Panthers will wait as Jovanovski gets healthy
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Injuries continue to take their toll on the Florida Panthers.
Two days after Ed Jovanovski returned from a 21-game absence, coach Kevin Dineen announced Monday the Panthers captain is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
Jovanovski will remain in Florida during the team's eight-day, five-game road trip. Dineen indicated he will offer more clarity on the situation "after we give him a chance to get healthy, which is eight days, but it will be a longer stretch than that."
Jovanovski skated in Florida's 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday. He played just under 11 minutes during the first two periods, but was not on the bench for the third.
Not until March 9 did Jovanovski reveal to the media the injury plaguing him was an ailment he entered the season with. The 36-year-old disputed previous reports suggesting it was a knee injury suffered during Florida's Jan. 31 contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"He's had a recurring lower-body injury," Dineen said. "He's worked extremely hard to get healthy. He's got to get healthy, and he's not there yet. We do not expect him to be back any time soon."
When asked if that meant Jovanovski may be done for the season or if the defenseman had played his last game, Dineen stood firm.
"It's a hard comment for me right now," Dineen said. "I've played against this guy. I've been in slashing matches with him. I've seen the way he's played as a teammate last year. I think extremely highly of him. I think, eight days here, to give him the chance to get a feel for where he is is what we're looking at right now."
If the Panthers' handling of the Alexei Kovalev situation is any indication, Jovanovski will be granted as much time as he needs to assess his health and, possibly, career.
Florida came to a mutual agreement with Kovalev in late February to part ways. Kovalev has been a healthy scratch for 12 consecutive games and not seen around team facilities while he decides on his future. Assistant GM Mike Santos indicated the 39-year-old veteran has earned the time and respect to do so.
One has to believe Jovanovski would be treated with even higher esteem given his past with the franchise.
Still, Jovanovski is halfway through a four-year deal that will pay out $8.25 million over the next two seasons. Becuase he was 35 when he signed the deal, Florida would be saddled with cap hit of $4.125 million until 2015. That makes Jovanovski a potential candidate for the amnesty buyout instituted in the league's new collective bargaining agreement.
Should that be the path the Panthers choose during the offseason, it does not mean Jovanovski would disappear from the organization.
During an exclusive interview with FoxSportsFlorida.com last week in which he reflected on his career, Jovanovski indicated he is already thinking about possible off-ice opportunities. He said there may be a chance to "stick around here when I am done playing."
"I think this is kind of the time where you start thinking about maybe later on what you're going to do," Jovanovski told FoxSportsFlorida.com. "My passion for the game is still at a very high level. I love coming to the rink every day. I think the dressing room is one of the best things in pro sports, to have the opportunity to come shoot the breeze with the guys and just hang out.
"But it's definlely something you look forward to doing, staying in the game somehow. If there's a place I would like to do it, it is here in Florida."
For now, though, the Panthers and Jovanovski are only focused on the next eight days.