Olympic Injuries a Factor in the Stanley Cup Chase
NHL players have finally returned home from Sochi, where Canada repeated its gold medal performance from four years ago.
Now, all the teams can concentrate on making the playoffs and eventually winning the Stanley Cup.
Some of them, however, will be shorthanded for that run, as a rash of calamities hit various Olympic players. The most devastating was a season-ending knee injury to New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who tore his MCL playing for Canada.
Granted, the Islanders are last in the Metropolitan Division, but losing their captain and best player gives them no chance to have a shot at the playoffs this season. At least he won't need surgery.
The Eastern Conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins lost one of their best defensemen, Paul Martin, with a broken hand. Martin, who played for the United States, will be out from four to six weeks. His injury hurts even more becuase fellow defensman Kris Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke.
The New York Rangers were also affected, as their leading scorer, Mats Zuccarello, also broke his hand while playing for Norway. Zuccarello could be sidelined up to four weeks, and the Rangers hope he'll be back sooner as they're fighting for a playoff spot.
The Detroit Red Wings lost their captain Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season as he re-aggravated a herniated disk in his back playing for Sweden. The Red Wings are barely in the playoffs right now, and losing Zetterberg is a big blow to them as it was to Sweden in the Olympics.
The Florida Panthers, like the Islanders, are out of playoff contention, but they took a double hit in the Olympics. Aleksander Barkov suffered a knee injury playing for Finland and could miss the season. Thomas Kopecky suffered a concussion playing for Slovenia and will be out for at least a month.
The final key injury was the Blue Jackets' Fedor Tyutin, who suffered an ankle injury playing for the Russians and will miss three weeks. Tyutin, who had the go-ahead goal against the United States taken away because the net was off its moorings, was part of the Russian team that claimed it would win the gold at home, but didn't even make it to the quarterfinals.
As the Isles' GM Garth Snow strongly hinted and as Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider even more strongly stated, having the NHL take a break for the Olympics every four years is not a unanimously popular move among its teams. However, what with the Olympic hockey ratings being so strong, the tournament has been a PR boon for the NHL. That doesn't mean it's a done deal to send the pros to South Korea, but being a centerpiece on the world's sporting stage for two weeks definitely helps the industry.
If only it weren't for those injuries.
So Stanley Cup success may not just be who can get going again after a long layoff or after playing thousands of miles away in an intense tournament. It may come down to hanging around until your players get back from injuries that happend a long way from home.