Today, From the Press Box:
We offer up a brief summary of the Men's and Women's hockey tournament and their respective futures. Then we get back to a focus on the NHL and review the current landscape, key injuries impacting teams, which resulted at least in part from Olympic Participation, and other storylines. We also suggest trade protocol for your fantasy leagues. Do you want repeated opportunities with your peers or do you want to known as a “fleecer”?
Women's Hockey Tournament
As expected, the Women's Gold Medal will come down to a match between Canada and the USA. There has been much handwringing over this eventuality, with some calls for the removal of the women's hockey event in the Olympics.
The most dramatic moments of these Olympics came from the late stages of the Women's Gold Medal match between Canada and the United States. That these teams were in the final game surprised no one, as they were clearly the cream of the crop.
Suffice it to say that there is not much that separates the two squads. The US squad was nursing a 2-0 lead, on goals by Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter, until there were four minutes left, when a Brianne Jenner shot went in off US defender Kacey Bellamy. This 2-1 lead came down to a pulled goalie situation for Canada, who dodged a conclusive bullet when a long shot by the Americans glanced of the goal post of the vacant Canadian net. Soon after that, the Canadians tied matters on a goalmouth scramble where Marie Philip Poulin knocked in a rebound with less than a minute to play.
I have to give a nod to event organizers who had a four-on-four 20-minute period in place for the overtime. This led to much open ice and many chances at both ends. Three overlapping penalties were also called in rapid succession and ultimately, the Canadians converted a four-on-three player advantage when Poulin converted a Laura Fortino pass to give Canada the final, decisive tally.
The IOC was quick in the aftermath of these dramatics to proclaim that the Olympics would continue to include this event, which I described as the recipient of plenty of negative speculation due Canada/USA dominance. This game and result should be an incentive for other nation's to learn, compete harder and close the gap with these superpowers.
Men's Olympic Hockey
After getting past the big downer of the host Russian team's failure to qualify for the semi-final games, hockey fans were treated to a pair of games between geographic rivals. Olli Jokinen, a star for Finland opened the scoring versus Sweden, but goals by Loui Eriksson and Eric Karlsson allowed the Tre Kronor to triumph by that slim margin.
In the other semi-final, Jamie Benn scored the only goal of the game, as Canada earned a 1-0 win over the United States. This game was a showcase for USA goalie Jonathan Quick and the group of six Canadian defensemen. Quick stopped the Canadians from increasing that slim margin, while the Canadian defense was the key to really limiting nothing more than only a couple of scoring chances in their end of the rink.
The Gold Medal game involved much of the same formula as the suffocating Canadian defense was able to squelch the Swedes at every turn. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist kept Sweden in this game, despite a first period tip in by Jonathan Toews. When Canadian Captain counterattacked the Swedes with a second-period breakaway, this game was effectively decided. A third period goal by Chris Kunitz clinched the 3-0 victory.
The Canadian squad's dominance of this tournament was underscored by limiting all opponents to only three goals scored in their six games played. It was a show of unparalleled defensive mastery.
Now, the debate on the men's hockey side will be over future NHL involvement, which would certainly compromise the quality of future Olympics, particularly as the next Games will be in South Korea, hardly a hockey hotbed at the moment.
That's a discussion for another day and it should not obscure the many great efforts of players like Teemu Selanne, Erik Karlsson, Phil Kessel, Shea Weber and Drew Doughty, who all distinguished themselves here.
A Look Ahead To The Resumption Of The NHL Schedule
A few teams will have to reconcile with manpower disadvantages resulting from these Olympics.
The Red Wings saw Henrik Zetterberg pay a price for trying to play with a wonky back. He was quickly sidelined for much of the rest of the NHL season by trying to play in the qualification round of the Sochi Games. Missing him, along with Johan Franzen, the Wings are going to be without two key members of their forwards. Add in the injury woes, which have impacted on Pavel Datsyuk and starting goalie Jimmy Howard, and we see that Detroit will be hard-pressed to hang on to the last wildcard spot in the East. As the schedule reopens this week, five teams are within three points of the sputtering Wings.
John Tavares is probably the only other high profile player who was knocked out for the remainder of the regular season after suffering a serious knee injury in Sochi. Even though his N Y Islanders are well out of the playoff race, he was having another outstanding campaign, sitting third in the individual scoring race. That injury will clearly impact on the whole roster and they don't have the same depth that has allowed Tampa to survive Steven Stamkos broken leg.
For his part, Stamkos missed out on Olympic participation and the most current update that we can find is telling us that he will miss at least the first four games of the resumption of this NHL season, which finds Tampa on the road. With division rivals Montreal and Toronto nipping at their heels, the Bolts could soon find themselves in a real battle to avoid slipping their current second place division rank, which guarantees a home ice advantage in Round 1, and could see them slip into a wildcard spot. Even with this competitive circumstance, it is clear that Stamkos return will only happen when he and team officials are feeling more confident about his complete health and safety. He like Tavares, is simply too valuable to his team.
In Pittsburgh, they are reeling as they begin preparations for the stretch run. Not only did they lose star defenseman Kris Letang, who will miss the rest of the season after suffering a stroke, but they also lost a second offensive-minded defenseman at the Olympics when Paul Martin went down with a broken hand. He is expected to miss four weeks of action. Surely, we should expect to see the Penguins try to address that rather large need along their blueline.
If you are considering the addition of players from any of Detroit, Tampa and the Islanders, you have to weigh in the loss of team skills attributable to the absence of these star players. On the other hand, if you guess right, regarding the Penguins potential addition(s) on the blueline, that should earn you some nice production from your fantasy defense.
Are you a fair trader?
Typically, in keeper leagues, trades go down between a team in contention this season and a team that is looking to rebuild. In these talks, the goal is for the contending squad to win the short-term end, while losing longer term in the proposed trade transaction. If you abide by this way of doing business, you will have no shortage of fruitful discussions. Conversely, if you try to win both ends of potential trade talks you should expect to encounter difficulty in actually consummating deals. So, govern yourselves accordingly.
This is a sensitive aspect of fantasy pools and that's why I always post this short reminder, every year, just prior to the trade deadline.
Next week, I will follow the NHL trade deadline and will break down all the major deals.