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Jussi Jokinen at the "Center" of Controversy

A look at the puzzling production pattern of Jussi Jokinen's NHL career and how his placement might be affecting his struggles.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Jussi Jokinen has been a much talked about topic on Canes Country this season. The versatile forward is off to the worst start of his career and criticism of his play has run rampant. But is that criticism fair? Because of the offseason moves made by the organization, he was pretty much thrust into a position that he admittedly doesn't prefer playing. Couple that with having to replace the very solid and beloved Brandon Sutter and Jussi is not in an enviable situation. He has taken a number of inopportune penalties that have really seemed to hurt the Canes. Five of Jussi's seven minor penalties have resulted in the opposing team scoring on the ensuing Power Play. He also has one of the worst +/- ratings on the team and his point production is at a career low. So what is going on, is he just slumping or is there another factor?

So I decided to look back at Jussi's yearly stats to see if there was anything that could explain his struggles this season. To my surprise I found a couple of unusual trends in Jussi's history. First, while the majority of players show production improvement from their first season to the next couple, Jussi goes in the opposite direction. If his career is broken down into two 4 year segments, his production numbers actually regress every season in both segments. Second, I noticed that the more Jussi plays the center position, the more his production drops. If you take the same two 4 year segments, you notice that each season his amount of faceoffs taken increases. So lets take a look at each 4 year segment.

2005 - 2009 (Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes)

Season Games TOI/G Goals Assists Points P/G +/- PPG Shooting % Shootout % FO/G
2005/2006 81 13:34 17 38 55 0.68 +2 8 15.9 78.9 0.28
2006/2007 82 13:53 14 34 48 0.59 +8 6 11.6 41.7 3.39
2007/2008 72 14:27 16 26 42 0.58 -14 6 12.2 50.0 4.74
2008/2009 71 15:18 7 20 27 0.38 -10 2 6.9 41.7 9.48

2005/2006 - Jussi's first season in the NHL would have to considered a successful one. While scoring was definitely up in the league that season, Jokinen finished tied for 100th in points, 1st in shootout %, and tied for 78th in assists. His 38 assists that season are his career high. He did all of this while average a career low of 13:34 TOI per game and only took 23 faceoffs.

2006/2007 - Jussi's second season saw a slight drop in most of his stats, with his TOI/G, his +/- and his FO/G the only stats that increased. A sophomore slump could be argued, but his numbers were pretty comparable to his first season and he still averaged over a half a point per game.

2007/2008 - Jussi's third season was probably a difficult one for him. He missed the majority of January with a knee injury and then was traded to Tampa Bay as part of the Brad Richards trade in late February. With Dallas, his TOI/G was down a little and his assist numbers were down a good chunk. His shooting %, shootout % and FO/G increased a little, but his overall points again declined. After being traded to Tampa, Jokinen's TOI/G, assists, and points took a nice jump. He only played 20 games for Tampa, but he had 12 assists and 14 points for the last place team in those games. His shooting % and +/- declined significantly in Tampa and overall Jussi experienced another production decline from the previous season.

2008/2009 - This would have had to be considered a disastrous year for Jussi. He had 2 different coaches in Tampa, was put on waivers and then was traded to the Canes. The season started out ok for him, as he notched 6 goals and 2 assists under coach Barry Melrose. But had 0 goals and 8 assists in 28 games under Rick Tocchet. He was averaging the most TOI to date in his career and he basically doubled the amount of faceoffs he was taking, but he wasn't producing. With the trade to Carolina, he saw some improvement, but still only managed 1 goal and 0.44 ppg in 25 games. Then the Playoffs happened and Jussi got his swagger back. He had 7 goals, 4 assists and 3 game winners in 18 Playoff games and still averaged over 9 FO/G. But it appeared that he found the right fit for his game.

2009 - 2013 (Carolina Hurricanes)

Season Games TOI/G Goals Assists Points P/G +/- PPG Shooting % Shootout % FO/G
2009/2010 81 16:48 30 35 65 0.80 +3 10 18.8 44.4 3.27
2010/2011 70 17:13 19 33 52 0.74 +3 8 14.0 20.0 4.57
2011/2012 79 17.40 12 34 46 0.58 -2 3 10.2 33.3 10.54
2012/2013 21 15:37 4 3 7 0.33 -4 2 10.3 N/A 10.19
2009/2010 - Jussi's first full season with the Canes not only saw him continue his previous year Playoff production, but he improved in basically every category. He set a career high in goals, points, points/game, Power Play Goals, and shooting %. Jussi spent a lot of time this season lined up with Eric Staal & Matt Cullen and took the 2nd lowest amount of faceoffs in his career. That combination of linemates and not playing the center position really seemed to benefit Jokinen.

2010/2011 - Jussi started the season in his homeland with a couple of new playing partners, Tuomo Ruutu & Jeff Skinner. While he didn't light the league on fire, he put up respectable numbers his first month, averaging half a point per game. But his season really seemed hit or miss for Jussi. He had stretches of games where he put up multiple points, then would go a few games empty on the score sheet. He put together a good season, the 3rd most points in his career. But his goals, assists, points, points/game, Power Play Goals, shooting % and shootout % all dropped from the previous season. Ruutu took the majority of faceoffs that season, but Jussi did see his FO/G increase.

2011/2012 - Jussi started the season with a new 3 year contract and opened up with 3 goals, 6 assists through the first 12 games. But he went down with an injury in early November and wasn't quite the same once he returned. Even though averaging the most TOI/G of his career, he also averaged the most FO/G. His goal totals, points per game and shooting % dropped even though he was basically playing with the same personnel. He was roughly around his career averages in most statistical categories, but I would guess the Canes were expecting a little more.

2012/2013 - The NHL lockout forced some players to play overseas and Jussi signed with a team in Finland. In his time there, he averaged a point per game and was a + player. When the NHL resumed, the Canes makeup pretty much forced Jussi into the 3rd line center position and he didn't start out very hot. He only has 7 points through his first 21 games and 0 goals have come from when he is playing center. He has scored 2 goals while playing wing on the 2nd PP unit and scored 2 more goals against Florida on Saturday while Riley Nash was centering his line. His FO/G numbers were actually at a career high until you factor in these last 2 games. So is Jussi at wing the answer or will his production pattern continue?

In each of Jussi's 4 year stints, he starts out strong and then statistically fades. But at the same time, he generally plays more and more at the center position. Is Jussi just that uncomfortable playing center or is this a sign that Jussi could use a change of scenery? He went from 0.68 ppg, a 15.9 shooting % and 0.28 FO/G in his first NHL season to 0.38 ppg, a 6.9 shooting % and 9.48 FO/G. He then started over in Carolina and put together his best overall season, averaging 0.80 ppg, a 18.8 shooting % and only taking 3.27 FO/G. But as time has gone on, those production numbers have dipped to 0.33 ppg and a 10.3 shooting %. At the same time, his FO/G has increased to 10.19. The question the coaches and organization needs to ask itself is; is Jussi ok as a 3rd line winger or do we need to find someone else to fill that role?