Olympic Replacements and Non-ReplacementsFebruary 9, 2014, by
With no more NHL games scheduled for two and a half weeks, all of the focus will be in Sochi as our former teammates will become the opponent, playing for a handful of countries over two weeks for prestigious Olympic gold. Over the past week, there have been some injuries and replacements made which have had some implications for team relationships here in North America.
Dave and the boys did a great job here keeping the focus mainly on the Cally non-trade, as the New York metro area is most directly affected by Callahan’s agent and Glen Sather (and his cigars, I suppose). The two most important injuries to track were recent – Max Pacioretty – and a long time ago – Steven Stamkos. Seeing the correlation between the NHL and the Olympic selection is pretty eye opening in each case.
Stamkos’ November leg injury was well documented and extremely uncomfortable to watch. Chasing a puck hard to the net, he tripped up and went driving into the goal post with his tibia taking full impact. Stamkos then naturally tried to get up and skate it off, but with a severe fracture, was stretchered off the ice. Putting country correlation aside, Stamkos is incredibly skilled, extremely fun to watch and a down to earth good guy. Watching him get injured is difficult for more than just the injury; he makes it easy to root for him, and you don’t want to see that happen to the guy you root for.
Stamkos began skating at a superhuman time after a reparative surgery, and was named to Canada’s Olympic team, an amazing feat for any athlete. The hope was that he would play, however he wasn’t medically cleared, so the 24 year old will miss Sochi. Enter a barrage of names (from the “all-snub list,” an impressive collection of Canadian players who missed the national team) to replace him. It has to be Martin St. Louis, since his GM and Canadian Olympic team GM Steve Yzerman can’t snub him twice! How awkward would the hallways be? Or should it be Claude Giroux, with leadership qualities and a great pace since his uncharacteristically slow start this year? James Neal? Sure he dives a ton, but you can’t deny his skill.
My pick (and the eventual replacement, thank you very much) was Martin St. Louis, but the important thing here is the why. A generally popular idea was that St. Louis should be chosen to avoid awkwardness in the Tampa Bay organization: this is ridiculous. Ridiculous because the Olympics and the NHL are two entirely separate entities – or at least they have to be thought as such. It’s like separating church and state. Nike says it best – just do it. To put a player on an Olympic team – something that kids dream about and so few get to experience – just to save face is absolutely ridiculous. St. Louis is 38 years old, he’s been with Tampa his entire career. He’s the captain of the squad. He’s got a lovely family. He’s not running away simply because his GM didn’t take him for the Olympic team. St. Louis’ recent production did exactly what it should have; let his numbers do the talking for the miss and prove that he’s a worthy replacement.
Last night in Raleigh, the American team had a nice little scare when Habs’ winger Max Pacioretty limped off the ice with a leg injury (sound familiar?). With the drama of selecting the Olympic team behind us, it’s only fitting that on the last day of NHL play, the Americans may have to find a backup. Will they turn to Bobby Ryan, who as famously snubbed for apparently being a poor English student? Could it be Kyle Okposo, whose team is doing so miserably that his not being selected originally was just another smack in the face? Brandon Saad, a 21-year-old tearing up the NHL this season?
Luckily, we won’t have to find out, but this close call brought about a few feelings. First of all, it seems as though Ryan was having none of the Olympics whatsoever, declaring via Twitter that he’ll be vacationing in Europe and nowhere near a television. So social media savvy is Ryan, he even posted a photo from the plane before the declaration that Pacioretty would make it to Sochi was made. In this (not PR) professional’s opinion, that was a lousy move. No matter what issue you’ve had with the initial selection – and he had reason to be upset – when the call comes to play for your country, you go. All he does here is solidify the initial choice to exclude him from the team.
Had the USA needed a backup, I put Okposo there. He’s actually really, really good, and it’s not easy to be really good on a really bad team. Sure, fans may cry snub, but when you prove your worth doing your job on the ice day in and day out, your actions are speaking way louder than any Twitter feed will.
So now, musings style, I open the discussion to you: do you like St. Louis going for Canada? Who would you have liked to see back up Pacioretty, had USA needed it? What game are you most excited to watch this week?