It was the day rosters were due to be finalized for the 2010 Olympics and Ryan Getzlaf found himself being watched intently by Steve Yzerman, Mike Babcock and the entire Team Canada management and coaching staff. The reason for the unusual scene? Getzlaf had to prove that his sprained left ankle had healed enough to allow him to participate in the Olympic Games—by any lengths necessary. “I had to get up early after I arrived in Vancouver and jump around on my ankle in front of everybody,” Getzlaf told me earlier this year. “I also had to meet with the doctors to prove that I could play… you can’t have any weak links when it comes to that tournament.
“I remember (coach Babcock) standing up in the meeting and saying `Why are we asking him this? He’s always going to say he can play.’ Obviously, it worked out.”
I was reminded of that anecdote while watching Steven Stamkos tell reporters in Tampa earlier this week that the Sochi Olympics remain a goal for him. Even though his broken right tibia is a much more serious injury than Getzlaf’s nagging ankle problem was back then, Stamkos won’t have to go to quite the same lengths should his recovery miraculously allow him to play in Russia. That’s because Steve Yzerman will be closely involved no matter how the situation plays out. As both GM of the Lightning and executive director for Team Canada, there won’t be a piece of medical information concerning Stamkos that Yzerman doesn’t have access to or knowledge of.
And while NHL teams are generally good about sharing injury information with national federations leading up to the Olympic Games, there is still an element of wanting to see things for yourself when making those decisions—as evidenced by Getzlaf’s experience in Vancouver. “That two weeks leading up to the Olympics was some of the worst days of my life,” he said. “It was hard knowing that I may not be there.”
For Stamkos, it remains a very real possibility that he won’t be ready for Sochi—although his recovery is off to a phenomenal start. A little more than two weeks after crashing into a goalpost in Boston, he is already participating in a full rehab program that includes balance and strength exercises. It is expected that Hockey Canada will name Stamkos to the Olympic team prior to the Jan. 7 roster deadline and then replace him at the last minute if he isn’t ready to go when the event begins with a game against Norway Feb. 13.
That comes three months and two days after Stamkos broke his leg. The time frame placed on his recovery was three to six months. “If everything works out, which I’m hoping that it does, (I’m hoping) to get a chance to come back and play a couple games in Tampa and maybe get an opportunity to play in the Olympics,” Stamkos said. “You definitely have to have a goal and that’s something that is a goal for me.”
Yzerman will obviously be keeping close tabs on his progress.
20/20 on 24/7
From a hockey fan’s perspective there is nothing not to love about HBO’s award-winning “24/7” series, which peels back the curtains and offers a fascinating window inside NHL dressing rooms. But at least one former participant wasn’t very fond of his experience with all-access cameras. What stands out for Washington Capitals centre Brooks Laich three years after taking part in the inaugural series was how disruptive it was for the team. He is also troubled by the fact that players aren’t paid for putting up with the headache. “I think it would go a long way, especially for your bigger guys,” Laich says. “For (Alex) Ovechkin, for (Nicklas) Backstrom it was a lot of work. Every day they want to talk to those guys. Every day. They don’t want to miss how you’re feeling: ‘Maybe this guy is grumpy today and we need that footage.’ They always err on the side of having everything and then they cut it down. It really is taxing.”
The agreement between the NHL and HBO doesn’t include any direct compensation for the players who take part. However, both the league and NHL Players’ Association believe that the wide-ranging exposure they get from the series makes it a worthwhile venture. All Laich remembers getting from HBO in exchange for his troubles was a DVD copy of the Pens/Caps series, which he didn’t even bother watching. “It was very intrusive,” he says. “We were the first ones and we didn’t know what we were really getting into. We went through a tough stretch, we lost eight in a row, and then all of a sudden they were popping into meetings and disrupting meetings.”
Of course, that inside access is exactly why fans love the show so much. The series is set to return for a third time in December and will follow the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings while they prepare to face one another in the Winter Classic. HBO’s cameras are set to join those teams on a full-time basis starting Dec. 5.
AND THEN THERE’S…
You have to feel for Caps GM George McPhee. It’s tough enough to move any player who goes public with a trade demand, as Martin Erat did earlier this week, but dealing a $4.5-million winger with zero goals at a time when 13 NHL teams are either at or above the salary cap will be virtually impossible. At least that’s what rival executives are saying right now. Likely the only way something gets done is if McPhee takes on a questionable contract in return, which won’t be easy given that he sent prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville for Erat at last season’s trade deadline.
Alex Steen is setting himself up for a pretty nice payday. Not only is the St. Louis Blues forward well on his way to a career year—he’s currently on pace for 67 goals and 102 points (yes, we realize it’s very early)—but he’s also a pending unrestricted free agent. Blues GM Doug Armstrong had some preliminary talks with Steen’s agent last summer and has been told that no further negotiations will be held until after the season. In the meantime, his value should continue to go up along with his production. The cap hit on the 29-year-old’s expiring contract is a shade under $3.4 million.
RUBLES AND CENTS
It was interesting to note that Ilya Kovalchuk’s salary was listed at $10.3 million in this compilation of top KHL earners by Sports.ru. If true—and two industry sources suggested that the numbers looked legitimate—Kovalchuk is actually receiving $1million less in gross pay from SKA St. Petersburg this season than he was originally owed by the New Jersey Devils. Of course, the income tax rate is much lower in Russia and there are no escrow deductions in the KHL. Also worth noting: Alexander Radulov is believed to be pulling in $7.5 million. Cha-ching.