Here’s the reality for Steven Stamkos.
In 2022, when he’s 13 seasons into his NHL career, if he’s not still among the select-few Canadians at the very height of the profession, it’s unlikely that he will earn the distinction that the greatest athletes on the planet work their entire lives to achieve: Olympian.
Passed over while he was working toward a 51-goal season as a sophomore (which earned him a share of the Rocket Richard) in 2010, and then again four years later when he simply ran out of time to heal a broken right fibula, the Tampa Bay Lightning superstar captain best represents the flip side to an optimist’s view of the 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament.
Because while it may be cool to watch journeymen live out an otherwise unimaginable dream, others are going to miss out on one they absolutely deserve.
Pyeongchang might not necessarily be it for Stamkos (he’ll turn 32 days after the torch is re-lit in China in four years), but a handful of others have been robbed of their only chance to reach the pinnacle.
Here are a few who might end up suffering most by the NHL’s decision to skip South Korea:
When the Giroux was cut from Team Canada in 2014, he said, disappointed: “I’ve got a lot of hockey left.” With 14 goals and 40 assists, which puts him second in league scoring at the moment, he’s obviously been right to this point.
But was Giroux, now 30, banking on eight more?
Supreme talent aside, Brad Marchand was more or less a lock to make the 2018 Olympic team thanks to his partnership with Patrice Bergeron and, by further extension, Sidney Crosby.
Arriving late to stardom, it’s possible that Marchand’s entire window is on a delay and that he can continue to be a dominant two-way winger into age 33. The more likely scenario is that he’s squeezed from contention for a roster spot by talent coming up in Hockey Canada’s system.
In just his sixth professional season, Lee is only establishing himself as one of the league’s most dominant net-front presences, and therefore should have many highly-productive seasons left. This is virtual certainty if John Tavares commits his future to Long Island.
Still this seems like an enormous missed opportunity for Lee in this transitional period for USA Hockey.
Saad, too, is closer in age to the oncoming wave of American talent than Team USA’s largely unchanged and aging core that competed at the last few Olympics. (Sure, we would have seen Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau this year, but beneath that layer the foundation would have probably been built from the likes of Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty, T.J. Oshie and James van Riemsdyk).
But by 2022, the regime that’s failed on the international circuit should have cycled completely through. And with the league’s burgeoning superstars then fully in their primes, we should expect the talent Matthews and Eichel came up with to fill out most of the roster.
If Canada is constructed as Canada is typically constructed, we can expect a maximum four right-shot defensemen sent to China for the 2022 Games. Will Burns remain atop that particular heap at 36? Likely not, which is a damn shame.
Giordano was surprised to receive even a “thanks-but-no-thanks” from Steve Yzerman when he arrived at his roster for Sochi. Cracking the team in four years at age 38 would be a complete shocker.
Producing a Calder Trophy nominated defenseman for a third straight season would be a tremendous thing for USA Hockey if Charlie McAvoy is indeed recognized for his incredible rookie season to date.
It’s not so good for aging American defenseman running out of opportunities to represent their country at the Olympic level.
Chicago’s netminder will have, at minimum, an eight-season stretch with some of the most bulletproof goaltending numbers in the NHL — and two Cups — and his international experience will likely be limited to one measly start at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Nothing is for certain with the state of Canadian goaltending, but at 33 Pyeongchang was likely Crawford’s last crack at the Olympics.
Rinne has suffered baddest Olympics beats.
Unquestionably a top three Finnish goaltender for the past decade, the seemingly jinxed Rinne was at his highest level before botched surgical procedure left him with a career-threatening infection that basically wiped away his 2013-14 season.
A shoo-in for Pyeonchang, Rinne will turn 39 before 2022.
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