2014 Winter Olympic Hockey Alternates with Best Chance to See the Ice in Sochi

Lyle RichardsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2014

2014 Winter Olympic Hockey Alternates with Best Chance to See the Ice in Sochi

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    A number of notable NHL stars were excluded from the rosters of the 12 teams competing for gold in men's ice hockey at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. The omission of Bobby Ryan from Team USA and Martin St. Louis from Team Canada garnered nearly as many headlines as the official unveiling of the rosters.

    Injuries can allow a player passed over in the original roster selection an opportunity to be called upon as a replacement. One example is Carolina Hurricanes winger Alexander Semin, who was not part of the original lineup for Russia. He's since been tapped to replace injured KHL forward Sergei Soin.

    Here's a look at 10 players who could become injury replacements, and their chances of getting that call, for the Sochi Olympic Games.

Mark Giordano

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: A foot injury earlier in the season sidelined Mark Giordano for six weeks, ultimately costing him a roster spot.  Passing on Giordano was a difficult decision for Team Canada management, who still think highly of him. According to Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun, general manager Steve Yzerman told the Calgary Flames captain to stay ready in case he's required as an injury replacement player.

    The 30-year-old is a strong all-around defenseman. He also has experience playing on the larger European ice, having played a year in the KHL earlier in his career. Expect him to top the list of alternate blueliners for Team Canada.

     

    Chances Of Playing In Sochi: 80 percent

Claude Giroux

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Claude Giroux was among the early favorites to qualify for Team Canada. A freak accident playing golf last summer resulted in tendon surgery on his right index finger. That led to a slow start to this season, which undoubtedly cost him a roster spot with the Canadian team.

    That he didn't make the cut also speaks to the incredible depth of talented forwards Team Canada's management had to choose from this year.

    Giroux's now on pace for a 70-point season. His leadership, offensive creativity and ability to play center or wing should keep him on Canada's short list of alternates.

    Chances Of Playing in Sochi: 60 percent

Victor Hedman

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Victor Hedman's exclusion raised a few eyebrows, though. to be fair, Sweden is icing a deep blue line for the Sochi Games.

    The 23-year-old continues his steady improvement into a solid all-around defenseman. With 29 points in 44 games, Hedman has already exceeded his career-best single-season totals. He's also had international tournament experience, playing for Sweden in two world championships. His size and speed would be invaluable on their defense.

    If the Swedes need an emergency replacement blueliner, Hedman should be at the top of their list.

    Chances Of Playing in Sochi: 70 percent

Jiri Hudler

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: It's a toss-up what was more surprising, Jiri Hudler's exclusion from the Czech Republic roster or that 42-year-old former NHL star Petr Nedved made the cut over the Flames winger.

    According to Craig Morgan of Fox Sports, Czech coach Alois Hadamczik has a "less than cordial relationship" with several Czech NHL players. Whatever the reason behind this puzzling move, Hudler has handled the disappointment well, per Scott Cruickshank of the Calgary Herald.

    It also hasn't adversely affected his play. He not only leads the Calgary Flames in scoring (on pace for a career-best 65 points), he's also jockeying with Jaromir Jagr for the most points among Czech NHL players this season. This could work in his favor if the Czechs need a replacement on short notice.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 60 percent

Dmitry Kulikov

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Dmitry Kulikov's struggles this season with the Florida Panthers was the main reason behind his exclusion from the Russian roster. Since the Panthers' coaching change earlier this season, the 23-year-old's performance has improved.

    While a veteran like the Dallas Stars' Sergei Gonchar could be considered a more likely choice as a replacement player, Kulikov's youth and speed could give him an edge over the 39-year-old Gonchar. He also has some international experience, having represented his country in two world championships and the world juniors.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 50 percent

Kyle Okposo

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Bobby Ryan being passed over by Team USA overshadowed the fact it also excluded a rising star in Kyle Okposo. The 25-year-old winger is having a career season. He's averaging a point per game and sits second in New York Islanders scoring behind superstar John Tavares.

    According to Scott Burnside of ESPN, the selection committee believed Okposo might struggle on the larger ice in Sochi, overlooking the fact that he played on a similar-sized surface during his college days at the University of Minnesota. He also has international experience, representing his country at three world championships.

    His ongoing success on Long Island should garner him consideration as a replacement player.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 60 percent

Bobby Ryan

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Bobby Ryan's exclusion from this year's United States Olympic squad sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world. ESPN's Scott Burnside revealed that Brian Burke, a member of the American selection committee, questioned Ryan's intensity. The subsequent uproar forced Team USA general manager David Poile to personally apologize to Ryan.

    A member of Team USA in 2010, the 26-year-old winger is among the Ottawa Senators' top scorers and is on pace for his fourth 30-goal season.

    If a current USA forward is sidelined before the Olympics, Ryan should be at the top of the replacement list.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 80 percent

Martin St. Louis

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Martin St. Louis' exclusion from Team Canada made nearly as many headlines as Bobby Ryan's exclusion from Team USA. It also sparked predictions of trouble for Canadian GM Steve Yzerman, per Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Timeswho's also the general manager of the Lightning.

    St. Louis, meanwhile, let his play do the talking. The 38-year-old Lightning captain is on pace for a 40-goal, 80-point performance.

    If a current Team Canada forward gets sidelined before the Olympics, St. Louis' speed, offensive skills and leadership make him a likely choice as a replacement player.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 80 percent

Radim Vrbata

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Per Craig Morgan of Fox Sports, Radim Vrbata's exclusion from the Czech Republic team puzzled Phoenix Coyotes teammates and fellow countrymen Zbynek Michalek and Martin Hanzal, who made the cut.

    Morgan also reports that the Czech coach reportedly has a “less than cordial relationship” with several NHL Czech players, which could explain Vrbata's exclusion. If so, it's a decision that could ultimately hurt the Czech Republic in the upcoming Olympic tournament. The 32-year-old right wing is among the Coyotes' leading scorers. His offensive skills would be invaluable on a Czech roster that isn't as strong as it was in previous years. 

    Chance of playing in Sochi: 40 percent

Keith Yandle

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Why He Could Get The Call for Sochi: Keith Yandle is another notable member of the 2010 United States Olympic squad who was passed over by this year's team. According to Sarah McLellan of AZCentralSports.com, Coyotes GM Don Maloney believes excluding Yandle was a tough decision for Team USA management.

    His smooth-skating style and offensive skills seem tailor-made for the big ice in Sochi, but per McLellan, there are concerns over his defensive play.

    Yandle is among the top offensive defensemen in the NHL.  His puck-moving skills and previous international experience could work in his favor as an injury replacement.

    Chances of playing in Sochi: 70 percent