Jordin Tootoo season in review: Expectations met?

March 3, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Nashville Predators right wing Jordin Tootoo (22) warms up with a puck before a game against the Florida Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Everyone's favorite Inuit embarked on the 2011-2012 campaign with an impressive preseason, setting the table for what many hoped to be a career year for the right winger (beyond the typical "contract year" dynamic), especially after he voluntarily committed himself to the NHL/NHLPA's substance abuse program in the spring of 2011, and came back a new man. Production slowed for #22 as the 2011-2012 season wore on, however, and he now enters the offseason as a potentially available unrestricted free agent.


Jordin Tootoo

#22 / Right Wing / Nashville Predators

5-9

199

Feb 02, 1983

Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG
SOG PCT
2011 - Jordin Tootoo 77 6 24 30 -5 92 1 0 1 136 4.4

How did Jordin Tootoo stack up? Will it be enough to merit another "two/two" deal (his current contract was for two years, $2.5 million, and his previous contract was for two years, just under $2 million)? Did he earn more? Less? Does he come back at all?

Expectations

"He's got his life in order," said head coach Barry Trotz at the start of the season.

"He's had a lot of demons and a lot of things that get in the way. If your life and your head is not clear, then it's just full of clutter. You don't have the motivation, you don't have the instinct, all of those things. He couldn't grow as a hockey player anymore.

"When he came back, I thought he had the best stretch of his career. Not only is he still a force with the physical contact and as a tough, game-changing type of guy, but those skills that we knew he always had are starting to come to the forefront.

"He's capable of producing a lot, he's capable of being a higher contributing guy in our lineup and he wants to do that. He's very proud of the fact he had to change his life and it's not really easy."

Emphasis added. To say that expectations were high for Tootoo this year, both on and off the ice, is an understatement; in addition to the expectations of the coaching staff and fans, Trotz indicated that Tootoo places a premium on his own player development, the mark of a consummate professional.

Results

All indications on and off the ice suggest that Tootoo has taken his recovery from his substance abuse issues seriously. Judging by points alone, this was obviously Tootoo's best season of his career. His 136 shots almost matched his career best (138 in '08-'09), though his 4.4% shooting percentage was one of the worst of his career.

With just under 13 minutes per 60 of playing time, also a career high for Tootoo, he averaged just 1.2 penalties drawn per 60 (according to BehindTheNet.ca), down from roughly two penalties drawn per 60 in each of the two previous seasons. In a year that saw the Predators reach the league's top in power play ranking, Tootoo saw basically half a shift of power play time per game (probably that change in the last few seconds of a PP, where Trotz wants to follow a man advantage with an energy line shift). I don't think anyone expected Tootoo to be a serious PP contributor, so he gets a bit of a pass there. The tradeoff of 20 additional points on the score sheet, relative to fewer penalties drawn per 60 minutes, is one I think any coach or fan of a defense-first team like Nashville would make.

Another interesting statistic is that the team save percentage in even strength play with Tootoo on the ice was 0.932, tied for 8th best on the team. His PIMs were up about 50% over last year (92 PIMs this year to 61 PIMs last year). Penalties or no penalties, Tootoo is a tough little sparkplug to play against, and he's one of the reasons that, 5 on 5, Nashville is as good as any other team in the league. Other teams' fans love to hate Tootoo, but they'd probably take him if he was available.

While a consummate professional and more regular contributor during the majority of the season, Tootoo saw the scoresheet just once after February 28, 2012, and had zero points in three playoff games. Additionally, Tootoo unleashed a profanity-laden tirade to the Tennessean about being benched in the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings. This was a break in decorum for Tootoo, and does not reflect well on him as he and David Poile negotiate on a future deal.

Season Highlight(s)

Best Goal

On December 15, 2011 with Central Division rivals the Detroit Red Wings in town, Tootoo cruised through the left circle into the slot late in the second period, and snapped a rebound past Jimmy Howard. The Preds won the game 4-3 in regulation.

Best Fight (stick tap to HockeyFights.com)

On November 19, 2011, just three seconds into the game, Tootoo dropped the gloves with Columbus Blue Jackets winger Derek Dorsett. Preds enforcer Brian McGrattan tangled with Jared Boll 59 seconds later, and the Predators dropped the game 4-3 in overtime.

Best Intermission Interview (stick tap to Puck Daddy)

When Nashville visited the Calgary Flames on November 29, 2011, Tootoo's nose inexplicably exploded on air as he gave the intermission interview to Terry Crisp. Coincidentally, the Preds lost the game 1-0 in regulation.

Best Human Interest Story in Professional Sports

I hope you got to see it when it came out, because the video now appears to be missing from TSN's site, but earlier this season, the folks at TSN produced an incredibly moving mini-documentary on Jordin Tootoo's battles with substance abuse and depression related to his brother's suicide, entitled "Out of the Darkness." It was replete with very candid interviews with head coach Barry Trotz, general manager David Poile, and Tootoo himself. Nevertheless, this continuing journey is the chief reason Tootoo is the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy this year.

Outlook

David Poile has expressed interest already this offseason in retaining Tootoo's services in the next season and beyond, pending the necessary discussions. Given his on-ice contributions, and his status as a fan favorite in Nashville, I wouldn't be surprised to see Tootoo awarded a longer contract, though maybe not higher in annual cap hit. By way of comparison, Joel Ward was given a 4-year, $12 million contract by the Washington Capitals this past year, and it's hard to make the case that Tootoo evolved into a player of Ward's caliber this year alone.

That said, something in the neighborhood of 3-4 years, $7-$9 million might be a good ballpark estimate for a new contract. It's clear the coaches and management have a personal, emotional investment in seeing Tootoo succeed on and off the ice, and a longer contract with a little more money sends the right message: that they recognize the strides he has made, and they're committed to helping him continue to grow . . . but that they want to make sure he develops.

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