The past couple of days have been tough for some NHL star players, as their Olympic aspirations were stripped away due to injuries. Sure, they are professional athletes playing a kid's game where they earn millions of dollars, but it's not hard to feel empathy for their situations. Representing one's country on the international stage of the Olympics is a tremendous honor and it's easy to tell how much that means to all of the participants, whether they are professionals or amateurs.
Marian Gaborik has been limited to just 18 games this season and he hasn't played since December 21 because of a broken collarbone. He won't be able to represent Slovakia in Sochi. Henrik Sedin tried to play through a rib injury, which he originally sustained on January 16, but he was forced to withdraw from the 2014 Winter Games as well. Finally, Steve Stamkos was expecting to hear good news when he had a CT scan Wednesday and it revealed that his broken tibia hadn't completely healed. It sounded like he fully intended to play this week, perhaps as early as Thursday night against Toronto, but he didn't get the green light from his doctors and won't get to don the red maple leaf as a member of Team Canada in Sochi.
There is one silver lining with regard to their inability to play and that is it gives the opportunity to another individual to step up and fill the void. Gaborik's replacement will be Branko Radivojevic, who hasn't played in the NHL since 2007-08, and Sedin's substitution hasn't been named yet, but it could be Calgary center Mikael Backlund or Washington's Marcus Johansson. As hurt as Stamkos sounded during his press conference Thursday, he also seemed somewhat content with the idea that his roster spot was going to Tampa Bay linemate Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis deserved to be part of Canada's roster for the Winter Olympics from the beginning. Solid arguments can be made for Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, Carolina's Eric Staal and Pittsburgh's James Neal as well, but St. Louis was the most logical choice to replace Stamkos for me and apparently it was for Canada's brass too because it didn't take them long to announce his addition to the team. Martin St. Louis led the league in scoring during the lockout-shortened season and he's having another strong showing in 2013-14 with 25 goals and 55 points in 57 games. His play didn't slip at all despite losing Stamkos and proving his doubters wrong is something he has done best throughout his career. St. Louis registered a 10-game point streak, with eight markers and six assists, after he was snubbed by Canada's selection committee on January. He also has experience with international play and his leadership on and off should prove to be invaluable when Canada opens the tournament next week in pursuit of another gold-medal victory.
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WACKY AND IMPRESSIVE NIGHT FOR PACIORETTY
How is it that a player can score three goals in a contest, but he fails to convert on two penalty shots? Well, that's what Max Pacioretty did in Thursday night's 5-2 victory over Vancouver. He became the first player in NHL history to be awarded two penalty shots in the same period. Pacioretty had a power-play goal, an even strength marker and an empty netter to cap off an entertaining night.
Did anyone else do a double take when they saw that Chicago had acquired Peter Regin and Pierre-Marc Bouchard in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft? Chicago intends to send Bouchard AHL Rockford for now and Regin will join the team. The offensive production of them both combined is nothing to write home about. Bouchard had nine points in 28 games prior to being waived and demoted to the minors, while Regin has seven points in 44 appearances. Still, it didn't seem like they had to give up much to acquire two forwards and have the Islanders absorb 50 percent of each player's salary. Islanders GM Garth Snow has the attention of the rumor mill because contract rejections by unrestricted-free-agents-to-be Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald may force his hand to make trades before the deadline on March 5. Clearing some salary and some bodies could end up being a precursor for things to come. On Chicago's side, the club adds some depth to their roster for the home stretch.
Ondrej Palat has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Tyler Johnson in Tampa Bay, but he's been on a tear of late. He recorded five goals and 11 assists in 15 games to earn the NHL's Rookie of the Month award for January. He also scored the Lightning's only goal in a 4-1 loss to Toronto on Thursday to give him 32 points and a plus-20 rating in 57 games this campaign. Palat will probably be talked about more now that he's placed himself among the top scoring first-year players in the league. He is four points behind Johnson for second overall and 11 points back of league-leader Nathan MacKinnon. His physical style and playmaking skills make him a versatile fantasy asset. Playing with Martin St. Louis is a good selling point as well.
Kris Letang's illness is reportedly serious, but it's not life-threatening. It's unclear when he'll be able to return, though. Ben Bishop (upper body) and Valterri Filppula (lower body) left Thursday's game against the Leafs and their statuses are currently cloudy. Vladimir Tarasenko didn't play Thursday because of the flu. Mikko Koivu hasn't been cleared to practice yet due to an ankle injury, but he's still hoping to play for Finland in the Winter Olympics. Check out the league's other news and updates from the infirmary here.
Pavel Datsyuk was limited to 13:34 of ice time in his first game back from a knee injury on Thursday. Christopher Higgins scored against Montreal in his return to the lineup from an undisclosed ailment.
OLYMPIC HOCKEY IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER
So much talk about hockey at the Olympics has centered around who is going and who is not going, but next week the tournament officially gets underway and we can focus on the games. Wednesday, February 12 has two matches on the slate with the Czech Republic facing Sweden and Latvia playing Switzerland. It should be a grand spectacle and I'm looking forward to watching hockey at strange hours to make sure I don't miss a second of the action.