Losing a player the caliber of Steven Stamkos would be a major concern for most Olympic hockey teams, but no team has a larger pool of elite players to pull from than Team Canada, which became quite evident when Stamkos' Sochi replacement was named on Thursday, Feb. 6.
According to Hockey Canada on Twitter, Stamkos' spot on the Canadian Olympic team will be occupied by Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis:
Mike Halford of NBC's Pro Hockey Talk notes that St. Louis now holds a unique title:
Jonas Siegel of TSN Radio 1050 adds more:
Per Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, Lightning coach Jon Cooper spoke about the move:
Although Stamkos hasn't played in an NHL game since November due to a leg injury, there was still optimism that he would be ready to go by the start of the Olympic tournament. According to NHL.com, however, it was determined that Stamkos was not healthy enough to compete in Sochi.
Not only is that disappointing for Canadian hockey fans, but it is gut-wrenching for Stamkos as he was in line to make his first Olympic appearance.
Today is obviously very disappointing for me. I honestly believe that we did everything possible in order to have my injured leg ready in time for the Olympics, but I realize you can't force healing. I know, in the best interest of my long-term health, I cannot represent Canada in Sochi, as much as I would like to. I would like to thank the training staff for their dedication and hard work and I look forward to returning to the Lightning once cleared by the medical team.
As unfortunate as this situation is for Stamkos, it paves the way for a feel-good story in the form of St. Louis. Although Stamkos and St. Louis are teammates, they are very different players. At 38, St. Louis is 15 years Stamkos' senior. St. Louis is also diminutive at 5'8" and 180 pounds, but nobody can question his desire and skill level.
St. Louis represented Canada in the 2006 Torino Olympics, and many were both shocked and outraged when he initially wasn't picked to do so in Sochi. The decision was particularly surprising due to the fact that Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman occupies the same role in Tampa.
The Mayor John Hoven on Twitter shared this quote from St. Louis:
Meanwhile, Flyers player Claude Giroux spoke about being bypassed, per Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com:
With 54 points in 56 games this season, St. Louis is one of the most efficient scorers in the NHL. He won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he is a former Hart Trophy winner as league MVP and he is a Stanley Cup winner to boot.
St. Louis has essentially done it all aside from winning Olympic gold. The prevailing thought is that St. Louis is the ideal replacement for Stamkos, and that sentiment was echoed by Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk:
At the same time, Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock will have his hands full in terms of finding the proper role for St. Louis. Stamkos is a center with a wicked shot, while St. Louis is more of a playmaker on the wing.
St. Louis will be in his element in Sochi, however, since the Olympic-sized ice will give him more room to operate.
Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star provided this synopsis of what St. Louis had to say about the bigger ice surface:
Being without Stamkos is a less-than-ideal situation for Canada as he is one of the best pure goal scorers in the world.
However, there is no question that St. Louis will put every ounce of effort into getting Canada atop the podium.
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