While it took some time, in the end the Calgary Flames finally got their men as the 'on again, off again' trade between the Flames and New York Rangers is official after a trade call was made following Calgary's loss to the Flyers on Monday.
The deal, which sees Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust heading to Manhattan in exchange for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik, was reportedly held up because the Flames wanted Jokinen in the lineup for Monday night's game against Philadelphia. Jokinen played just over 15 minutes, took three shots on net and finished at a minus-one. Prust skated just over seven minutes.
With rumours of the trade circulating for more than 24 hours, the team on the ice appeared lethargic as they were soundly beaten by the Flyers on Monday. Jokinen said that he did not want to use the speculation as an excuse.
"You've got to play hard every time you go on the ice no matter what kind of distractions that you have going on," said Jokinen. "You play for that sweater, that logo. Until they tell you you're not part of the team, and I just got the news that II'm not part of the team so I've got to turn the page."
Jokinen realized his high salary mixed with low production was likely a big factor in his exit from Calgary.
"It comes with the salary, you make $5 million, 11 goals isnot going to cut it," said a visibly shaken Jokinen. "It's definitely a slap in the face to get traded."
Jokinen did see an upside in heading back to the Eastern Conference.
"I get a chance to play with one of the better players in the league in (Marian) Gaborik."
Although he was aware that a deal was likely, Prust also found it difficult to prepare for.
"You're waiting to hear confirmation, pacing around for hours," Prust admitted. "I definitely didn't sleep too well"
Both Jokinen and Prust will join the Rangers in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning while Higgins is currently in Los Angeles. Kotalik remains in New York after being sent home by the Rangers on Sunday after being told by the team that he would be traded. The Flames pushed back their practice on Tuesday in hopes that both players will be able to skate with their new teammates.
There had also been several reports that Kotalik was not prepared to waive his no-trade clause to go to Calgary; however earlier in the day he reportedly changed his stance to accept the move.
Both Jokinen and Higgins are set to become unrestricted free agent at season's end, while Prust will become a restricted free agent. Kotalik has two-years and $6 million remaining on a three-year deal he signed prior to the season with New York.
Jokinen was originally acquired by Calgary from the Phoenix Coyotes at last year's trade deadline. The 31-year old veteran has 11 goals and 24 assists in 56 games with the Flames this season. Jokinen is set to represent Finland at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. It will be his third Olympic appearance. He helped lead Finland to the silver medal at the 2006 games in Torino. The Kuopio, Finland native was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings with the third overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft.
The 25-year old Prust was drafted by the Flames in the third round of the 2004 draft, and was traded to Phoenix at last year's trade deadline in the deal that brought Jokinen to Calgary. Prust was then traded back to the Flames last summer for Jim Vandermeer. The native of London, Ontario has one goal and four assists in 43 games this season in Calgary. He ranks second in the NHL in fighting majors with 18.
"I'm looking forward to going to the big city and playing in Madison Square Garden so I'm looking forward to it, but I'm sad to leave again," said Prust.
Kotalik, 31, has been made a healthy scratch by head coach John Tortorella in eight of the club's last nine games. In 45 games, Kotalik has eight goals and 14 assists, with a plus/minus of -18. His best offensive season was with the Buffalo Sabres in 2005-06, when he scored 25 goals and added 37 assists.
Higgins, 26, is in his first season with the Rangers after he signed with New York last summer. Originally, the Montreal Canadiens had traded his rights to the Rangers prior to the July 1 free agent signing period.
Starting in 2005-06, Higgins had three straight seasons in which he scored 20 or more goals with Montreal, but his production dropped to 12 last year in an injured-shortened season. This season he has six goals and eight assists in 54 games.
This is the second major deal that the Flames have pulled off in as many days after shipping Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie to the Maple Leafs on Sunday in exchange for Matt Stajan, Ian White, Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers.
The two trades leave the Flames with a surplus of wing players, 13 in all, possibly setting up additional deals prior to the NHL's trade deadline on March 3rd.