Well now we know the official numbers of Hawks and who’s going and who’s not. The Hawks will have 10 Olympians in Sochi, barring injury to either them or someone else causing yet another Hawk to fill in (Seabrook and Saad could both be first call-ups in that situation, as could Crawford I suppose but doubt). They are:
Slovakia – Hossa, Handzus
Czech Republic – Rozsival
Sweden – Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Kruger
USA – Kane
Canada – Keith, Sharp, Toews
WE DON’T HAVE ANY COMMIES CUZ WE DON’T NEEDS ‘EM TAKE DAT POO-TIN!
Anyway, some random thoughts:
-I love the furor you get with Team Canada snubs, as if they’re not always going to bring an obscenely talented roster even if you just used a dartboard to pick the team. Is there really a difference between bringing Taylor Hall or Sharp?
-While I agree with my colleague McClure’s points about why he doesn’t care about the Olympics, I guess the soccer fan in me still kind of enjoys the international game aspect of it. And hey, we don’t get to wave the flag much through sports. The three games the US will get in the World Cup in Brazil and this is basically it (though I really do think they can get out of the group of death but that’s a soccer discussion best left for the bar and not here). No one cares about Olympic basketball, even basketball fans find it a nuisance. And as Americans generally disappoint me, this is a time for me to feel patriotic I guess? It’s rarer than I’d like.
-Obviously, that is overshadowed by my worry for the Hawks. But if you look at it, really the max anyone can play is seven games, and to do that you have to not win the group and still progress to the Gold Medal Game, which was Canada’s path in Vancouver. I don’t know if that’s rare but it’s certainly not the prescribed method. Slovakia and the Czechs could easily end up playing five or even just four games, and Hossa and Rozie and Handzus still could get something close to a full week off before returning to NHL action. Hell, that fate could befall the US too if they don’t beat Russia in the group stage and then get clocked by Sweden (my pick) in the quarters or something. Seven games is nearly an added 10% onto the already laborious NHL season, but it’s not like every Olympian is going to go through that.
The travel is the big worry. 5,000 miles each way and then after the return journey there won’t be too much time for recovery before being thrown back into the NHL grinder. But it’s not like the Hawks are exclusive in this. The Blues also have 10 Olympians. The Ducks have five (I think). The Kings have six (I’m assuming Voynov goes but anything happens with Russia). The Sharks might have a real advantage with both Couture and Thornton staying home, as well as giving Boyle a rest. But those three Pacific teams have to all get through each other first.
-Basically, in March the Hawks are going to have to find a way to have those who didn’t go carry them for a bit. By then I’m sure the lines will have been reshuffled anyway, so we’ll see. I don’t think in March you can keep the Red Wedding Line together and hope they’re not exhausted and then pray your bottom six can carry you when it’s not already. More sprinkling will have to be done.
-The Hawks final game before the break is Feb. 7th, and the tournament doesn’t begin until the 12th. So that’s five days of something of a break, though it’s flight and practices and orientation and the like so it’s not exactly restful. If I recall in 2010 it was only about three days.
The Gold Medal game is the 23rd, and the Hawks are in New York on the 27th, four days between. Not enough to recover from that long of a flight, but more than nothing I suppose. The max amount of Hawks that could participate in the Gold Medal game is six in a Canada-Sweden final. However, whoever biffs it in the quarters will have a full week before the Hawks play again. So if you’re paranoid, root for that.
-It’s hard to project how this will go, but I’ll do my best here. Clearly, Sweden and Canada are going to waltz through their groups. Finland is about the only thing that might hint at a challenge for Canada, and Rask or Niemi is going to have to sacrifice a goat in the crease to make that happen. Sweden’s only tough game in the group will be the Czechs, and the Czechs just aren’t any good. So they will be 1 and 2 seeds, in some order. Probably Canada top overall.
Both the US and Russia could get the auto pass into the quarters (the second-best second place team gets one), but it’ll come down to goal-difference and such as the Finns should beat up on Norway and Austria. Smart money says the Swiss make it hard on the Czechs. That’s if everything goes as you think it should, but there will be slip-ups here and there.
So if I had to guess, either the Finns or the US will have to slide by Latvia or Slovenia in the elimination round before facing the other in the quarters. But we’ll do this more in depth before the tournament.