in Carolina — Alex Semin, Jordan Staal — Jokinen was finding it harder and harder to get ice time. At $3 million a year, it was tough to justify keeping him around.
Trading Jokinen freed up cap space for Rutherford to make minor moves that have worked out pretty well in 2013. When combined, Nathan Gerbe, Anton Khudobin and Ron Hainsey make a little more than the room created by the deal, and all three have had strong starts to their season. Keeping Jokinen may have prevented the ‘Canes from signing two or perhaps even all three.
What Jokinen does for the Penguins this season shouldn’t have any baring on the decision. His time in Carolina clearly appeared to be at an end, and it was time to move on. That he’s having early success is great for him, but irrelevant to the ‘Canes.
Evgeni Malkin can make almost anyone look good beside him, and Jokinen is no exception. But he wasn’t going to get the same type of linemates in Carolina. Not anymore.