It’s believed that no athlete in the four major professional team sports has come back to play from hip resurfacing, but defenseman Ed Jovanovski is set to do exactly that on Saturday against the Nashville Predators at BB&T Center.
Jovanovski, the Panthers’ captain and former No. 1 overall pick in 1994, was activated Friday from injured reserve. The last game Jovanovski played was in March, one of six games played in the 2012-13 campaign. He underwent hip surgery in April.
It could have been easy for Jovanovski, 37, to call it quits as the hip continued to pester him, and it was ultimately determined he required surgery, but Jovanovski said he had too much love for the game remaining within him.
“My passion for the game is still high,” he said. “I enjoy coming to the rink. I enjoy the competitive side of it, and I enjoy the guys. When you get to the latter part of your career, you start thinking of those moments [retiring], and I’m not ready.”
Fellow defenseman Dylan Olsen was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 31 with a lower-body injury. Olsen, who was acquired from the Blackhawks in November, has scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games with the Panthers.
Jovanovski opted to have a hip resurfacing instead of a hip replacement. The difference is that less bone is removed during the procedure.
The last hockey player to undergo hip resurfacing was Tim Taylor, in a situation comparable to that of Jovanovski. Taylor was the same age when he had his surgery done in 2007 with the Lightning. The former center, however, never played another game.
“If anybody’s going to do it, it’s going to be Jovo,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said. “There are not many guys that’ll go through what he’s gone through to get ready to play.”
Said Jovanovski: “I’m going to have a lot of people questioning what’s going on and what I’m doing, but this is a decision only I can make.”
Now the Panthers (15-20-6) will put a plan in place to ease him back into the lineup beginning with monitored minutes against the Predators (18-18-5) at home on Saturday.
“I want us to keep things realistic. He’s not going to come in there and be Bobby Orr,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “He’s going to come in and his presence is what I’m looking for right now.
“There’s definitely a certain urgency that is instantly put in when he’s out there. He passes the puck hard. He does things with more of a purpose and a resolve. … I think that’s necessary for our team.”
Jovanovski has participated in physical practices Thursday and Friday in preparation for his return to the ice. He said there will undoubtedly be some hesitation the first time a bump to the boards arises.
“I’ll be hesitant a little bit. I’ve shared that with the coach. There’s going to be hesitation,” Jovanovski said. “I haven’t played in a game in a while. If this does happen [Saturday] and I’m in the lineup, there will be some nervous energy, for sure.”
If more significant damage occurs to the hip, Jovanovski could always undergo the complete hip replacement, but Jovanovski insists he’s kept only positive thoughts in his mind throughout the whole process and does not envision anything going awry.
After being drafted first overall in 1994, Jovanovski was a key player on the Panthers’ 1996 team that reached the Stanley Cup Finals. He was traded to Vancouver in 1999, and Tallon brought Jovanovski back in 2011 on a four-year contract worth $16.5 million.
• Saturday’s game against Nashville marks a matchup for Horachek against Barry Trotz, for whom Horachek was an assistant for a decade. Trotz has been with the Predators coach since 1998, the longest active coaching tenure in the NHL.
“We’ll probably have dinner before the game,” Horachek said jokingly. “He’s a very good friend of mine and will be forever. I spent 10 years with him. I respect those people, the coaches and the staff there. They’re very good friends of mine.”