I hate Dominik Hasek. Everyone knows this. We don't need to get into it. No disrespect intended towards Ray Emery, but Senators fans know that Hasek represented the team's best chance to win a Stanley Cup in his one season with the team. But this article is not about Hasek and his mysterious adductor muscle. Because, really, the suggestion that players should not go to the Olympics because of the risk of injury is dumb.
After all, the risk of injury is present in any hockey game. The Olympics are not different, special, or unique in that regard, although it might appear that way given their four-year cycle. Senators fans, however, don't have to look further than last year, and say, Matt Cooke's skate on Erik Karlsson's Achilles tendon to realize that a major injury can occur anywhere at any time. Or, if you believe that Cooke's actions were somehow intentional, we (sadly) have other examples to turn to. For instance, Chris Kreider's collision with goalie Craig Anderson. It's a pretty frequent occurrence in hockey--Kreider's feet get taken out from under him, and he slides out of control into something else. That something else happened to be Ottawa's starting goaltender, and he missed a good chunk of the season. Could have happened to anyone. On a different position on the ice, maybe Krieder goes flying into the boards and sprains his shoulder. Who knows?
No, risk of injury isn't the issue here. We accept that injuries are unpredictable yet inevitable in the course of an NHL season. We know it's inevitable because we see it every year. In fact, the Senators used 35 total skaters last year because only six players (Kyle Turris, Zack Smith, Chris Neil, Jakob Silfverberg, Erik Condra, and Chris Phillips) managed to play all 48 games. Some players missed time due to being healthy scratches or because they started the season on the Binghamton Senators, which almost brings us to the main point.
But first, how many players suited up for 82 games in the 2011-12 season? Just three: Nick Foligno, Colin Greening, and Jared Cowen. So... roughly double the season, and the number of players who make it all the way through halves. in 2010-11, only Foligno and Phillips pulled off the accomplishment. in 2009-10, it was Phillips and Jarkko Ruutu. You have to go back to the 2006-07 season to find a close comparison health-wise to last season. That year saw five players (Phillips, Neil, Chris Kelly, Dany Heatley, and Andrej Meszaros) last the whole season. The percentage of players who played every game this past season is simply not the norm. And we know the reason why: The season was shortened.
And here's the point: The whole reason we accept injuries as inevitable is because the 82-game hockey season is a physical grind. We know the pace of the schedule, combined with the intensity of the game, wears down the body--and whether it's a random collision that takes you out for a while or simply a so-called maintenance day to let you heal up, the odds are that you're missing some games.
Which emphasizes just how important a break in the schedule is.
Of course, Olympic hockey is played on a larger surface and is less physical than NHL hockey, but the price of the game comes from more than its physicality. Exert yourself long enough, and even exertion begins to take its toll on your body. Players in the Olympics will be adjusting to a new time zone, playing a compressed schedule with little rest, and enjoying the resort atmosphere of Sochi. Oh, and the partying that goes on in Olympic Village. It's a recipe for exhaustion, plain and simple.
And from this, players are expected to return to their teams and contribute to a playoff push--the crucial part of the schedule where every game becomes more intense because every point matters. If you make the playoffs, the intensity ratchets up every round you last. A hockey player's season this year, if they attend the Olympics and make the NHL playoffs, is an eight-month gauntlet of endurance that no human--not even a professional athlete--can endure without some relief. Those that don't get it will run out of gas at some point.
So, Jason Spezza got snubbed from Canada's Olympic roster. Boo, hoo. How upset are we really that a player coming off of back surgery gets two weeks to rest?
Of course, there's a certain pride that comes with representing one's country. Not having that opportunity (blogging is not yet an Olympic sport) I can only imagine what it must feel like. Certainly you'd want the opportunity if it came along. But as Senators fans, we should be grateful for the respite. It's bad enough that the Senators' two best players, Karlsson and flashy new toy Bobby Ryan, are mortal locks to make their respective squads. There's no need to add to that mix with any more players than absolutely necessary.
NHL players bow out of the All-Star game with regularity, citing "injuries" as the reason why. Some of these injuries are probably similar in severity to Hasek's adductor from all those years ago. Is it that these players don't want to participate in an easy-going weekend? After all, the All-Star game is even less intense than anything they'd experience in the Olympics. Or is it simply that the players value time off anywhere they can get it thanks to the toll the length of the NHL season takes on them?
As far as I'm concerned, Spezza's snub is nothing more than a gift in disguise for the Senators. Regardless of what Daniel Alfredsson thinks, this is a Senators team that will add a healthy Spezza, Karlsson, and Milan Michalek to its lineup next year. That's 88 goals and 134 assists! On top of that, they're adding even more offense from Ryan and new winger Clarke MacArthur. You're going to have a hard time convincing me this is not a team with a shot--and let's not pretend with the loss of Alfredsson we won't all be looking to Spezza as the guy to lead the team. Considering that same team is going to be getting back a tired Karlsson and tired Ryan, which Spezza do you want putting them on his shoulders? A tired one or a refreshed one?
Jason Spezza might not get a shot at Olympic Gold, and that's probably unfair considering his production relative to some of the other Team Canada invitees, but I'm strangely okay with it. I wish none of the team were going, and Eugene Melnyk had booked them all two-week stays in some tropical meditation spa retreat instead, because I'll tell you this: Raising the Stanley Cup is a hell of a consolation prize for missing out on Olympic Gold.