Former Cane Jussi Jokinen returns to Raleigh, but on first-place team

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 10, 2013 

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The Penguins Jussi Jokinen (36) skates before Tuesday's game played between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Pittsburgh Penguins at the PNC Arena in Raleigh. He was recently traded from the Canes to the Penguins.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com

— Jussi Jokinen has a new team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and is looking forward to competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs again.

“This is probably my best chance to win a Cup, so I’m super-excited,” Jokinen said Tuesday.

A week ago Wednesday, Jokinen was a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. But before the NHL trade deadline that day, he was dealt to the Penguins for a conditional draft choice.

The Hurricanes said moving Jokinen was done to provide payroll flexibility next season. Jokinen, 30, has a year remaining on a contract that will pay him $3 million.

Not that the Penguins will pay the full amount – this season or next. The Hurricanes retained a part of Jokinen’s salary. Neither team disclosed the amount, but capgeek.com reported Carolina will pay 30 percent, or $900,000 next season.

Jokinen, who had an assist in the Pens 5-3 win Tuesday night, was placed on waivers by the Hurricanes a week before being dealt, said the trade “wasn’t that big of a shock” and said there was no animosity toward Carolina.

“It’s a great organization with great people working for the organization,” Jokinen said.

Jokinen was traded to the Canes in February 2009 by Tampa Bay, helping Carolina reach the Eastern Conference finals. He scored big goals in the playoffs, became something of a cult figure among Canes fans.

Jokinen followed that up by scoring a career-high 30 goals in 2010 under former coach Paul Maurice, who then had Ron Francis serving as associate head coach.

“They were able to get the best out of me, and they really put me in the position where I could be successful,” Jokinen said.

Things weren’t the same after Maurice was fired early last season and replaced by Kirk Muller. It’s as if Jokinen never could find a comfort level with Muller or Muller’s style of play.

Jokinen bounced around between lines for the Canes this season, earning just six goals and five assists in 33 games. Riley Nash, 23, began to earn more time as the third-line center.

“In our view, there (was) an opportunity for a young guy to step in, playing a role that (Jokinen) was penciled in at the start of the year on the third line,” Muller said Tuesday. “It’s more chemistry and the dynamics of how it works and where (Jokinen) is at in his career, and we were evaluating some guys. It was a good move for him, to get on a team like Pittsburgh and fit in with a different kind of role.

In his first game for the Pens, Jokinen scored Pittsburgh’s lone goal in regulation, then the shootout winner in a 2-1 victory Friday over the New York Rangers. His second game: Tuesday night’s game against the Hurricanes at PNC Arena.

Jokinen was to center Brendan Morrow and Pascal Dupuis against the Canes. He also was on the Pens’ first power-play unit.

As for the Canes, they had lost five straight games overall and seven straight on home ice.

“You look two or three weeks back, the Hurricanes were in good position to go to the playoffs and get home ice. Everything looked good,” Jokinen said after the morning skate Tuesday. “Obviously there’s not much confidence in that locker room right now. Obviously there’s lots of frustration.

“But it’s a great group of guys, and they care a lot.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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