Surgery on his ailing hip was the only option left. At 36 years old, Ed Jovanovski knew if he had any chance at playing in the NHL with the Panthers again, a major operation was needed.
Jovanovski underwent hip surgery in April after radical treatments in Germany didn’t help with the pain. On Thursday morning, five months after his surgery, Jovanovski — who turned 37 in June — was back on the ice with his teammates for the first day of training camp.
Just being suited up and participating on the opening day of camp seemed out of the question to Jovanovski a few months ago.
“It’s been a long summer,” he said. “You always have those doubts, I would be lying if I said I didn’t. I had a major surgery done. I had no options. I’m happy where it is right now. My quality of life is much better.”
Now, however, the battle for Jovanovski is to see if he can get back to game speed and help the Panthers on the ice.
“I’m skating right now, and it’s pretty much pain-free,” Jovanovski said. “But that’s skating where pretty much everything is controlled. Getting into a game-like situation, we’ll see what happens.
“My goal is to be an everyday player, to lead these guys. It’s been tough, but I think I’ve been happier lately. I can do everyday things again like playing with my kids.”
Jovanovski was the first overall pick of the 1994 NHL Draft by the Panthers and played from 1995 to ’99 in Florida before being traded to Vancouver as part of the Pavel Bure deal.
Jovanovski returned and signed a four-year deal with Florida in 2011 and was named the seventh captain in Panthers history on the eve of last season’s opener.
Although he had dealt with the pain in his hip over the past few years, things really got bad at the start of last season.
When Jovanovski was knocked out of a game in Tampa five games in, the pain in his hip was becoming unbearable. In a desperate effort to find relief without having surgery, Jovanovski went to Germany for advanced platelet rich plasma therapy, something a number of athletes are turning to in trying to heal without surgery.
How bad was his pain?
“It got to the point where I couldn’t bend down to tie my laces anymore,” he said.
He came back to Florida and worked his way back into the lineup, returning after missing 22 games. Jovanovski didn’t last long as he left Florida’s game against the Islanders after the second period. He made the decision to have surgery soon afterward.
“I exercised every single option,” he said. “I needed to get it fixed. So that’s what we did.”
Some would ask why Jovanovski is putting himself through this, through trying to come back from such a debilitating injury. Money isn’t what drives Jovanovski, at least not in this case as he has two years left on his contract with $8.25 million guaranteed.
Jovanovski said just being able to continue playing the game he loves is his motivation. Being there and trying to help the Panthers win is right there as well.
“I just love the game, love being around it,” he said. “I don’t know anything different. My passion is hockey — it is everything. It’s the competition, the opportunity to be able to compete day in and day out. And there’s the camaraderie. Most guys say that is the biggest thing they miss when it’s over. I’m just driven to play.”
Jovanovski’s work through the pain hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“That’s why he’s our captain. He’s our leader and he’s our front man,” said Erik Gudbranson, Jovanovski’s defensive partner for much of his rookie year in 2011-12.
The question now is whether Jovanovski can make it all the way back.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen knows the type of drive that is fueling Jovanovski, saying Thursday that when it came to the end of his career, “They had to boot me off the ice.”
Dineen, who was 39 when he retired four games into the 2002-03 season, is definitely rooting for the guy he named captain of the Panthers last January. Dineen will, however, be watching the situation closely.
"I got around November and knew the pace wasn’t going to stay where I was at,’’ Dineen said. "In saying that, he’s made a heck of an effort to come back. He’s a hockey player. This is what he does, this is what his life is about. We’re hoping surgery worked for him, although that hasn’t been answered yet.’’
Center Nick Bjugstad was the only player to not participate in Thursday’s opening day of work after sustaining a concussion in Sunday’s prospect tournament finale against Tampa Bay.
Dineen said Bjugstad is being monitored as part of the league’s concussion protocol and will be evaluated over the next few days.