Thursday, July 10, 2008

Joni Pitkanen

This is the late Robert Stack, a host of the 80’s and 90’s dark matter show, Unsolved Mysteries. His coat was ridiculously long, the voice was eerie, and the narration while walking through the forest terrified the innocent 6 year old out of me. However, his smooth delivery kept viewers interested, and helped solve hundreds of crime related mysteries over the decades. I am no Robert Stack, but please allow me to help guide you through an unsolved mystery relating to the Edmonton Oilers.

Acquired twelve months ago, in an effort to improve speed, agility, and breakout passing on the wrong side of the red line, it was expected he would be the staple to the Oilers blue line for the next decade. Dubbed as the most physically talented defenseman on the Oilers since Paul Coffey, he gave the organization and the fans reason to be optimistic. There were whispers about his character, his stubbornness, his personality – but everybody just assumed they would go away.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Perhaps the first warning evidence of Joni’s stay in Edmonton being a short one was the signed contract for the 2007-2008 season. 1 year – 2.4M. Questions were put forward: Why didn’t Kevin Lowe lock up the player he paid significant consideration for? Was Joni Pitkanen asking for the moon?

The second warning evidence was connected host, Bob Stauffer, who suggested the Oilers may be looking at moving this defenseman. Keep in mind, at this point in time, Joni had yet to play a game for the Oilers.

The regular season began, and the whispers from the local media didn’t slow down. Joni, shy, but talented, injured his knee early on in the season and was gone for a month. There were other minor injuries and flu’s throughout the year that kept him out of the line-up. An interesting quote from head coach Craig MacTavish when Joni missed a few games with a lower body injury was, “I can’t go in his body and make him play.” Joni ended up missing 19 games in total, and drew criticism for his pain tolerance. However, it was without doubt the Edmonton Oilers were a better team with Joni Pitkanen in the line-up.

Fast forward to the off-season. Joni was selected to play for the Finland National Team at the World Championships. He withdrew due to another injury, and this time was called out by the national team’s head coach.

General Manager Kevin Lowe wasted no time signing RFA’s he wanted back the next year. Robert Nilsson, Denis Grebeshkov, and Tom Gilbert. Many speculated the signing of Tom Gilbert signalled the end of Joni Pitkanen’s time in Edmonton. Kevin Lowe dismissed that, but in the end these speculators were right.

Just days before July 1, 2008, the beginning of the Unrestricted Free Agency period, the Oilers acquired Lubomir Visnovsky – a move made to effectively for a subsequent transaction. Just days later, on July 1, Joni Pitkanen was moved for power-forward Erik Cole. The end result was the Oilers improved the team in the short run, but the trade’s attractiveness remains contingent as to whether Cole’s contract is extended after the 2008-2009 season.

After the trade, several players and coaches suggested that Joni didn’t blend into the team. Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff uncomfortably asserted so in the local media, while Mathieu Garon spoke about the situation on Montreal airwaves. As a fan, it was observable – at least so when Joni scored goals, and the teammates awkwardly congratulated him. The chemistry element was never there, but such is life. At the workplace, one will encounter different personalities. However, one wonders if Joni was a little more outspoken, and a little more assertive, that he, not Tom Gilbert, would be recipient of a six year contract.

Joni briefly spoke after the trade. He mentioned he had a good time in the city, but was looking forward to playing with his “very good friend, T. Ruutu” in Carolina. Perhaps excitement coming from a player who needed a mentor, to play in location where he will be less publicly scrutinized.

The end result was the Joni Pitkanen experiment did not go as expected. I wish Joni the very best in Carolina.

Where did things go wrong?

Was it yet another Edmonton issue?

Did Joni at any point intend to stay long term in Edmonton? Is so, why was he living in a hotel?

Should character play a significant role in negotiating contracts? If so, why? If not, why not?

Does the perceived notion that he didn’t blend in with his teammates affect his performance on the ice?

Will Joni bounce back to performance levels prior the 2006-2007 season?

Did his injuries impact his play?

Did the Edmonton media play a role in his departure?

What were the reasons for his trade request?

What conflict was there between Joni and head coach, Craig MacTavish?

Who will assume Joni’s role of playing the tough minutes (and the Even 5 on 5 rating)?

Did the Oilers organization do everything they could to welcome Joni? To promote efficiency?

And finally, did the Oilers make the right move in trading Joni Pitkanen for Erik Cole?

Join us, next time, for another edition of Unsolved Mysteries.


jd said...

Is the 18 legged bear real?

Had Stacks voice in my head the whole time reading the questions. Nice one.

Hasn't Tuomo Ruutu been a classick underachiever thus far as well?

LittleFury said...

If there's one player I want to see stick it up the collective ass of Oilers fandom, it's Joni. Sublime skater, great passing skills, just makes it all look so effortless, really. And he's still so young. No one can say to what extent his head issues are real or imagined, but I hope he puts it together and shows all those who think going out with the boys to bang puck bunnies at Hudson's is the most important part of being a team guy.

Hemsky is a gangsta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hemsky is a gangsta said...

comments from eric desjardins:

"The other courageous move was trading young defenseman Joni Pitkanen to the Oilers," he said. "He has all the talent in the world, he's strong as a horse and he's as powerful a skater as Al Iafrate was, but he is also very immature.

"As I said, Holmgren knows his people and he knew the guys couldn't put up with Pitkanen any more. They tried to give him support, but the youngster can't accept criticism and is very hard-headed. Even his (Finnish) compatriot Sami Kapanen had trouble with him and asked me to deal with it because he couldn't do it any more."

Hemsky_83 said...

Good read, and a great summary of his career.

Pitkanen has all the talent in the world. He packs the physical skills and ability to be the most dominant defenseman out there. If only his head was in the game...

Parker said...

im a hurricanes fan and boy am i glad to see Joni play for the Canes, i think he has very muchly improved his game and personality playing with fellow Finns T.Ruutu and J.Jokinen..i think that was the big turning point in his career to play with finland players, his english is not good at all. and i think that was the key to his personality..hes having a great year this season even though the canes arnt really...But im glad to have Joni as a hurricanes defensemen