The NHLPA and league officials agreed last month to allow NHL players to represent their countries in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Everyone did a backflip. The decision, which wasn't settled when the Lockout was ended, shouldn't have taken this long to make. NHLers have appeared in the Olympics since the 1998 Games and their participation has been beneficial to all parties involved.
The players love gearing up for their countries and the ones that don't go enjoy the two week break, which doesn't wreck the NHL season like previously thought. And the fans can't get enough of seeing super teams playing against each other for something that doesn't begin with All-Star. That is, they play for something that matters. Really matters. Nationalism is not dead, people. So, again, everybody wins.
All this, of course, means several Pittsburgh Penguins players are checking Hotline for hotel deals in Sochi next year. Others are holding off on clicking 'confirm'. Here's a handicapping of who is whom.
Sidney Crosby & Team Canada- He only scored the Gold Medal winning goal in the 2010 Games in Vancouver that instantly made every Canadian forget the disaster of the 2006 Games. He's only the best player in the NHL. He's only going to be the face of Olympic ice hockey for at least the next decade. So, yeah . . . Sidney Crosby will play for Team Canada in Sochi.
Evgeni Malkin & Team Russia- There's a ton of pressure on Russia to preform well in this time around. The Russian's have underachieved the last two Tournaments, finishing fourth in 2006 and sixth in 2010. They're the host nation and have a hockey legacy to live up too. For them to drive down that road to redemption, they need Geno in the car. He'll make the cut for the national team.
Jussi Jokinen & Team Finland- Jussi has some Olympic experience, subbing in for Toumo Ruutu in 2006, and did okay (one goal and four assists in eight games). He has played for the Finnish National Team in five World Championships. This international experience and if he gets on a hot streak early in the season, might land him a spot on the roster.
Brooks Orpik & USA Hockey- Orpik won Silver in the 2010 Games and was a great fit for the defensively minded club. But in the last four years, he's gotten slower and his hits not as fierce (exceptions always) while the Olympic ice remains bigger and players faster. He might make the team as a alternate. If not, he'll be the first call when someone bails out.
Paul Martin & USA Hockey- Martin's been named to two Olympic teams but has never staked for the USA (he didn't play in 2006 and missed 2010 with a broken arm). He's 2012 rebound season has many penciling him in again this year. He'll be a great addition to a team with other two-way defenders like Ryan Suter and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Kris Letang & Team Canada- Letang's Norris Trophy finalist season last year has finally gotten him national attention. The problem is Team Canada is loaded with talented defensemen and Letang's sometimes suspect defense may cost him a roster spot. But his amazing offensive abilities more than warrant him a trip to Sochi. Odds are he's in.
James Neal & Team Canada- Like Letang, two breakout years in Pittsburgh have landed James Neal in the spotlight. His shot and skating are great and he's physical enough to play in tight situations. But like Letang, that kind of player Canada has in spades. Joe Thornton, Milan Lucic, and Ryan Getzlaf are higher profile James Neals. Maybe Crosby's influence can get the Real Deal in Sochi. Maybe.
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