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:
With the announcement St. Louis becomes the oldest player on the Canadian roster, a title previously held by 34-year-old Roberto Luongo.— Mike Halford (@HalfordPHT) February 6, 2014
Jonas Siegel of TSN Radio 1050 adds more:
Per @TSNResearch: Martin St. Louis becomes oldest player to play for Canada in NHL era. Also highest scoring player since last Olympics.— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) February 6, 2014
Per Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun, Lightning coach Jon Cooper spoke about the move:
Tampa coach Jon Cooper on St. Louis: “It’s well-deserved. Marty has to be at the top of the list (to replace Stamkos). He was in my book."— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) February 6, 2014
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.
Who was the best choice to replace Steven Stamkos on Team Canada?
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:
'Of course I was bitter, but I didn't use that as motivation... I've been motivated for 10 years.., We play for the fans.' #TBLightning MSL— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) February 6, 2014
Meanwhile, Flyers player Claude Giroux spoke about being bypassed, per Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com:
Giroux on not making Team Canada for a second time: "I didn't give myself hope -- I didn't want to be disappointed again." #FlyersTalk— Sarah Baicker (@sbaickerCSN) February 6, 2014
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:
Picking Martin St. Louis is the right move.— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdonPHT) February 6, 2014
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:
MSL: It's a bigger ice surface. My quickness, my speed, that's what I'm going to rely on. It's a different game. #Sochi2014— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) February 6, 2014
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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