30 Thoughts: Injured NHLers reignite Olympic debate | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Injured NHLers reignite Olympic debate

Posted: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 | 01:10 PM

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Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk plans to compete at the Sochi Olympics, even though he's currently absent from the Detroit lineup with a lower-body ailment. Should injured NHL players be allowed to participate? What are the rights of their teams? writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman. Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk plans to compete at the Sochi Olympics, even though he's currently absent from the Detroit lineup with a lower-body ailment. Should injured NHL players be allowed to participate? What are the rights of their teams? writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.

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It's my personal belief the NHL should be at the Olympics. Your best players should be at the biggest events. But team owners deserve the concession that if players can't suit up in an NHL game prior to the Winter Games, they shouldn't be allowed to compete at the Olympics.
In 2011, we did an Inside Hockey on Pavel Datsyuk. One part of the interview we had to cut for length were his comments about watching Steve Yzerman win a gold medal and a Stanley Cup in 2002, on one leg. 

He saw how the captain performed despite barely being able to walk, and it made quite an impression on him. Undoubtedly, he believes that if Yzerman could do it, he should, too. 

Datsyuk, knowing the importance in Russia, isn't going to say no, even though he's currently out of the Detroit Red Wings lineup with a lower-body injury. Can't blame him. If he was born in Manitoba and this was 2010, Canadians would expect him to play hurt. But Datsyuk's not the only borderline case. 

Steven Stamkos is in a frantic race against time to dress for one game. He missed out in 2010, so this might be his one chance. Mikko Koivu isn't going to play for Minnesota before the Olympic break, but, because of his injury timetable, may still be cleared to captain Team Finland. He wants another shot at gold after coming so close in 2006. 

These examples are why I believe it's not a certainty Sochi will mark the end of Olympic participation by NHLers. Much of the league wants no part of it, but the players love it. Being an Olympian is a big deal, and even though the World Cup is a better financial benefit, it's simply not as attractive a competition for the competitors.

There was a rumour that when the NHL and the NHLPA eventually got around to revealing the new "international calendar," it would include an announcement Olympic participation was over. Both sides denied this. At the rate things currently move, we'll probably see an agreement 10 minutes before the tournament begins in South Korea in 2018.

But, do not underestimate how many teams are asking, "What are our rights here?"

In 2009, the NHL suspended Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom for one game because they failed to show up for the NHL's all-star weekend. Both were banged up, but played for Detroit before the break. In the eyes of the NHL, if you're healthy enough to play a meaningful game, you're healthy enough to appear at an exhibition weekend. (The NBA has a similar rule.)

That's the guideline, but in reverse. If you can't play for your team, you shouldn't go to the Olympics. 

It's my personal belief the NHL should be at the Games. Your best players should be at the biggest events. But, owners, who have the most risk, deserve this concession and should demand it. 

It doesn't totally solve the problem. Watching Henrik Sedin wince around Boston during Vancouver's 3-1 loss to the Bruins Tuesday night made me think he shouldn't go to Sochi, either. But, he's trying to help his struggling team and knows some idiot will say he's soft if he doesn't dress for the Canucks. At this point, I'm not sure if it would be a huge surprise if he decided to rest, anyways.

If you play, you deserve the option. If you can't, the teams deserve the concession.


1. Big day for Steven Stamkos. Some major medical tests will be done Wednesday, plus a consultation with the doctor. He is not expected to play Thursday against Toronto, which leaves Saturday versus Detroit and the distinct possibility no decision is reached until after that game. Stamkos was spooked by some pain he felt last week. By his own admission, his biggest issue now may be more mental than physical.

2. There is some disappointment Marian Gaborik probably won't play at the Olympics. A few teams were hoping to see him, because the thinking is he may not cost as much to rent as a Matt Moulson or a Thomas Vanek. Columbus has four games between the end of the break and the March 5 trade deadline. 
3. The price on Vanek is believed to be high. The Islanders gave up a lot to get him.

4. It's unlikely trading for Raphael Diaz means an impending orgy of Canuck moves, especially since Diaz is not signed beyond this season and there's really no sense in extending him now. But, last week, GM Mike Gillis did have a face-to-face with owner Francesco Aquilini. (It's not unusual for hockey bosses to meet with owners after an organization's mid-season scouting get-together.) The two men talked about where the team is, where it is going and what will happen depending on how things go between now and the deadline. Sounds like Vancouver will not waste its future on short-term rentals. 

