The Olympic break is over and after all the hype and celebrating, you may be a little unfamiliar with the NHL’s most pressing storylines. If so, here are five you should be keeping an eye on:
1. Canucks Tailspin. Vancouver headed into the Olympics as the coldest team in the league – losers of seven straight and eight (all in regulation) of 10 games. They’re banged up, although both Henrik Sedin and Kevin Bieksa have been practicing and could return soon, but that’s no guarantee they’ll pull the team out of this slump. The Canucks are one point out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they’re also only three points ahead of 12th-place Nashville. Four of their first five games after the break are against teams ahead of them in the West (St. Louis, Minnesota, Phoenix and Dallas) – and if they lose further ground, it will be fascinating to see what GM Mike Gillis does at the March 5 trade deadline. Read more
Kristers Gudlevskis stopped a jaw-dropping 55 Canadian shots in Latvia’s 2-1 defeat in the Olympic quarterfinal. His counterpart, Carey Price, called the effort “one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen.”
Not bad for a guy who started 2013-14 as a Florida Everblade. It sure seems like Gudlevskis came out of nowhere, but a closer look at his development suggests we’ll hear his name in the NHL one day – and that the Tampa Bay Lightning will have some tough decisions to make.
The Bolts took Gudlevskis, then 20 years old, 124th overall in last June’s draft. The 6-foot-4 netminder impressed in camp and started his pro career with Florida of the ECHL. A 1.83 goals-against average and .925 save percentage in 11 appearances were enough to earn him a promotion to Syracuse of the American League.
To realize he’s just 21 today makes his folk-hero showing against Canada all-the-more impressive. At 21, he’s quite young for a goalie. Including two appearances with Dinamo Riga of the Kontinental League and his 22 AHL games, he already has 35 pro games scribbled onto his resume, not to mention “Team Canada onslaught.” It’s not insane to think a relative unknown, picked in the mid to late rounds of the draft, emerging from the ECHL, could make a big splash one day (read: Quick, Jonathan; Thomas, Tim).
The prospect world of professional hockey had never been further apart than last Saturday in Syracuse when one backup goalie looked across at the other backup goalie.
Riding the pine on the Norfolk Admirals bench that night was 20-year-old John Gibson, considered the best goaltending prospect in the game and the future starter for the Anaheim Ducks.
Backup stopper for the Syracuse Crunch was 46-year-old John Parks, a pharmaceutical sales rep and assistant coach for a local high school. On the spectrum of hockey prospects, 180 degrees isn’t enough to describe how far apart the two were.
“I looked over and knew that was Gibson,” Parks said after the game of his lifetime. “Imagine that. Me and him being backup goalies.”
A friend sent me a message last night: “If Martin St-Louis doesn’t get the nod for Team Canada, will there be a riot?”
I don’t think the situation was that dire, of course (and neither did he really), but most fans with a rooting interest in the Red and White were pulling for the inclusion of St-Louis.
He’s the best feel-good story on a stacked team of all-stars. He’s not the only undrafted player – Chris Kunitz was never picked either – but he’s had a decorated and successful career any No. 1 overall pick would be happy to achieve. He’s the underdog of underdogs, cut by the Flames in 2000 and signed by the Lightning. Four seasons later, he was a Hart, Art Ross and Stanley Cup winner and has been one of the most consistent top producers in the NHL ever since.
And now, finally, he’s on Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic team at the age of 38. Read more
If performance leading up to the Olympics means anything, then the choice is clear – and agonizing – for Canadian GM Steve Yzerman in his decision to replace Steven Stamkos.
Unfortunately, he must bypass Martin St-Louis once again and give that spot to Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers. With eight goals and 22 points in his past 20 games, Giroux has surpassed even St-Louis, who has 10-10-20 in his past 20 and eight goals and 16 points in 14 games since the Olympic roster was announced.
Chances are, when the team was picked, the player who will be announced as the replacement was told he would be first on the list. The fact of the matter is there seemed to be real concerns among the management group for Team Canada about St-Louis and, although nobody knows for sure, the feeling is he was not that guy. Read more
As you probably know by now, Steven Stamkos will not play at the 2014 Olympics. For any Canadian hockey fan, it’s hard to spin today positively. It’s a different story for Tampa Bay Lightning supporters, however.
On one hand, Stamkos’ absence doesn’t significantly decrease Canada’s medal chances. This is a roster so stacked that Stamkos and John Tavares, two of the game’s elite centers, were likely to play the wing. With or without Stamkos – heck, even if Canada lost Sidney Crosby – this team would be among the favorites to win gold. That said, Stamkos is one of the best two pure goal scorers on Planet Earth. No Stamkos will never be better than Stamkos. There is no way to view Canada’s glass as half full.
But what about Tampa Bay’s glass? Stamkos’ tibia hasn’t fully healed as of Feb. 5, but the Stanley Cup playoffs are more than two months away. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect him back by then, even he’s recovering slower than expected. Instead of biting their nails at the notion of Stamkos returning too early and skating on a shaky leg in Sochi, the Lightning can breathe easy knowing he’ll rest up for two full weeks before anyone, let alone Stamkos, plays NHL games again.
Steven Stamkos’ goal was to get back into NHL action by at least this Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings so that he would have one NHL game under his belt by the start of the Olympic tournament.
But now, he’s not going to the Olympics at all.
Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced in a release that team doctors determined Stamkos’ broken tibia was not completely healed and that he would not be available for Team Canada. The doctors stated that a “callus surrounding the fracture site is not 100 percent consolidated, and Steven will not be cleared to play in a game until that happens.” Read more
Everyone loves a “beating the odds” story. And odds are, by the time a hockey player’s 35th birthday has passed, his production has slowed considerably, giving him more time between shifts to contemplate investment opportunities or a broadcasting career. But there’s always a few gifted impact players who seem to barely slow down with age. Here’s the top-10 point-getters over 35 this season. Read more