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NHL players in Olympics presents many problems
By TOM JONES
Published February 5, 2006
While hockey fans can't wait for the start of the Olympics, there really has been no proof in attendance or television ratings that the NHL's participation in the Olympics has been directly beneficial to the league.
In fact, there are more reasons to argue against the NHL's participation than for it. Sure, the hockey is great, but then the NHL looks like a house league in comparison when it returns. Of course, the biggest issue is risk of injury.
Players will fly halfway around the world, play a ton of fast-paced, emotional games in a short span and return home. There is no way their emotional and physical tanks will be close to full for the most critical time of the NHL season.
The biggest problem is forcing players who are injured to choose between their countries and the teams that pay their salaries. It's going on everywhere, but one prime example is the Philadelphia Flyers. Last week, owner Ed Snider questioned whether several of his players should go to Italy.
"I'm a believer in the Olympics, and I think it's good for the NHL to participate in them," Snider said. "Having said that, the people who participate should be the ones who are absolutely healthy.
" Peter Forsberg, for example, isn't absolutely healthy. (Goalie Robert) Esche and (defenseman Joni) Pitkanen just got back from serious groin injuries, and Forsberg is not able to play as we speak. And the Olympics are just around the corner."
The players understand.
"I would feel the same way if I was the GM or the owner," Forsberg said. "I totally understand them. But I hope they understand me, too, that there's big pressure on me from Sweden to go over and play. I hope (Snider) understands that I play hockey to win. And I am proud to represent my country, and if I can, I will. I would not go if I didn't feel 100 percent because I know who's paying my salary and I have a responsibility here."
YO, ADRIAN: Adrian Aucoin's awful season is over. The former Lightning and current Hawks defenseman separated his right shoulder and will miss the rest of the season. The Hawks paid him $4-million for 33 games, one goal, five assists and a minus-13 plus-minus.
"You feel bad for the man because it has just been like a horror movie for him," Chicago coach Trent Yawney said.
"It was just one thing after another, not only for me but for the team," Aucoin said. "It has been a rough year on the organization as a whole."
YOUNG GUNS: The last time a rookie scored 100 points was 1992-93, when two players did it, Teemu Selanne and Joe Juneau. Now there's a chance two could do it this season. Washington's Alexander Ovechkin is on pace for 105 points while Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby needs to pick up the pace. He's on track for 91.
ANOTHER YOUNG GUN: If Canada's Scott Niedermayer pulls out of the Olympics, the most likely replacement is the Lightning's Dan Boyle, San Jose's Scott Hannan or Florida's Jay Bouwmeester. But some think 20-year-old Calgary rookie Dion Phaneuf should be the pick. The kid has 12 goals, 21 assists and is a plus-4.
"If you ask anyone in here or on most of the teams that play against him out in the West, he should be on the roster," Calgary's Darren McCarty said. "He shouldn't be a replacement or a sub. He should be playing."
LEFT OUT: Think Don Waddell, general manager of the American Olympic team, regrets not putting Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller on the roster? Coming into the weekend, Miller was 17-7 with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Compare that with Esche (13-5, 3.07, .891), the Islanders' Rick DiPietro (17-15, 3.41, .891) and the Lightning's John Grahame (19-15, 2.67, .899).
"It's a decision that was made by USA Hockey," Miller said. "It was completely out of my control. It was completely out of anybody's control. It could have played out so many different ways. There's really not a whole lot of drama.
"It's something I feel strongly about, and I'm disappointed. But it's not going to affect the way I play for this team."
FUTURE STAR: The Penguins stink, but the future looks bright with Crosby, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and a kid named Evgeni Malkin, the team's 2004 No.1 pick (second overall) who is playing in his native Russia this season. He won the MVP at the World Junior Championship and will play for Russia in the Olympics.
"He's probably the biggest star in the league," said former NHL coach Dave King, who is coaching Malkin's team. "He's the player people come to watch. They want to see Malkin. I hear things from other people about Sidney, and to have those two young players to build a team around, that's quite impressive."
Malkin is under contract in Russia through 2008, but look for the Pens to strike a deal to get him for next season.
ICE CHIPS: Nikolai Khabibulin's knee is healing faster than expected, and he could be ready to play when the Olympic break ends. ... The fire sale in St. Louis is not done. The Blues are shopping defenseman Eric Weinrich and left wings Dean McAmmond and Dallas Drake.
Information from the Delaware County Daily Times, Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald, Calgary Herald and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was used in this report.