In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks sent six players to the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and three of them, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, and Duncan Keith, ended up with gold medals hanging around their necks, and Patrick Kane sported a silver medal after the Canadians beat Team USA in the final game of the tournament.
This time around, the Blackhawks will be sending 10 players overseas, joining the St. Louis Blues as the most represented NHL team in Sochi. Patrick Sharp and Marcus Kruger will both be making their Olympic debuts in February, with Marian Hossa, Michal Handzus, Michal Rozsival, Johnny Oduya, and Niklas Hjalmarsson all joining in on the fun with Kane, Keith, and Toews.
Just as notable as the 10 players who made Olympic rosters are the players who were left off of them. Brandon Saad was considered by many to be a favorite to represent Team USA at the Olympics, but he was one of the last guys left off the list. Seabrook also won’t be skating for the Canadians, and he will be joined at home by Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford, whose 11 games missed due to injury likely played a part in him not being selected.
Some fans are upset that those three players weren’t chosen to play in the Olympics, and while it’s natural to want to see your favorite team be represented in an international tournament, it’s perhaps even more important to note that those three players all could use some rest for those three weeks in February, and it could actually be a good thing that they aren’t going to Russia.
In Saad’s case it’s especially crucial, since he has never been through the grind of a full 82 game schedule before in the NHL. Since he could potentially play in more than 100 games (including the playoffs if the Hawks can make another run), sending him to Russia to play at least three more, and potentially six more if the US gets to the medal round, doesn’t seem like that great of an idea.
In Crawford’s case, the extra rest will be good since he is going to be looked upon to start the vast majority of the Hawks’ remaining games. He too isn’t used to carrying a big work load, and giving him an extra three weeks off will mean he’ll be much sharper in the final months of the season.
In that vein, there are some fans who are concerned that so many Blackhawks players are heading to the Olympics. Could those extra games and that extra travel mean that those players won’t be at 100% when they return to the NHL grind in late February?
In the case of a guy like Hossa, the answer to that question maybe, yes. Coming out of the Olympic break in 2010, Hossa started off a bit sluggishly, but toward the end of March he came on strong, ending up with six goals and six assists during that month. This season could see a similar result, as Hossa will have played in far more games than he did during the pre-Olympic stretch in 2010 (he missed a month and a half at the start of the season with a shoulder injury).
As for the other nine players heading to Sochi, odds are that the Olympic slate won’t affect them much. Guys like Kane and Toews showed no ill effects from playing a full Olympic schedule in 2010, as both were key to the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup that June.
Keith did slow down a bit as the season wore on in 2010, but that was much more a product of his big workload in terms of ice time than the Olympics themselves. This season, Keith is playing significantly less, and that shared workload with Olympians like Hjalmarsson and Oduya could end up benefitting all three in terms of staving off post-Sochi exhaustion.
Ultimately, the questions about players becoming exhausted from the extra playing time and travel won’t be fully answered until after the Olympics have been contested, but there is little to suggest that playing in the Games will have a big detrimental impact on the Blackhawks’ chances at a Stanley Cup repeat. These players play their whole lives to have an opportunity to represent their country, and it’s perhaps that thrill of pulling on the jersey more than anything else that fans should focus on.
Guys like Saad, Seabrook, and Crawford will all get another chance to represent their country, and the 10 Blackhawks that are going overseas will all get the thrill of a lifetime in doing so. That, not injuries or exhaustion, should be the hook that fans hang their hat on.