By Allan Muir
They’ve talked and talked and talked some more about NHL players participating in the 2014 Olympics. And here we are, the middle of July when the NHL schedule is supposed to be released, and still no definitive word from any of the parties involved on whether the world’s best hockey players are headed to Sochi.
But who knows? Maybe we’ll hear today that everything has been agreed upon and Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin can block off a couple of weeks in February for a trip to Russia.
Or maybe we won’t.
It’s not that today is a drop-dead. You’d have to think they’ll keep talking, even if this was the day targeted to finalize the deal so the NHL could release the 2013-14 schedule on Wednesday. After all, there’s a lot of money at stake here, especially for NBC which not only needs hockey to draw big audiences for its Olympic coverage, but is counting on this high-profile event to introduce casual fans to the players that they hopefully will watch on NBCSN long after the Games have concluded.
And the league definitely wants to avoid the embarrassment of even a small mutiny of European players who might be willing to jump ship midseason to play for their homelands.
Ultimately, I think it gets done. But there are concerns that could derail the process. The exorbitant insurance costs, for example. Or security for an Olympic village that’s way too close to Chechnya for anyone’s comfort. And these aren’t small problems.
So what happens if these talks break down? The NHL goes on to play an uninterrupted season. And national federations would have to scour the world for eligible players to take part in tarnished Olympic tournament.
It wouldn’t be so hard for some countries. Russia, in particular, could ice a solid team of KHLers led by Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov and others. They’d enter the tournament as favorites even without an airlift of NHL talent. The Swedes and Finns would be fine as well.
But what might a makeshift Team Canada look like?
It wouldn’t be pretty.
That’s not to say it would be an easy mark for teams looking to avenge all the beatings they’ve taken in years past at the hands of the red maple leaf. But repeat as Olympic gold medalists? Let’s just say it might take a miracle.
Both Team Canada and Team USA would cobble together lineups primarily from players skating in European leagues, much like Canada already does for the Spengler Cup each December. That would provide them one immediate advantage — they’d be acclimated to the larger ice surface that will be in use in Sochi. But all things considered, it ain’t much.
It’s possible those rosters could be augmented by players from the American Hockey League, but that’s not exactly the cavalry, either. So an NHL-free, Euro league-based Team Canada might look something like this:
Goaltenders: Barry Brust (Zagreb, KHL), Curtis Sanford (Yaroslavl, KHL), Brad Thiessen (HIFK, Finland)
Defense: Mathieu Carle (Zagreb, KHL), Geoff Kinrade (SC Bern, Switzerland), Derek Meech (Minsk, KHL), Cory Murphy (Minsk, KHL), Maxim Noreau (Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland), Logan Pyett (Podolsk, KHL), Travis Roche (SC Bern, Switzerland)
Forwards: Justin Azevedo (Prague, KHL), Eric Belanger (Yekaterinburg, KHL), Erik Christensen (Prague, KHL), Stephen Dixon (Pori, Finland), Josh Holden (Zug, Switzerland), Bud Holloway (Skelleftea, Sweden), Jacob MicFlikier (Biel, Switzerland), Cal O’Reilly (Magnitogorks, KHL), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Biel, Switzerland), Brandon Reid (CSKA, Moscow), Byron Ritchie (Bern, Switzerland), Jason Williams (Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland), Wojtek Wolski (Novogorod, KHL)
The talent pool could get a little deeper when current free agents look to Europe as their NHL options dry up, but based on current rosters, this is what Canada could look like in Sochi. Decent goaltending, a quick, puck-moving defense and some smallish, offensively minded talent up front.
But it’s not exactly Sid to Stammer to Tavares, is it?
What do you think? Would you like to see a group of underdogs who would go through a wall for the chance to wear the red and white, or does this roster have you down on your knees praying that all parties arrive at a solution that gets the NHL’s best to Russia?