5 NHL Teams That Won’t Be Hurt by 2014 Winter Olympics
5 Teams That Won't Be Hurt by the Winter Olympics in Sochi
It's not like any NHL team really wants to see a three-week break in their regular season, no matter the reason. Hockey players are conditioned to play every other night and sometimes on back-to-back nights, and any change to the routine is not usually met with much satisfaction.
But every four years, the NHL forgoes its All-Star Weekend and game to allow many of its players to participate in the hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics. Whether that participation will continue after the 2014 tourney next month in Sochi, Russia remains to be seen. But for this season anyway, NHL players from all over the league who will be representing the 12 nations involved in the tournament will be grinding the NHL season to a halt.
Nearly all of the league's top stars -- players like Sidney Crosby (Canada), Alexander Ovechkin (Russia), and Patrick Kane (USA) all have Olympic hockey to look forward to. How their teams respond coming out of the Olympic break will go a long way toward deciding playoff spots and seeding.
There are teams who will be hurt by the break and teams that aren't likely to be harmed for various reasons. Here's a look at five NHL teams who won't be hurt by the upcoming Olympic hockey tournament.
5. Calgary Flames
The one simple reason why the Calgary Flames won't be hurt by the Olympic break is that, to put it bluntly, they are terrible. The Flames have less than half as many points in the Pacific Division as the division-leading Anaheim Ducks. Calgary has just 38 points on the season and have lost eight of their last 10 games (all of them in regulation, so they didn't even get any of the NHL's precious loser points). Fittingly, Calgary has but two Olympians: defenseman Ladislav Smid (Czech Republic) and goalie Reto Berra (Switzerland). The break can't make the Flames any worse.
4. Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton makes the list in part because the Oilers are even worse than the Flames. With just 35 points on the season so far, they're just ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for the fewest in the NHL. The Oilers have only three Olympians, and that list doesn't include any of their top young talent. The most notable player Edmonton will send to the Olympics is Ales Hemsky, who will represent the Czech Republic.
3. Detroit Red Wings
You would think that the Detroit Red Wings would show up on the list of five teams that will be hurt by the Winter Olympics. But, the Red Wings are a different beast than the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, with whom Detroit is tied for most Olympians (10). Veterans like Pavel Datsyuk (Russia), Daniel Alfredsson (Sweden), and Henrik Zetterberg (Sweden) understand what kind of a grind this is going to be and will return to Detroit primed and ready to play if healthy. In addition, Detroit coach Mike Babcock is probably the best in the league at what he does, and this break won't bother the Red Wings.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
It's fair to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins might not be in favor of a long break, given their excellent first half of the season that has earned the Pens 70 points in 48 games. That haul is good enough for an 18-point lead over the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. Given their lead and how they've been playing, there's little reason to think Pittsburgh will be affected by the break, even though players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be rivals during the Olympic tournament.
1. Chicago Blackhawks
With two Stanley Cup championships in the last four seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks understand what it takes to win a title, even in an Olympic year. Chicago won its first Stanley Cup since 1961 when they beat the Flyers in six games in 2010. That season also featured an Olympic break, with Canada beating the United States in overtime in the gold medal game. Despite having 10 players called for Olympic duty, Chicago has been through this before and shouldn't face any issues moving forward for the second half of the season and the playoffs.