2014 Winter Olympics loom for Steve Yzerman and Tampa Bay Lightning players

Bruce Bennett

A few Tampa Bay Lightning players hope to play for their country at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia... That is, if the IIHF and NHL can reach an agreement for NHL players to participate.

Close attention will be paid to Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman in the coming months beyond transactions for the Bolts. Yzerman serves as Canada's executive director for the Canadian Men's National team and will be tasked with leading the team into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That applies whether the International Ice Hockey Federation and National Hockey League agree to a deal or not. The IIHF and NHL have not reached an agreement yet, though sides have said they are close to one,

As it stands right now, with or without an agreement between the NHL's interests and the IIHF, Hockey Canada (as well as other national ice hockey programs such as the USA, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Russia among others) here will be an evaluation camps (for participating countries). Hockey Canada's camp will be held over the summer for eight forward lines, eight defensive pairs and five goaltenders. With those facts, idle fans can start speculating just who will be invited to the evaluation camps for their respective national teams, and ultimately who will participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

There are a few Tampa Bay Lightning players that hope to play for Team Canada and have a legitimate chance of doing just that.

One player that should be a shoo-in (barring a collapse between the IIHF and NHL) is forward Steven Stamkos. Since the completion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the resumption of the NHL in March 2010, Stamkos has netted a whopping 279 points (143 goals and 136 assists). Point production and his offensive reputation should lock up his invite to the evaluation camp, let alone put him on top line for Team Canada at Sochi.

Some may make a case for 37-year-old Martin St. Louis to make Team Canada. Four years ago for the Vancouver games, Steve Yzerman did not choose St. Louis to participate, leading to some noted hurt feelings. Marty had been invited to Team Canada's evaluation camp (held in August 2009) for the 2010 games, but did not make the final cut. St. Louis, the reigning Art Ross trophy winner, should wind up getting an invite from Team Canada. Yes, there are a plethora of talented forwards to play for Canada and younger ones to boot. Remember though, Yzerman has had close to four years of watching St. Louis up close and that could factor into his decision.

Since the 2010 Winter Olympics, St. Louis has had his own success. He has a total of 256 points (80 goals and 176 assists). Not too shabby for a guy turning 38 next week.

St. Louis would also provide veteran leadership for Team Canada, although there are many noted veterans and leaders in the NHL that Yzerman could choose from. St. Louis isn't the average veteran player. He is a future Hall of Famer who is still consistently producing points. Add his work ethic to the mix and he would be the perfect veteran presence to have on your team.

Combined, St. Louis and Stamkos have over 500 points since March of 2010. That is mind boggling and it has to be something Yzerman will consider.

Captain Vincent Lecavalier was also invited to Team Canada's evaluation camp with teammate St. Louis in 2009 but failed to make the team. Lecavalier most likely will not be invited this year because of the amount depth at center for the Canadian men's national team.

Other players on Tampa Bay's roster are also candidates for their respective national teams including Nate Thompson, Ryan Malone, Ben Bishop and Matt Carle for Team U.S.A. Defensemen Victor Hedman will most likely be asked to play for Sweden and don't be surprised if defensemen Radko Gudas ends up playing for the Czech Republic.

If a deal between the IIHF and NHL isn't made...things get complicated for at least the Canadian and US men's national teams; junior age players and collegiates (who have taken a back seat at the Olympics since the NHL started participating in them in 1998. If the NHL doesn't participate in the games, those players who would normally not be invited to participate in the Olympics will be relied upon again.

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