Of all the things coming up this season, the cap headache, the goalie question, the crowded forward line, nothing scares me as much as the Olympic break. We can have the discussion another time about whether this system makes any sense (it sort of does and sort of doesn't), but it's going to happen. The season will stop for two weeks, and some of our most important players will have 6-8 high intensity games in a silly short time span tacked onto their schedules, as well as a compacted NHL schedule to return to. For evidence on how this can royally f*** up a team, one need look no further than the 2005-2006 Senators.
That team was loaded. Then the Olympics came, and Spezza, Heatley, Alfredsson, Hasek, Redden, and Chara shipped off to Turin. That's your startin goalie, your entire top line, and your top d-pairing. As you may remember, Hasek got hurt and didn't play again, and the Sens bowed out in five to a clearly inferior but hot Buffalo Sabres team, who only had three Olympians in Kotalik, Afinogenov, and Drury.
This was also the same year that Scum (aka, the Red Wings) reverted to their alternate form, known as Team Sweden, and were bounced in the first round by the Oilers (still kinda hilarious). Can you make an argument that fatigue didn't get to these teams? I'm not so sure.
And if you'll recall, the Stars sent six players to Turin in 2006 (Marty Turco for Team Canada, Mike Modano and Bill Guerin for Team USA, and Niko Kapanen, Jere Lehtinen, and Antii Miettinen for Team Finland). And like the Red WIngs and Sens, they were bounced early in the playoffs.
So as we look towards the 2009-10 campaign, how much of an impact will the Olympics have on the Stars this time around?
For starters, I don't think you'll see six players plucked off the Stars roster. Out of the Stars' six Olympians in '06, only Mike Modano, Marty Turco, and Jere Lehtinen remain on the roster today. So what are their chances of getting selected, again?
I'll analyze their chances, as well as the rest of the roster, after the jump.
Let's start with the two remaining Olympians from 2006.
Marty Turco - Four years ago, he was considered one of the best goaltenders in the game. Since then, his star power has lessened quite a bit. He's still a top flight goaltender, but Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Cam Ward have passed him by as evidenced by their invites to Canada's 2010 Olympic men's hockey team orientation camp. Barring some freak injuries to those aforementioned players, I think Turco will get a rest this time around.
And I don't think Joe Nieuwendyk or Marc Crawford will complain about that rest one bit when February rolls around.
Mike Modano - Mo's chances, OTOH, are really good considering Ron Wilson is coming back to coach Team USA for a third time in international competition. Modano played for Wilson in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano so the two are VERY familiar with each other.
The 2010 Team USA squad will be one of the youngest to hit the ice in Vancouver. If he gets named to the squad, Modano will be a four time Olympian, and will also be representing his country in international competition for the 12th time in his illustrious career.
Jere Lehtinen - I suspect Jere would still be strongly considered for a spot on Finland's 2010 team. In addition to playing in all three Olympics in the "NHL Olympic Age", Lehts also played in the 1994 games in Lillehammer, Norway.
But his health has been a big question mark for the Stars the past two seasons and I suspect it will still be when February rolls around. If he's able to stay healthy throughout the first half of the season, he stands a really good chance of making it 5 out of 5 Olympics.
As for the rest...
Brenden Morrow - If you will, Recall these comments from Detroit Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock after the 2008 Western Conference Finals. Or don't.
Because if you don't, I'll just make you recall them.
"Brenden Morrow to me is what you want leading your team," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Babcock is the coach. Steve Yzerman, the man who all great captains will be compared to in this age, is the general manager.
As long as Morrow's knee holds up, you figure it out.
Loui Ericksson - Loui certainly had a nice enough season to at least put himself on their radar. But Sweden is already going to be loaded up front with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Sammy Pahlsson, Tomas Holmstrom, Mikael Samuelsson, Nicklas Backstrom, Markus Naslund, and of course, the Sedin twins.
And I suspect, they'll probably go in as a favorite along with Canada.
Hard to see Loui cracking this lineup. But if he continues to improve, 2014 might be a rather strong possibility with vets like Naslund and Holmstrom expected to have retired by then.
Mike Ribeiro - Again, a longshot despite the season he had last year. And for pretty much the same reasons Loui is a longshot with Sweden. Canada's going to be loaded up front with Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, and Jarome Iginla leading the way.
That having been said, Ribs is probably the one player that'll benefit the most from a Marc Crawford system with his playmaking abilities. He'll have plenty of chances in the first two months of the season to impress Yzerman and the Team Canada braintrust.
Of course, he's also not on the orientation camp roster. And while being excluded from this list doesn't automatically rule him out, it will make it very difficult to make the team.
So this time around, it looks like it'll be three Stars who will be getting the call of duty. Which isn't so bad when you consider how many players the Red Wings will probably send to Vancouver.
Still, the fact that Morrow will be one of those players concerns me greatly. It helps, I suppose, that his torn ACL occurred last November. Just about every player looks at that one year signpost as the mental difference maker. If he can get over that hump without any issues, we can probably breath easier when the calendar flips to February.