Will the Chicago Blackhawks Suffer from so Many Players Going to Sochi?

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2014

Jonathan Toews will once again don the Canadian uniform in the Olympics.
Jonathan Toews will once again don the Canadian uniform in the Olympics.Harry How/Getty Images

The number is 10, and depending on how you look at it, that's either a great honor for the Chicago Blackhawks or a potential disaster.

Ten represents the number of Blackhawks who will play for their home countries at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues all have 10 players who will compete in the Olympics, and it's indicative of the overwhelming talent level on those teams.

The breakdown of the Olympians includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith playing for Canada. Marian Hossa and Michal Handzus will wear the Slovakian uniform. Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger will play for Sweden. Michal Rozsival will play for the Czech Republic, and Patrick Kane will represent the United States.

“Ten guys! That’s half our roster, pretty cool,” Kane told Chicago Blackhawks team historian Bob Verdi. “We sent six to Vancouver. I guess that means we have a good team here in Chicago. And we could have a couple more before it’s over.”

The Blackhawks could have been represented by three more players. Brent Seabrook was a strong candidate to join Keith as a defenseman for Canada, and Corey Crawford could have been named as one of the three Canadian goalies. Brandon Saad received strong consideration to make the American team.

But while general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville must feel good that their players are thought of so highly, they have to be more than just a little concerned.

When the Chicago 10 go to Sochi to compete for their countries, they are not going to be playing exhibition games. They are going to be playing at least as hard as they do on an every-night basis for the Blackhawks.

Toews is going to bear much of the responsibility for Canada's hopes of repeating as gold medal winners. There is nothing in Toews' nature or character that suggests he will play anything but all-out in his pursuit of honor for his country.

While the same holds true for everyone else on that list, Toews will probably set the bar at the highest level. He is going to play as hard for his country as he does for the team that pays his $6.3 million salary this season.

That means Toews is going to be at risk during the Olympics, and the same holds true for his nine teammates who are also bound for Sochi.

This is also the case for every NHL player going to the Olympics, and the Blackhawks' risk is the highest since they have the most players participating (along with the Blues and Red Wings).

Chicago, of course, is in pursuit of its second consecutive Stanley Cup and its third in five seasons. It would be bad enough if Toews, Kane, Sharp or Hossa got hurt in a regular-season game, but it would be even harder if an injury occurred while they were competing in Sochi.

NHL teams with the most Olympic participants
Chicago Blackhawks10
St. Louis Blues10
Detroit Red Wings10
Montreal Canadiens8
Anaheim Ducks7
New York Rangers7
Vancouver Canucks7
Pittsburgh Penguins7

That's what makes the NHL participation in the Winter Olympics such a double-edged sword. Players are going to be competing with every bit of energy they possess for the honor of wearing their country's uniform.

While that will give them plenty of glory, it will almost certainly mean serious risk for some of these players.

Just where would the Blackhawks be if Toews suffered a serious knee injury or Keith damaged his shoulder and needed surgery? If either of those players got hurt, the Blackhawks could go from Stanley Cup favorites to championship outsiders in an instant.

This is the burden of Olympic hockey. Over the long haul, it seems obvious that a player's professional career is the most important because it gives the player a chance to earn millions of dollars over the length of his career.

However, the thought of winning a gold medal at the Olympics is often considered priceless.

The teams with the most Olympians are under the greatest risk.

It could bring the momentary glory that comes with an Olympic medal, but it could derail a player from reaching the professional glory that comes from winning a Stanley Cup.

Whether they admit it or not, Bowman and Quenneville have to be worried about the 10 players they are sending to Sochi.


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