A healthy Steven Stamkos makes Team Canada more dangerous; that’s well-documented.
However, with Stamkos announcing Wednesday that he will miss the Sochi Olympics as he recovers from a broken tibia, the Canadians must turn elsewhere to replace the offence Stamkos could have provided.
It’s unfortunate for Team Canada, but it’s also a blow to the Tampa Bay Lightning sniper, as he may not get another chance to play as an Olympian with the NHL’s participation beyond Sochi very much in doubt.
Does it sting to lose a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner and former 60-goal scorer who can put the puck in the net from just about anywhere on the ice, especially when thinking of Stamkos taking passes from Canadian captain Sidney Crosby? You bet it does.
One must remember, though, that Hockey Canada has the luxury of having the world’s deepest talent pool of Olympic-calibre players to choose from to try and fill the void. Furthermore, Team Canada has options regardless of which direction they want to go.
If they want to go for all-around offence, Lightning captain Martin St. Louis and Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux should be in the conversation. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, St. Louis has more points than anybody else in the NHL with 287, while Giroux is second with 272.
St. Louis is also a sentimental pick to replace Stamkos, as Sochi will likely be his final chance to play in the Olympics, regardless of whether or not the NHL goes to Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018, not to mention it would be Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman making the final call.
Eric Staal and Joe Thornton, both of whom played in 2010 in Vancouver, are next on the list in terms of Canadian cuts with 243 points. Stamkos is third overall with 268 points, though he would likely top the list if not for the broken tibia; perhaps second if Crosby hadn’t missed a year with his concussion issues.
In addition, Stamkos leads the NHL in goals since 2010-11 with 148, seven more than Washington’s Alex Ovechkin despite playing 29 fewer games. Canada could try and fill Stamkos’s roster spot with a player with a similar nose for the net, though they certainly don’t need to.
Of the 13 players who have scored 100 or more goals since 2010-11, 10 are Canadians, with eight (including Stamkos) heading to Sochi. The only two who aren’t on the team are three-time Olympian Jarome Iginla (105 goals, seventh on the list) and Penguins forward James Neal (101 goals, T-10 with Rick Nash and Patrick Sharp.)
Neal and Iginla are about the same size, though Neal is a more productive powerplay option, ranking third with 40 powerplay goals in the last three seasons, trailing only Ovechkin (51) and Stamkos (42). St. Louis, along with the injured Logan Couture, are hanging just outside the group with 98 goals scored.
Alternatively, Canada could opt to go with a player who can shut opposing players down defensively. With the firepower already on the Canadian roster, they can afford to move someone like Jeff Carter, a big body who can shoot the puck, up on Crosby’s wing and be just fine.
I would also have suggested Corey Perry with his past chemistry with Crosby at the World Junior Hockey Championships, though his current chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf in Anaheim makes them a duo that shouldn’t be broken up.
Canada has the last two Selke Trophy winners in Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron, but it may not hurt to have a third defensive option, especially when Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock needs a strong two-way presence if they need to kill a penalty late in a game.
In 2010, Mike Richards completed the Canadian defensive trifecta, but he hasn’t quite been the same player since being traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia’s Tim Panaccio, Richards said he didn’t deserve to be there.
Though he may not be a popular pick due to his agitating nature, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins may be a dark horse contender. He’s on the ice for about 30 per cent of Boston’s shorthanded time, often paired with Bergeron. He also has international experience, having represented Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in 2007 and 2008, with both tournaments played on the larger ice surface.
He’s also willing to take chances shorthanded, and he’s reaped the benefits, having scored 12 shorthanded goals since 2010-11, three more than any other NHL player. He was also one of the NHL’s hottest players at the end of January, as he had a six-game point streak (seven goals, five assists) going before the calendar turned to February. He also compares favourably to other Olympic hopefuls in terms of recent strong play.
|Martin St. Louis||15||8||7||15||1|
The final name to consider offensively is Taylor Hall. While he’s not the strongest player in his own end, Hall is definitely a skilled offensive player. Injuries also tend to oversaw the positives 2010′s top draft pick brings to the ice, but since he’s come into the league, Hall has held his own with the Olympians.
Since entering the league in 2010-11, Hall has averaged 73.5 points per 82 games played, which would put him eighth on the current list of Olympians. Here’s how such a list shakes out if we all the names previously mentioned as replacement possibilities in the story, along with the previously-mentioned Staal and Thornton.
|3||Martin St. Louis||263||98||189||287||30.5551330798||58.927756654||89.4828897338|
Suffice it to say, Canada has no shortage of options for a 14th forward. Please feel free to leave a comment here, talk to me on Twitter @gecarragher, or vote in our website poll to let us know who you think should wear the red and white in Sochi.
(All statistics courtesy of www.quanthockey.com.)