All Ed Jovanovski would change is that evil minus-7 rating, but even the lone blemish on the Phoenix Coyotes' stat sheet hasn't been enough to derail the veteran defenseman's enthusiasm as he enters the stretch drive of this season.
The young Coyotes have positioned themselves for an exciting postseason push through February and March, and Jovanovski, who recently played in his fifth NHL All-Star Game, is having one of the finest of his 12 NHL seasons.
"I feel good," Jovanovski told NHL.com. "Once there is team success, individual success comes. Is my game any different? Not really. I'm healthy and I feel good on the ice. Obviously the plus-minus you want to work on, but I was minus-7 in two games (Oct. 18 and 20), so that's where that comes from."
Jovanovski has racked up 44 points so far, including 34 assists, through 60 games. He registered a career-high 48 points in 2001-02, but his best overall season came the next season, when he had 46 points and was a plus-19.
All that came in Vancouver, where Jovanovski spent 6 1/2 successful seasons and was a four-time All-Star. But last season, his first on a five-year, $32.5 contract he signed with the Coyotes, basically was a bust as he had just 29 points and a minus-6 rating in 54 games.
The groin injury that cost Jovanovski the final 22 games of last season played a factor in his less-than-stellar opening act in the desert, but now that he's healthy and comfortable, he's reverted back to the defenseman we remember from his Canucks days.
"Having (team) success a lot earlier than people anticipated makes it better," said Jovanovski, a former No. 1 overall draft pick for the Florida Panthers in 1994. "Getting to the playoffs is the ultimate goal for me, and that's out there for us."
Jovanovski wrestled with his decision to leave Vancouver two years ago. His family life was good. He loved playing in front of hockey-crazed fans. He could have played there forever, except he couldn't see eye-to-eye with the Canucks on a contract.
Vancouver had to commit much of their cap space to re-signing superstar goalie Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. There just wasn't room under the cap for Jovanovski, who eventually commanded $6 million a year from the Coyotes.
"He is one player in the League who can really jump into the rush and play dominant defensively," Henrik Sedin told NHL.com. "That was a big loss for our team."
And, albeit a year later, a huge gain for the surging Coyotes, who desperately needed another established veteran to help longtime captain Shane Doan command the youngest dressing room in the NHL.
"He is really a tremendous young man," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky told The Arizona Republic. "He loves to play, loves to compete. He loves to win, and I think the will to want to win carries him every night."
But what about that blemish on the stat sheet? A minus rating really is nothing new for Jovanovski, who has been plagued by that stat for most of his career. Except for back-to-back seasons from 2002-04 with the Canucks, when he was a combined plus-21, he has been a minus every other season.
"It's a stat that sometimes you hate, but people look at it so it's an important stat," said Jovanovski, who is a career minus-36. "In the grand scheme of things I don't think it's a big deal for me."
Lately, it hasn't been a problem at all. Jovanovski was minus-11 by Nov. 15, including a combined minus-7 in back-to-back games in October. Ever since, he's played to a plus-4 rating and has six multi-point games. The Coyotes, meanwhile, have improved their overall record to 31-26-4 for 66 points, putting them ninth in the Western Conference.
|Jovanovski is sixth in the league among Defensemen with 44 points. |
Phoenix won only 31 games and registered just 67 points all of last season.
"You compare them from last year, it's an unbelievable difference," Sedin said, then added that it's no surprise Jovanovski is having a potential career-year just as the Coyotes have started to take off. Along with Doan and scattered other veterans who have become much more than the retreads hockey critics thought they were – i.e., Derek Morris and Steven Reinprecht – Jovanovski also has become a leader in the locker room.
It's a different role for a guy who played with Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden in Vancouver and vets like Dino Ciccarelli, Kirk Muller and Scott Mellanby during his time in Florida.
"Being the older guy at 31 is a little different, but we do have a young team with 19- and 20-year-olds," Jovanovski said. "For a guy with a family and kids it's kind of weird to see these guys practice and go home to play video games and hang out all day. It's different, you come to the rink to help these kids out, and they've been great for us.
"They bring that enthusiasm to the rink, the jump and the life. They always have good stories, too."
The rookies also have helped make Jovanovski feel comfortable in Phoenix.
While he may have never pictured himself playing hockey in the desert, now there's a distinct possibility that's exactly where Jovanovski finishes his NHL career.
"It's something I don't really think of right now," said Jovanovski, who has a no-trade clause built into his contract, "but it may end up that way."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.