Randy Carlyle doesn’t have fond memories of the aftermath of the 2010 Olympics.
Sure, as a native of Sudbury, Ont., Carlyle was happy Canada won the gold medal. But as coach of the Anaheim Ducks, he was less than thrilled with how things went after the Olympic break.
“We had seven players go to the Olympics and we had (Ryan) Getzlaf, (Corey) Perry and Scott Niedermayer come back and they didn’t have any emotion left when they got back,” Carlyle said last month in Toronto. “They participated in winning a gold medal, and it was difficult to get those guys back to the level that we needed them at that time, and it’s understandable.
“All those things are tough things when they come back to your group after participating in that type of event because it’s two or three weeks of high emotion, and the last thing on their mind is where they came from. They’re playing for their country.”
The Ducks lost five straight after Niedermayer and Co. beat the United States in Vancouver, went 9-7-4 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs. That’s something Carlyle doesn’t want to see happen to his Toronto Maple Leafs, who have three Olympians in Americans Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and Russian Nikolai Kulemin.
It’s a concern for coaches across the NHL as players land in Sochi to participate in what’s considered the most elite hockey tournament in the world.
Current Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has seven Olympians of his own this time and figures he won’t be concerned about this until after the medals are awarded.
“It’s almost like a father-figure: You’re concerned about your kids all the time,” said Boudreau. “You’re excited to see them go, you’re excited to see them go for their country and everything. But you’re concerned because of your own team. You want them to come back fresh, and it’s a dicey little thing of when they’re done how much rest they need to get re-established, just get back into playoff mode or the last-21-game mode.”
Some teams have more concerns that others. Mike Babcock’s Detroit Red Wings and Joel Quenneville’s Chicago Blackhawks each have 10 Olympians, while the Calgary Flames, Ottawa Senators, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators have two apiece.
With so many players affected, Quenneville’s focus is on how to get players back into form in late February.
“We think when they return, getting a pretty good feel from them when they get back, how they look, how they’re playing, how they seem, we’ll try to keep these guys as fresh as possible and keep them away from the rink if necessary and try to cut their minutes back in games, but that might be wishful thinking,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
Paul Maurice of the Winnipeg Jets has four players in Sochi – Blake Wheeler for the U.S., Olli Jokinen for Finland and Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik for the Czech Republic. His experience in 2002 with the Carolina Hurricanes was the opposite of Carlyle’s in 2010, so he’s thinking positive.
“I remember we ended up going to the finals and came out fast and quick,” Maurice said. “We had a bunch of guys ... that were older, fit men that used that break to rest but came back roaring.”
Maurice is thinking more about his players not going to Sochi and how they’ll handle the time off than those playing for the next two weeks.
“They’re going to go and play at a really, really high level and they’re going to get better from it,” he said. “I’d prefer to have more guys going than not.”
Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes agrees.
“You’re always worried about risk to your players, but there’s another way to look at it: When players go over there and play against the top players in the world, they get an unbelievable confidence about their game,” Tippett said recently. “They might come back much better.”
If that happens to Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Kulemin, Carlyle will be glad this happened. Either way, he’s not begrudging his players’ opportunity.
“We think those players have earned the opportunity, and we support them in their endeavour to go to the Olympics,” Carlyle said. “It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
With files from Scott Edmonds in Winnipeg and the Associated Press.