5. One of the reasons Los Angeles is interested in Sam Gagner is the team's third-worst power play. Gagner was 28th overall in extra-man points last season, with 15. Among Kings, only Anze Kopitar had more, with 16. Even as Gagner suffered through recovery from his broken jaw in 2013-14, only four L.A. forwards have more power-play points than he does. Plus, the Kings' centre quartet could be Kopitar, Mike Richards, Gagner and Jarret Stoll. Not bad.

6. The biggest hurdle to this trade is the Kings' cap situation. Gagner carries a hit of $4.8 million US and L.A. is looking to contend, not subtract. I'm not sure how much (if at all) Edmonton is willing to eat of this contract. Some of you asked if a team can only absorb salary in the season the trade is made. The answer is no. The Oilers could theoretically do it for the three years of Gagner's deal, if they wanted. 

7. The proposed return? Not certain. Edmonton fans drool over Jake Muzzin, but I'd be stunned. L.A. only has five current defencemen locked up for next season and Matt Greene's injuries have complicated negotiations. Their best prospects aren't on the blue-line. This is another position the Kings are looking to address.

8. Less of a surprise: Winnipeg using the break to start work on an extension with Paul Maurice.

9. One Jet said the biggest structural difference made by the new coach is on the breakout. He explained the defencemen felt they didn't have enough options to make plays because the forwards were taking off. The blue-liners are now instructed to wait or delay if they can instead of just getting rid of it, and the forwards are asked to take a more inside position than an outside one.

10. The Canadiens had all kinds of coverage issues with Dustin Byfuglien lined up as a forward. There were times when Byfuglien rotated back to the point when the puck was in Montreal's zone and another defender pinched. It caused some real confusion; an added wrinkle to the position switch.  

11. Tim Thomas on next season: "Yes, I'd like to play again." He said last week he has not yet talked to the Panthers about it, but will do so.

12. The Panthers have 10 players signed for next season. There are a couple of pending unrestricted free agents who might be worth keeping at good value, instead of trading. Among them: Brad Boyes, Tom Gilbert and Marcel Goc. GM Dale Tallon is in no rush. "We've got time," he said. Boyes's second child is due right at the deadline, too. 

13. On Martin Brodeur's thoughts about a potential trade: Twice I've asked Lou Lamiorello about it and twice he's said he will never do it. Should I try for strike three?

14. Hearing New Jersey, looking for forward help, is interested in Mike Cammalleri. Do the Devils have what Calgary wants to get this done? No first-rounder this year, so they probably wouldn't want to move a second-rounder, either. And teams are loathe to move their 2015 first-round picks (Connor McDavid). 

15. Another GM seemingly uninterested in trading futures: Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher. The Wild gave up a lot to get Jason Pominville, and even though Pominville is now signed until through 2019, "You don't want to make those deals every year," Fletcher said last week. He's got some good, young talent, but, you've got to keep and develop them.

16. Fletcher, asked if he is working on an extension with restricted free-agent Nino Niederreiter: "I prefer to do them after the season, so the focus is on the ice ... Over the Olympic break we may have some conversations, and if it's [an easy discussion], maybe it happens. If not, we will wait."

17. Since the NHL began tracking ice-time, the one-season record is Brian Leetch's 2,449 minutes 19 seconds in 1998-99, an average of 29:52 a night. Ryan Suter is eight seconds per game shy of that pace, with the added workload of an Olympics. (Can't imagine Dan Bylsma will keep Suter on the bench in Sochi.) From Christmas until Feb. 6, the Wild had only one set of back-to-back games. Easier to rest him. But there are five from Feb. 27 to March 27. Can he keep this up?  

18. Bryan Murray said on HNIC Saturday night he waited until he solidified his front-office (Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee) before opening talks with any of his players. I'm a Robin Lehner fan, and he's a restricted free agent. Lehner's on-pace to play 32 games as a 22-year-old. He's got an impressive .921 save percentage. Since the start of the cap era, there are only two real comparables: Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov.

