5 Players Team Canada Could Replace Steven Stamkos With At the Olympics
Who Could Replace Steven Stamkos?
The unfortunate injury to Steven Stamkos has left the door wide open for players around the league to make an impression with Team Canada's management team as the Olympics rapidly approach.
After breaking his tibia, Stamkos’ Olympic status is in serious doubt. If he’s unable to play, Team Canada will suddenly lose its top-line winger as he was no doubt scheduled to play on a line next to Sidney Crosby. In fact, if any two players were guaranteed to make the team, they would have been Crosby and Stamkos.
The thought of the world’s best playmaker in Crosby and the world’s best goal-scorer in Stamkos playing together had hockey fans of any nationality excited. Fans all over the world were excited at the potential chemistry Crosby and Stamkos could have formed at the Olympics. After all, if Martin St. Louis could set up Stamkos so many times over the years, fans were dreaming of the magic Crosby could produce with the elite sniper. St. Louis is a good passer but it’s arguable if he’s a top-five passer in the league whereas Crosby is the world’s best passer. Pair Crosby’s vision and creativity on the ice with Stamkos’ ability to rocket the puck to the back of the net and the possibilities are endless.
However, now that Stamkos could possibility miss the Olympics, Team Canada is in desperate need of finding a potential replacement. They’ll likely still name him to the team when they announce the roster with the hope he’ll be healthy enough in time to play. The Olympic rules allow for any team to replace an injured player up until 24 hours before the tournament begins.
Filling Stamkos’ void will be impossible as you can’t replace one of the top-three players in the world, which is why making the right decision as to who replaces Stamkos is incredibly important. Team Canada knows this after what happened in 1998 when Paul Kariya was forced to miss the Nagano Olympics due to injury. Replacing Kariya with Rob Zamuner is probably a decision Team Canada wouldn't make again.
There’s multiple ways Canada’s management team could replace Stamkos if he isn’t healthy on time. They could decide chemistry is more important and choose to take multiple players from the same NHL team like they did with the San Jose Sharks taking Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley in 2010. The three Sharks played together at the Vancouver Olympics and were arguably Canada’s best line from start to finish during the games. It was believed St. Louis had a decent shot of making the team based on the great chemistry he's formed with Stamkos playing together with the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, without Stamkos, St. Louis’ chance of making the team most likely takes a hit.
Looking for pure goal-scoring, Canada could decide chemistry isn’t as important as the best available player. As nice as it is to have developed chemistry, if there’s a player that is significantly better than someone’s NHL teammate don’t be surprised if Canada chooses the talent. Stamkos’ void will be massive so it wouldn’t be surprising if they took a chance on someone having a great season like they did in 2002 with a young player named Jarome Iginla.
At the same time, if Team Canada feels they are loaded with offensive talent it also wouldn’t be surprising if they choose a defensive forward to fill out the roster. Patrice Bergeron was a key player in capturing the gold medal in 2010. When he was named to the roster, many questioned if he should have made the team over someone like Jeff Carter. Carter is unquestionably a better goal-scorer but nobody would choose him over Bergeron now based on Bergeron’s ability to do all the little things defensively needed to win games.
With so many options to choose from, if Team Canada needs to replace Stamkos on their Olympic roster, here are five players they should consider.
5. Matt Duchene
It’s likely Matt Duchene’s strong start to season with the Colorado Avalanche already had him penciled in to make Team Canada. However, if there was any remaining doubt despite Duchene leading Colorado to a 14-5 record with 20 points, those doubts can be put to rest. Duchene should be playing at the Olympics. He might even be Stamkos’ replacement on the top-line given his elite skating ability. Anybody paired with Crosby will need to skate fast and there aren’t many people on the planet who can skate faster than Duchene.
4. Claude Giroux
When talking about some of the biggest disappointments in the NHL this season, it’s easy to talk about the Philadelphia Flyers. It’s even easier to talk about Claude Giroux who only has one goal through the first 19 games of the season. The Flyers haven’t looked very impressive this season with their 7-10-2 record and it hasn’t helped Giroux has only been able to put 11 points on the board to start the year.
During the summer, Giroux was probably a safe bet to make Team Canada but given his rough season he’s now on the bubble to make the team. Giroux’s talent is undeniable and as unfortunate as Stamkos’ injury is, it could provide Giroux a second chance to play in the Olympics. If Stamkos is named to Team Canada but is unable to play in the Olympics, and if Giroux isn’t named but suddenly turns around his season, don’t be surprised if Canada’s chooses the best available player.
As badly as Giroux has struggled, if he can get back to playing like the player everybody knows he is in the next two months, he will likely be playing come the middle of February.
3. Andrew Ladd
Andrew Ladd has captained the Winnipeg Jets to a respectable 9-9-2 record to begin the season. The two-time Stanley Cup winner has proven he knows how to win and is willing to accept a lesser role in order to do so. Ladd was a great character guy when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in the 2009-10 season and he’d be a great character guy playing a checking role with Team Canada at the Olympics. He’s scored 17 points to start the year but he wouldn’t be needed to score at the Olympics as he’d be used in a role similar to what Brenden Morrow provided Canada in Vancouver in 2010.
There will be plenty of more skilled players to choose from over Ladd, but if Canada wants a dependable veteran who’ll understand his role than Ladd could help provide a quality checking-line playing next to Bergeron. Morrow was a debatable selection over players like Stamkos in 2010, but it ultimately ended up being a great fit defensively for Canada. Would choosing Ladd over someone like Taylor Hall be 2014’s version of choosing defense over offense?
2. Chris Kunitz
Since Stamkos was virtually a lock to play with Crosby at the Olympics, if he’s not healthy in time than Chris Kunitz could be the guy who replaces him. The only way Kunitz makes Team Canada would be if he’s guaranteed to play with Crosby given the chemistry the duo have formed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It could be the perfect example of choosing chemistry between teammates like Canada did with the three Sharks, Thornton, Marleau and Heatley in 2010.
Is Kunitz an Olympic-calibre player? Probably not given all the options Canada is able to choose from. However, if he can continue to build on his 17 points in 20 games this season, along with the 52 points in 48 games he scored last year, it wouldn’t be outrageous if Canada named him to their Olympic roster. It’ll be important for Canada’s gold medal hopes that they pair Crosby with quality line-mates after he didn’t have the greatest showing at the 2010 Olympics. There will be a lot worse options than giving Crosby somebody he’s extremely familiar with and if the best goal-scorer in the world can’t play with Crosby, somebody who’s proven they can play with Crosby probably becomes incredibly important for Canada.
1. Tyler Seguin
Nobody thought Seguin would have a realistic shot to make Team Canada in the summer but many are now wondering if he’s played himself onto the team. In his first season with the Dallas Stars, Seguin has been explosive with 22 points leading the team to a 10-7-2 start to the year. He currently sits tied for eighth in league scoring and if he can keep up his current level of play, it’ll be hard to keep him off Canada’s Olympic roster.
Are there maturity questions after the Boston Bruins traded him? Absolutely. However, attitude problems haven’t kept previous players off Canada’s Olympic team like Theo Fleury in 2002 and Todd Bertuzzi in 2006. Neither Fleury nor Bertuzzi were playing as well as Seguin is in their Olympic years and Seguin’s off-ice issues aren’t anything similar to what theirs were either. With Jamie Benn also likely to make Team Canada, the chemistry Seguin and Benn would provide their country could be valuable. The loss of Stamkos could very well be replaced by the pleasant surprise Seguin’s play has been this season.