Sochi’s Shadow Remains as NHL Resumes
The NHL returns to action tonight, as Buffalo hosts Carolina.
It’s hardly the most ground breaking fixture with which to welcome ‘The Show’ back in to our lives (not that it ever went away…); but none the less there are plenty of people who are delighted to see things fired up again in North America.
The debate over player participation in 2018 has already begun (I fired off my take on it yesterday), but the wider impact of the NHLPA’s finest heading to Sochi may not truly be realised for several months.
Here I look at some of the potential stories the 22nd Winter Olympics will have played their part in:
The Capitals superstar had 40 goals and 60 points before the Olympic break; but Russia’s failure to even challenge for a medal on home ice has cast an all too familiar shadow over the reigning Hart Trophy winner.
After a similar humbling at the Vancouver games in 2010, Ovechkin appeared to shrink as a player. Although he finished that season with 50 goals, he followed it up with 32 and 38 goal campaigns – comfortably his worst seasons since breaking in to the league.
It wasn’t until the second half of last season that he seemed to snap out of the funk; and with the relative safety of being in the permanently awful South East Division now gone, Washington could do without their go to guy sulking for another two-and-a-half years…
Islanders Deadline Dealings
John Tavares knee injury, sustained during Canada’s 2-1 win over Latvia in the quarter finals, all but ended the Isles slim hopes of making the post season. Whilst this isn’t intended as a slight against the likes of Kyle Okposo or youngsters like Ryan Strome, Tavares 66 points were a large reason the Islanders were even still in the conversation.
Losing Tavares is probably all the nudge GM Garth Snow needs to end any lingering thoughts of clinging on to impending free agents Thomas Vanek and Andy MacDonald beyond March 5th, ‘just in case’.
The question now is what Snow can garner for the Austrian star and the minute munching blue liner.
Tavares was not the only player to return from Sochi with an injury. Whilst the Ontario native is without question the biggest name to return battered and bruised, two others clubs are facing weeks without key players. Fedor Tyutin has been placed on the injured reserve by Columbus due to an ankle sprain, whilst Pittsburgh must now consider life without Paul Martin as well as Kris Letang.
Injuries are part and parcel of an NHL season, but the frustration among certain team executives at losing players to injuries sustained at the Olympics will have an impact on 2018 participation – especially if they feel it has cost their team a play-off run.
Toews vs Crosby
Captains, Cup winners, gold medallists.
Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby were again integral members of Canada’s successful Olympic adventure – scoring timely goals in the final and helping forge a defence only three teams managed to breach. On Saturday they go head-to-head at Soldier Field in arguably the most anticipated Stadium Series game.
These are the best two players in the world, facing off in what could quite possibly be a pre-cursor to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Detroit’s Play-Off Streak
The Red Wings streak of 22 straight post season appearances is in serious danger of coming to an end this season.
Detroit currently hold the second wild card spot in the East, but their position is fragile to say the least with Columbus, Ottawa and Washington just a point behind Mike Babcock’s team. Even Carolina can put the pressure on with a win tonight.
Pavel Datsyuk’s health was a major talking point heading in to Sochi, and the Russian’s creaking body doesn’t seem to be any better for representing his country as he is listed as ‘questionable’ for Wednesdays game against Montreal. With team Captain Henrik Zetterberg also out indefinitely following back surgery; the next few weeks could represent the greatest test this franchise has faced for some time.
Nicklas Backstrom’s controversial ban from the gold medal game has brought drugs testing in hockey firmly in to the spotlight.
The NHLPA, Swedish hockey and Washington Capitals have all stood by Backstrom, who has taken allergy medication for 7 years and did not fall foul of the old regulations in 2010. But whilst the Swedish star’s woes will be largely forgotten before long (apart from the whole pulling him out of the biggest game of his life 2 hours before face-off…), the wider issue remains.
Sean Hill was the last player suspended by the NHL for a drugs violation – some 7 years ago!
It’s hard to imagine the NHL changing, but the awkward questions about testing policy will remain.