It didn't take long for Dale Tallon to make his mark on the Florida Panthers. Over the course of two weeks fans of all teams were awed as Tallon and Mike Santos drafted 10 prospects and brought in 10 new roster players to completely reshape and reinvigorate the Panthers. The players drafted this year should all be considered long-term projects, but the trades and signings made were for real NHL players with real NHL contracts. Each player brought in has different qualities and concerns, but the objective as always is to make the Panthers a better team.
If you were to blame the extended losing streak that ended whatever slim postseason hopes the Panthers had at the end of the season on one shortcoming, the most likely cause was a lack of leadership. After Losing Bryan McCabe, Bryan Allen, Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak at the trade deadline, the glue that had kept the rag-tag team of players together up to March 1st was gone, and did it ever show. Trading away your captain, both assistants and the longest of the long-time players doesn't go without consequence, and for the Cats it meant last place in the conference. On July 1st, Dale Tallon took a huge step in filling the leadership gap by signing old friend Ed Jovanovski to what seems to be his last contract as an NHLer.
As longtime Panthers fans happily recall, Ed Jovanovski was the team's first overall selection in the 1994 Entry Draft and an explosive rookie during the Panthers' Finals run the next season. After four seasons with the Panthers, Jovanovski was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in a deal which saw Pavel Bure come to Florida. Ed's six seasons in Vancouver would be some of his most productive, earning nearly 50 points in three consecutive seasons before signing a five year deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. Jovanovski returns to Florida with over 1000 games of experience under his belt, but a very real possibility of injuries that have limited his recent campaigns.
Jovo's 4 year, $16.5 million contract (like all the others signed by Tallon) was immediately deemed a gross overpayment by armchair GMs across the hockey world, but for once they may be right. At 35 years old, Jovanovski's best days are long gone and persistent injuries are a very real concern after only punching in two full seasons in his last 5 years with the Coyotes. Considering that Jovanovski has a history of large contracts, perhaps a 4 million dollar salary per season was just the going rate for the defenseman, and since the Panthers had money to burn, there was hardly anything else to do but overpay for Jovanovski. At least Tallon brought in a proven leader and fan favorite for the money.
The biggest question surrounding Jovo is what role he will fill with the team. Jovo's long NHL career and leadership abilities gives him a definite advantage in the race for captaincy, but unfortunately captains aren't very effective if injured down the stretch. Ask the 08-09 Avalanche how effective captain Joe Sakic was after sitting out with a hernia and mangling his fingers in a snow blower after only 15 games. Yes this is an extreme case, but it may be better to go with a captain who could play all 82 games plus playoffs. If that idea holds any weight, I don't expect Ed to be named captain. So if Jovo becomes an alternate (like he was in Phoenix) what else can he contribute to? Well with a plethora of incoming talent in the system, the Panthers needed a character guy with experience to help ease the player into the league, whether he's a defenseman like Erik Gudbranson or a forward like Quinton Howden. The general assumption when fans learned of the Jovo signing was that Tallon wanted a mentor for Gudbranson, but it doesn't stop with Erik; in four years there will be plenty of rookies who can learn from someone experienced as Ed Jovanovski.
Jovo's 15 seasons in the NHL:
If it wasn't apparent from his stats, Jovanovski is far from being a stay-at-home defender, but instead plays a offensive minded style not unlike our old pal Bryan McCabe. This will take some of the pressure off of fellow defenders Jason Garrison and Keaton Ellerby to produce offensively and let them settle into a more defensive minded role. However, if Jovo truly is meant to be Gudbranson's partner on the blueline, it would probably be best if Ed stayed at home to reduce the chances that Erik gets burned. Gudbranson needs to learn to be a defenseman before he learns to be an offensive defenseman, which means Jovanovski may need to switch up his style to accommodate the rookie.
Though Jovanovski's duties to show Gudbranson the ropes may not come until next season, he is still a valuable asset to the Panthers despite his age. The likely pairing with Brian Campbell not only brings two offensive threats to the same line, but two experienced leaders who can put up 20+ minutes of ice time per night. Jovanovski's days in the league are winding down, but he still brings a lot of intangibles to the team that one could argue were not there last season. Few Florida fans can look at what Jovanovski brings (when healthy) and turn their nose at his qualities. At this point in the rebuild, JovoCop is still quite useful.
Ed Jovanovski's first NHL hat trick vs. Nashville Predators