For anyone who’s forgotten, 2006 – the year of the Turin Olympics – provided one of the craziest postseasons in NHL history, where each of the top four teams in the Western Conference was upset in the opening playoff run. In the end, it was the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers that came out of the West and faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final. Both teams turned out to be one-hit wonders.
The Oilers haven’t made the playoffs since and the Hurricanes have only made them once in the last seven years.
But it illustrates how an Olympics involving extensive travel, jet lag and the possibility of injuries to star players can wreak havoc with any organization’s best-laid plans. On paper, the Blackhawks look as if they have no weakness. The only real question they need to answer – and they won’t know definitively until all is said and done – is how much energy does an Olympics take out a player and what will be the effect of that come crunch time?
CAPTAIN CROSBY: To the surprise of absolutely no one, Hockey Canada named Sidney Crosby captain of the 2014 men’s Olympic hockey team, replacing Scott Niedermayer, who did the job so admirably during the gold-medal run in 2010. Crosby was a 22-year-old first-time Olympian in Vancouver and though his name had been mentioned as possible captain material even back then, Hockey Canada made an intelligent choice to give the ’C’ to Niedermayer, on the grounds that Crosby would have enough pressure to deal with just in terms of playing the games, without trying to take on the captaincy as well. Niedermayer and his fellow veteran Chris Pronger did most of the heavy lifting – which in a short tournament involves mostly keeping the lines of communication open between the players and the coaching staff – and ensuring the players would buy in to the program the coaches were selling. Canada had a few stumbles early in the preliminary round in Vancouver as they tried to sort through line combinations, but compared to other Olympics, where the chemistry never came around, the leadership group in Vancouver did an excellent job of acting as facilitators and blocking out the constant noise that surrounded the team.
Now, four years later, it is fair to say that this is Crosby’s team; and it is Crosby’s time. He is naturally the spokesman for what is a younger group overall – and he will be ably assisted by Chicago Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews, aka Captain Serious, who is considered one of the best young leaders in the game. The Nashville Predators’ Shea Weber is the other assistant captain, chosen over two more experienced defencemen (Duncan Keith and Jay Bouwmeester). About the only other player who might have been given some consideration for a letter was Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf, who has emerged as an excellent leader on the NHL’s No. 1 team. Looking through the list of Canadian players makes you realize that the current edition of the squad is composed of a lot of quiet, low-key personalities. Apart from PK Subban of the Montreal Canadiens and perhaps Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, it is not a gabby group. Leadership may come less through words and more by deeds and will be distributed through the dressing room, a point coach Mike Babcock made in a statement through Hockey Canada. “Sidney, Jonathan and Shea have been leaders on the international stage in the past, as well as with their NHL teams,” said Babcock. “These three players will be at the forefront of our efforts in Sochi, but we are confident we have 25 players on our roster that will lead in their own way and allow our team to be successful.”