Friday’s announcement that NHL players will be participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may be one of the worst kept secrets in a league known for its inability to keep news close to the vest (see: the Winter Classic site in any given year), but it still has to allow hockey fans to breathe a sigh of relief to know their favorite players will participate in the tournament.
The Chicago Blackhawks will be one of the teams most affected by the three-week break in the middle of the season, with a slew of players angling for spots on various rosters as they seek gold medals.
With that in mind, here is a brief rundown of the prime candidates to represent their countries in Russia:
The young goaltender will have plenty of competition for a spot on Canada’s roster, with veterans like Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, and Marc Andre-Fleury all angling for spots. Carey Price is another prime candidate to make a run at the roster, as is Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith.
Keith played for the 2010 gold medal winning squad in Vancouver, and will likely be on the roster again. His two-way defensive ability will make him a perfect fit for a roster that will include stalwart defensemen like Shea Weber and PK Subban, among others.
Seabrook was also on Team Canada in 2010, but his spot on the team is a little less assured this time. Newcomers like Subban and Kris Letang could ruin the party, but with both Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger out of the Olympics this time around, Seabrook could still find his way onto the roster with a solid season.
Sharp did not make the roster in 2010, but he is always a darkhorse contender for a slot. His slot presence and versatility as a winger and center hybrid could be a selling point for his candidacy, but he is still a long shot on a roster loaded with so many good players.
Toews is one of several Blackhawks who are absolute slam dunks to make the roster if they are healthy. He was named the best forward in the 2010 Olympics, and likely would have won the MVP award of the tournament if Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller hadn’t backstopped the United States to a silver medal in the games.
Hossa is another player whose presence at the Olympics is assured if he is healthy enough to play. He is the best Slovakian forward in the NHL (although Marian Gaborik of the Columbus Blue Jackets is nipping at his heels) and he is always happy to represent his country.
With the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom from the NHL last season, Hjalmarsson is going to have a prime opportunity to grab a spot on Sweden’s roster. He will be looked at to provide the kind of disciplined defense he’s used to giving the Hawks, while other players like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tobias Enstrom hold down the fort on the offensive side of things on the blue line.
Obviously, Kruger doesn’t have the same pedigree as stalwarts like Henrik Zetterberg and the Sedin twins have, but his ability as a penalty killer could translate into a fourth line center slot for him with Sweden.
Oduya played for Sweden in the 2010 tournament, and he could very well join Hjalmarsson on the team’s blue line. New players like Carl Gunnarsson, Erik Karlsson, and Ekman-Larsson may make him expendable in terms of offensive ability, but Sweden could keep him around based on his experience with the squad.
Leddy could be in line for a reserve slot on the American roster, but likely not much more than that. The team will already have several stellar offensive players in tow, with Keith Yandle and Ryan Suter headlining that list, and other young players like Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson will also block Leddy’s path. Add in veterans like Paul Martin, and it’s clearly going to be an uphill climb for Leddy to make the regular 23 man roster.
One player who won’t have to worry in the slightest about his spot on the team is Kane. Arguably the best American player in the game today, Kane was a huge contributor to the US’ silver medal performance in Vancouver, and with his game rounding into form in recent years, he could push them even farther this time around.