RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford called Jussi Jokinen the type of versatile player who fits in all situations on the ice.
So it pleased Rutherford on Thursday to announce the return of Jokinen to the Hurricanes. The 28-year-old forward, along with his agent Todd Diamond, negotiated for a three-year contract for $3 million per season.
When the Hurricanes open their exhibition schedule in September, Jokinen should be available to pick up where he left off last season - fourth on the team in scoring with 52 points in 70 games, third with 33 assists. "It certainly would have been a big hole to fill if we weren't able to bring him back," Rutherford said. "Looked for a long time like we weren't going to be able to because we were a fair distance apart in our positions on his salary."
Jokinen, a six-year NHL veteran, agreed to the terms of his new contract before today's free agency noon deadline.
"I probably could have gone to July 1 or July 2 and maybe there would have been some pretty big offers out there," Jokinen said in a telephone interview from Finland. "But it's never been about the money for me. It wasn't two years ago, and it won't be after three years."
Jokinen said he wanted to stay in a place where management and the coaches appreciate what he brings to the team, where the fans chant his name during the national anthem, with a club he believes has the potential to get back to the Stanley Cup hunt.
"Obviously you want to win a Stanley Cup in your career. That's my goal. You can't just pick a team and say, 'OK, I'll go there and win a Stanley Cup.' I really think in the next three years we have a chance to win one if it all comes together."
Jokinen said he made it clear after the season that he wanted to continue playing for the Canes. He said not much was done in terms of a new contract until last week's NHL Entry Draft in Minnesota. He said, "Everything went in the right direction after that, and we were able to get it all done in the last 5-6 days."
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes continue to talk with forward Erik Cole, an unrestricted free agent who again Thursday voiced his desire to test the market.
"He has told us as late as [Thursday] that he is going to go into the free-agent market," Rutherford said. "And so we'll have to proceed accordingly."
Where does that leave the negotiation with Cole?
"I don't know because they have never given us a number of what they want," Rutherford added. "That's a tough one to answer. All I know is that all along he's said he wants to check free agency."
The signing of Jokinen makes it unlikely that the Hurricanes will continue to pursue forward Cory Stillman.
Jokinen, a 5-foot-11, 198-pound forward from Kalajoki, Finland, was originally drafted by the Dallas Stars in the sixth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he's skated in 400 career games and amassed 100 NHL goals.
The Hurricanes acquired Jokinen from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Wade Brookbank, Josef Melichar and a fourth-round pick on Feb 7, 2009. In his time with the team, he's scored 50 goals and collected 78 assists in 176 regular-season games. He's the league's all-time leader in shootout goals, netting 28 of his 60 career attempts.
Jokinen noted such players as Eric Staal and Cam Ward are in the prime of their careers, and that the Canes will have a good blend of veterans and youth.
"They can be better and great leaders and players," he said. "We had a lot of young guys who got valuable experience last year. We may sign a couple of free agents.
"I think we can go back to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs. I think we're headed in the right direction."
Staff writer Chip Alexander contributed to this report.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-0959