It was a two-paragraph press release from the International Ice Hockey Federation, which hereafter may be known as the Steven Stamkos exemption.
With the consent of the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association, the IIHF agreed to extend the roster-submission date for the 2014 men’s Winter Olympic hockey tournament to Jan. 7. Originally, the 25-player rosters were supposed to be in by Dec. 30, although even that deadline was artificial and malleable.
The U.S. team had an exemption until Jan. 1, 2014, so they could reveal their team following the outdoor NHL game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s show biz, right? And marketing the Olympics is really the only reason you need to have your rosters unveiled in advance anyway.
The IIHF isn’t going to make anybody go to Sochi, Russia, in February with injured players. As a result, they permit teams to make changes right up until 24 hours before the Games begin – an exemption Canada considered using as recently as 2010, when Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf missed time with an ankle injury and wasn’t sure if he’d be good to go until the final moment.
Thankfully, the 2010 Winter Games were being played in Vancouver, and it was only after Getzlaf got back into the lineup in the final game before the NHL’s Olympic break that executive director Steve Yzerman kept him on the roster.
It was a similar situation, but with a different outcome in 1998, when Canada lost winger Paul Kariya to a concussion, days before he was supposed to head to Nagano, the first Olympics that featured NHL participation. Kariya’s place was eventually taken by Mark Recchi, but his loss was incalculable, given at the time, he and Joe Sakic were two of Canada’s most-accomplished goal scorers.
Could Kariya perhaps have solved Czech goalie Dominik Hasek in the playoff shootout and got Canada into the gold-medal game? We’ll never know. But the point is, Canada delayed and delayed its decision on Kariya’s status until it became absolutely clear he didn’t have medical clearance to play. The team was already in Japan when general manager Bobby Clarke announced Recchi would be flown in as an 11th-hour replacement.
Injuries have been the biggest single wild card since the NHL opted into Olympic participation, and this year, Stamkos represents the most visible medical conundrum. The young Tampa Bay Lightning centre was leading the NHL in scoring when he broke his leg in early November.
Long considered one of the fittest players in the NHL, Stamkos is making great strides in his convalescence, even after surgery to stabilize the fracture. Ideally, Stamkos would like to be playing games again before the Olympics.
Naturally, if he can show his boss in Tampa, Yzerman (who happens to double as Team Canada’s boss), he is ready to play in the NHL, then there is no good reason to keep him out of the Olympics.
By postponing the unveiling of the team from Dec. 28 – Canada’s original target date – until Jan. 7, it will have 10 extra days to evaluate Stamkos’s progress. If he continues to recover at this rate, it can safely include him on the 25-man roster. If something goes awry in the final month before the NHL shuts down for the Olympic break, it can make an 11th-hour change.
The fascination with the selection process becomes even greater now that the calendar has clicked over to December, with Yzerman and his management team set to meet again next week, in advance of NHL board of governors meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif.
If anything, the decision-making process has become more complicated, not less, in recent weeks, given how well a couple of players who were injured – James Neal of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers – have bounced back, making both bona-fide candidates in an already crowded field of competent and qualified forwards.
P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens is playing great, and surely has put himself comfortably among the top-eight defencemen.
The most-challenging decisions remain in goal, where some of this year’s top statistical performers (Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild, Steve Mason of the Philadelphia Flyers) hold Canadian passports, but may not have a large enough body of work to dislodge any of the favourites: Carey Price (Montreal), Roberto Luongo (Vancouver), Mike Smith (Phoenix) or Corey Crawford (Chicago).
The IIHF’s deadline extension just gives the 30 million or so wannabe Canadian GMs a chance an extra 10 days to provide counsel and advice to Yzerman.
With the holiday season approaching, it’s something we can all be thankful for.
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