19. Rask played 45 games at that age with a .931 percentage. Varlamov played 27, finishing at .924. Like Lehner, both players were coming out of their entry-level deals. Rask signed for two years and $2.5M; Varlamov for three years and $8.5M. He was about to become the starter. Rask still had to deal with Tim Thomas. We don't know the future yet in Ottawa. But those are some numbers to keep an eye on.

20. Be aware also that Murray can extend both Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza on July 1. They can talk in advance of that, although no deals can be signed until Canada Day. It makes sense to look at it, simply to see if he can get greater insight into what keeping them would do to his flexibility. 

21. Daniel Carcillo scored the winner in the Rangers' Yankee Stadium victory over the Islanders. He told a great story last summer about being traded to the Kings. Rob Blake did the suspension video in 2011 when Carcillo was punished by the league. When L.A. got him, Dean Lombardi said to Carcillo, "Rob Blake wants to speak to you." He thought, "What did I do now?" He had no idea Blake left the NHL and joined the Kings. 

22. One Glen Sather-era Oiler on what is happening between the Rangers and Ryan Callahan: "[Sather] is so competitive. He wants to win every trade, to win every signing. He grinds you. He tests you. I went through it. I'm not convinced they won't get something done." Things didn't look great with Henrik Lundqvist until a big face-to-face the night before he signed, either. Both sides compromised. We'll see.

23. Things are quieter now, but, on the weekend, I could find evidence of only one team given permission to talk to Callahan. The fact he played Tuesday against Colorado indicates it's far from a guarantee he gets traded this week. Teams would generally hold out someone like him if it was close, because he plays hard enough to get hurt. 

24. As the Canadiens try to get a new contract done with P.K. Subban, a change in the new CBA adds to the intrigue. In the old agreement, a team could take an eligible player to arbitration, which blocked anyone else from slapping him with an offer sheet. The Predators did this with Shea Weber in 2011 (Philadelphia went after him in 2012). Now, however, even a player taken to arbitration by his club has a window (until July 5) where an offer sheet can be signed. Something to keep an eye on.

25. Teams are just daring anyone else on the Canadiens' power play to beat them. Nate Thompson practically took up residence on Subban's skates last weekend when Tampa played there. The next day, Michael Frolik and Andrew Ladd were both bruised by Subban shots. Opponents accused Bobby Hull of intentionally shooting at their toes. Maybe that's the only way Subban gets open.

26. You can see why the Panthers were excited about Nick Bjugstad, whose size helped him dominate at the University of Minnesota. There were questions about doing that against NHL players. He laughed and agreed he learned some lessons the hard way. "[Doug] Murray from Montreal," said Bjugstad with a smile, "I tried one of my college moves on him and he put me on my ass." 

27. Jonathan Huberdeau had an interesting observation last week. Asked him about playing a regular 82-game schedule for the first time, and he pointed out, "This isn't going to be a regular 82-game schedule" because of the Olympic break. Therefore, anyone who was a rookie in 2012-13 won't understand a normal season until next year. Tough for players to evaluate themselves, and teams to evaluate them.

28. We did an Inside Hockey at Patrick Kane's home several years ago, and Pat Kane, Sr. pointed out Patrick's grandfather's house. It was right next door. We tried to interview him as part of the piece, but he politely declined. Patrick was more than happy to talk about him off-camera, though, especially about sitting around at their pool. Not surprised he was so emotional discussing him after Donald Kane's death this week. Condolences to the Kanes. 

29. Condolences also to the Flyers family, which lost the organization's first head coach and later, architect of their two Stanley Cup champions, Keith Allen. I never met Allen, but do know his 1974 trade to get Reggie Leach is a blueprint several GMs have used since. Allen wanted to draft Leach (a junior teammate of Bob Clarke's) in 1970, but didn't have a high enough pick. The winger was considered a disappointment, with 60 goals in his first 250 games. Allen always had a vision for him and grabbed Leach for a low price in 1974. He would score 306 goals in eight years for Philly.  

30. Commissioner Gary Bettman just accomplished the most impressive feat of his NHL tenure: getting a ticket to Howard Stern's 60th birthday party. Now he has to drop a "Bababooey!" during a live interview.

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