Will the Olympics sink the Sharks?
As yet a stark reminder of the powerhouse (regular-season model) that general manager
Eight players. Like Lincoln said of the man who was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, if it weren't for the honor of the thing...
Of course, the Sharks don't rival Dynamo Riga for sheer Olympic distinction -- 15 of the 23 Latvian players, including all three goalies, are from the same club -- but then Dynamo isn't charged with winning a long-overdue Stanley Cup in the most competitive league in the world. As much as having a passel of Olympians reflects positively on an NHL team and further engages the fan base, the emotional surcharge of the Olympics and the physical and mental tolls can drain that team's battery dry for the playoffs.
So what might happen to the Sharks after the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver is extinguished?
The short answer is: that's why they play the damn games. But if you peruse the accompanying chart, compiled by SI hockey reporter
The 1998 Colorado Avalanche established the benchmark for Olympic burnout. That fine team remains a cautionary tale, one that still spooks some NHL clubs. Coach
But facing the Oilers in the first round of the playoffs -- Edmonton had a sub-.500 record and a minus-nine goal differential during the season -- Colorado took a three-to-one series lead before capitulating, waving the white flag while getting shut out at home in Game 7. This was its no-mas moment. The Oilers had eight Olympians, just one fewer than the conspicuously spent Avs. The difference? This is merely a guess, but Edmonton's Olympians, including
The Red Wings sent a record 11 players to Salt Lake City 2002, including stalwarts such as
If you had to theorize, I suppose, the overriding factor in projecting playoff success is as much how many players participated as where the Games were staged. An Olympics in North America, as opposed to the travel and time zone changes necessitated by Nagano or Turin 2006, seems to have a lesser impact. Four years ago, Detroit and Colorado each sent 10 players while the New York Rangers contributed nine to the five-ringed circus in Italy. Those teams won one postseason series (Avalanche) among them and a total of six playoff games. The Hurricanes, with four Olympians, won the Stanley Cup after a 112-point season.
Because no time-zone change is required of the Sharks -- "A quick flight for our guys," the GM says -- Wilson does not think the intensity of the 12-day tournament in Vancouver will hurt his team when the NHL season resumes. Indeed, he suggests the Olympics probably will help.
"I'm excited to get (so many of) our players in it," Wilson said. "The opportunity to play best-on-best, that really adds something to a player's résumé. I played in Canada Cups (the forerunner to the World Cup) and certainly benefitted from doing it. And certainly all our guys deserve a tremendous amount of credit. Nothing was certain. They all arrived in training camp knowing they would all have to make their (Olympic) teams. And Team Canada might be the hardest team in the world to make."
Maybe the goalies,
Hockey Canada would not have been wary of winger
As for the heightened risk of injury -- Czech goalie
"They can get injured in practice," he says.
(Yes, and they might poke their eye out with a tiny parasol in one of those fruity drinks served poolside in the Caribbean.)
"The other thing (in our favor) is our coaching staff, which has a terrific understanding of work-to-rest ratio," Wilson says. "I don't see (exhaustion) being an issue considering the Olympics are in our time zone. And I see the benefits from playing in this kind of event. I'm looking forward to it."
Other NHL team executives are more circumspect, even with a modest presence at the Games. St. Louis Blues president
"We don't make a nickel out of the Olympics," Davidson says. "Unless it's being geared towards eventual expansion to Europe, a huge TV market, you wonder what good it's doing for the league. There's no money in it, and it does disrupt our schedule. I understand the absolute specialness of the Olympics, but you wonder if the cost and benefits to us make sense."
Before that, the Olympians on the Sharks, a team that is currently second in the league with 65 points, have to make sure they don't make a hash of the experience and leave their A games at the Games.