Steven Stamkos had become an uplifting, patriotic sidebar, as he fast tracked his rehab in hopes of putting the red Maple Leaf on his chest in Sochi. But not unlike like Henrik Sedin, who was valiantly stumbling around the ice in Boston on Tuesday, sometimes heart just isn’t enough.
This isn’t like the movies, and a busted tibia on Remembrance Day does not allow Steven Stamkos to become Olympic calibre come February. Even if he could have fit in a National Hockey League game or two, and doctors confirmed Wednesday he can’t, there’s no way Stamkos could have been ready to deliver the level of play that had earned him a spot on the original roster. The hockey is just too good at the Olympics, the level too high. To take a player in anything less than mid-season form would break a promise Hockey Canada officials made to themselves after the 2006 disaster in Turin, when they took a few dinged up veterans over to Italy who couldn’t play at the level that is required.
Stamkos’s deletion is a blow for Canada, no doubt. He leads all Canadian-born players with 134 goals the past three seasons (not including 14 in 17 games this season). Only one other Canadian has scored 100 goals in that span, and he’s already on the team: Corey Perry, with 102. Stamkos is our best sniper. Bar none. This hurts, no matter how rose-coloured your glasses might be.
But the good news, Canada, is that no other country has a taxi squad like ours. Name a country in these Olympics where Claude Giroux isn’t on the team? Or Eric Staal? Or Martin St. Louis? Or even Taylor Hall?
You can bet that each of executive director Steve Yzerman and his many lieutenants have a player in mind to replace Stamkos. Of course, the emotional favorite is St. Louis, and it will be heart wrenching if he does not get the nod after already feeling the sting of not making the original roster. If we can all agree that there isn’t a commensurate sniper out there to replace Stamkos, then the decision will come down to coaching philosophy and the dynamics of the existing roster. For instance, Stamkos is a right-handed shot. With one spot now open to be filled among the 14 forwards, there are currently eight who shoot left, and five who shoot right. If coach Mike Babcock feels like the replacement has to be a right-handed shot, then James Neal, Staal and St. Louis are cooked. So is Joe Thornton. It has to be Claude Giroux, the only righty in the group.
Does Team Canada look for more of a shooter, like Neal, in an attempt to replace what’s gone missing with Stamkos? I don’t see why they would. The roster is already stocked with players who score 25-30 goals a season and play-making defencemen. Goals shouldn’t be a problem, with or without Stamkos. In St. Louis’ favour is the fact that Babcock told Sportsnet that he’ll certainly be playing Sidney Crosby and left winger Chris Kunitz together. If Stamkos was slated for the right side on that line, then St. Louis—a left-hand shot but a natural right winger—would fit in seamlessly.
In the end, despite the fact Stamkos plays centre for Tampa Bay, he was heading over to Sochi as a right-winger. Team Canada can replace that facet of his game amicably with Giroux or St. Louis. What Yzerman will never replace is that one-timer off the left half-wall on the top power play unit. Unless, that is, he can run Jarome Iginla through a time machine between now and the weekend.
Stamkos’s skills as a pure sniper are exclusive in today’s game. Well, on second thought, there is one other guy out there who could slot in on the top power play unit and likely blast a few Crosby feeds home.
Can someone ask Alex Ovechkin if he’s busy this month?