Panthers keep Jokinen with four-year, $21M deal
Hours before the NHL trade deadline, the center agreed to a four-year deal worth $21 million. Jokinen -- who helped lead Finland to a silver medal at the Turin Olympics -- and Panthers goalkeeper Roberto Luongo had been the subject of trade rumors.
"I'm really happy to get the deal done," Jokinen said. "All year I've been saying I wanted to stay here. This team can be a playoff team, even this year. It was an easy choice for me."
Florida also retained center Chris Gratton, who agreed to a two-year contract extension.
"This sends a message -- not only to the players, but also to the fans -- about the direction the team is going and that we've identified key players," coach Jacques Martin said.
The deals could affect the future of Luongo, who can become a restricted free agent after the season. He has said he would consider leaving the Panthers if they weren't serious about building a Stanley Cup contender.
Jokinen leads the Panthers with 29 goals, 37 assists and 66 points -- already a career best for the 27-year-old center. He could've become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
"This is a fantastic day in the history of the franchise and for Olli and his family," general manager Mike Keenan said. "We were trying desperately to make this happen and to keep the team together and make a run at the playoffs."
The Panthers are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference with 57 points. The top eight make the playoffs.
As Jokinen spoke at a news conference, his young daughter, Emma, sat on his lap and then played under the table. He said his family was glad to be staying in South Florida.
"It's our first home -- it has been so the last five years," he said. "We spend 10 months a year here and go back to Finland for two months every summer, but we can't wait to come back here."
Gratton has 14 goals and 16 assists in 57 games this season and leads the team with 92 penalty minutes. He signed with the Panthers as a free agent last August.
"Chris is a high-character player that we are extremely glad to have return to the Panthers," Keenan said. "He is a hardworking individual that leads by example both on and off the ice."
In 908 games with six teams, Gratton has 500 points -- 188 goals, 312 assists.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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