2010 Olympic Hockey Preview:The Tampa Bay Lightning
The Olympics will be played in Vancouver during the last half of February 2010, and the national rosters are expected to be announced in about a month. Here's a list of potential Lightning players who could participate for their respective countries. All of the players listed have some kind of previous major international hockey tournament experience.
The problem with picking players for Canada is that Canadians make up over 50% of the players in the NHL. The talent pool is just so large that they could literally field three teams – and have at least two of them medal. So with competition for spots being so fierce, drastic decisions will be made. Guys who would be a shoe-in for any other national team won’t make it on to Team Canada.
In – Steven Stamkos. You’ve got to believe that, with the start he’s had so far this season, he’ll be on the team. And probably as a center (or centre, if you will), which is one of the most competitive positions on the roster. Though, the option may also be there for him to play wing, if necessary. Stamkos has played in a World Juniors Championship and a World Championship.
Bubble – Martin St. Louis. Normally, he’d be on this squad in a heartbeat. But having scored only five goals so far this season, it’s hard to say for sure that he will be. If they’re looking for leadership and a character guy who can contribute in a supportive role, then he will. If they’re looking for just goal scoring, then he won’t. Only the fact that the majority of wingers scoring goals in the NHL this season are left wingers is keeping him in the mix, since Marty plays right wing. He has played for Canada in a World Cup, two World Championships, and on their 2006 Olympic team.
Out – Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Tanguay, Steve Downie. Yes, I said Steve Downie. All of these players have international experience with Team Canada. Tanguay and Downie have both played for Canada in the World Juniors Championship, while Lecavalier has not only played in World Juniors but also in the World Championships, World Cup, and was on the last Olympic squad as an auxiliary player. So far this season, these three guys have not played well enough to crack the overly talented Canadian lineup.
Out – Lukas Krajicek. I don’t know enough about the Czech team to really make this call, but I’m going to guess that he’ll be a no-go. Krajíček has played well at times, but has also been invisible at others. He just hasn’t been very consistent this season or last season. Krajíček’s chances will probably depend on how many quality defensemen are available for the Czech team. He has played for the Czech World Juniors team and a World Championships team.
In – Antero Niittymäki. All you have to look at are his statistics for this season. He is sixth in the NHL in goals against, and second in the NHL for save percentage. Sure, his overall record isn’t the best – he’s 6-3-3 this season – but the team he plays on is 10-7-8 25-games in. Niittymäki’s national experience includes having played in World Juniors and the World Championships. He also played in the 2006 Olympics on a silver-medal winning Finnish team, personally winning the tournament MVP as well as being named to the Olympic Tournament’s All-Star Team.
In – Andrej Meszaros. Meszároš has been playing really well recently, particularly in Mattias Öhlund’s absence, so that certainly ups his chances at making the Slovak Olympic team. Another factor that strongly suggests he’ll play for his national team are the many international tournaments he’s already participated in. He’s played in two World Juniors tournaments, two World Chapionships, and took part in the last Olympics. Add to that that he’s only 24 years old, and he’s a definite candidate for the Olympics.
In – Mattias Öhlund. No one else on the Lightning roster has played hockey for his country more than Mattias. While his recent ankle injury might have hobbled him momentarily, no other Bolt is more likely to play in the Olympics than he is. Read it and weep, kids: 1994 World Juniors, 1995 World Juniors, 1996 World Juniors, 1997 World Championships, 1998 Olympics, 1998 World Championships, 2001 World Championships, 2002 Olympics, 2005 World Cup, 2006 Olympics. I’m not sure what his personal medal count is, but he does at least own one Olympic gold medal.
Bubble – Victor Hedman. Sweden has a number of good defensemen – both in the NHL and in Europe – so it’s hard to say whether or not the soon-to-be 19-year-old rookie will get the call. He might have to wait his turn until the next Olympics in Russia in 2014, assuming that the NHL participates in those. Even if Hedman gets his chance this February, he likely won’t play much, simply because of seniority. He has played in two World Junior Championships thus far in is hockey career.
In – Ryan Malone. Invited to the USA Hockey Olympic Orientation Camp in Chicago last August, Malone has proven that he deserved not only deserved that invite, but that he should be on the Olympic team. He has 15 goals and eight assists for 23 points in 25 games. Malone has participated in two World Championships.
Bubble – Jeff Halpern. Halpern is a longtime participant with USA Hockey. He is only second to Öhlund on this list in the number of times he’s played in international tournaments. He was not invited to the US Olympic Orientation Camp, however. His resurgence playing now as a winger instead of at his natural position, center, may have helped his cause.