Jovo warms to the desert

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

WINNIPEG -- Ed Jovanovski had millions of reasons to want to be a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, but the five-year contract worth $32.5 million he signed to join Wayne Gretzky's hockey team isn't at the top of the list.

Jovanovski, 30, who had his pick of teams to sign with when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1, says Gretzky and GM Mike Barnett are trying to build a contender in Arizona, and he wants in on the ground floor.

The money and the weather is a bonus.

"They definitely went out and spent some money this summer," Jovanovski said before last night's game against the Edmonton Oilers. "It's a great fit for me.

"They want to win. They've made no secret about it during training camp that the time is now. This team wants to make the effort to be competitive. I really like the makeup of the team."

With the additions of Jovanovski, Owen Nolan, Nick Boynton, Jeremy Roenick and Georges Laraque and the re-signing of Curtis Joseph to go with a core of players that includes Shane Doan and former Oiler Mike Comrie, it's obvious Gretzky and Barnett are serious about making the Coyotes contenders in a stacked Western Conference.

"The conference itself is pretty tough," Gretzky said. "There's a lot of good hockey clubs and some good hockey clubs missed the playoffs last year.

"You can't stand pat. You have to get better. We were really fortunate. We were able to sign a couple of key guys in free agency. Obviously, you talk about Jovanovski and what he brings to the table. His enthusiasm, his talent and his presence is something we needed to add."

Also-rans in Gretzky's rookie season behind the bench with 38 wins and 81 points, pre-season prognosticators are picking the Coyotes to be much improved. They'll have to be.

"By making the changes we made in the off-season, we're a much better hockey club," Gretzky said.

"We have more depth and more talent than we had last year. That's the good news. The bad news is we're in a tough, tough conference. It's a battle right to the end. The Oilers are a great example of a team that made the playoffs in the eighth spot and had a tremendous run in the spring.

"It was exciting for the game of hockey to see a team as young and energetic as the Oilers getting in the playoffs. Anything is possible. Our goals are a lot higher than they were last year. I'm tremendously excited about what the season could bring for our hockey team."


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