5 Burning Questions for Detroit Red Wings' 2014 Olympians

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IFebruary 12, 2014

5 Burning Questions for Detroit Red Wings' 2014 Olympians

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    For the next two weeks, 10 players who have played hockey as Detroit Red Wings will shed their allegiances to their NHL team and each other to play for their respective homelands.

    Henrik Zetterberg, for now, is not captain of the Red Wings but of Team Sweden.

    Jimmy Howard is no longer donning red and white but red, white and blue as a member of Team USA.

    Mike Babcock is under no pressure to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a 23rd straight playoff appearance, but he is expected to bring another gold medal home to Canada.

    For the entire NHL season, these men have been examined as Red Wings, but for now, they are going to be judged as Olympic athletes all pitted against each other in a quest for national pride and immortal hockey glory.

    Though they will eventually return to the Red Wings looking to answer a myriad of questions about their playoff hopes and competitive readiness, for now, the questions these temporarily former Red Wings will face will have nothing to do with NHL statistics or playoffs.

    With 10 Red Wings preparing to take the ice in Sochi, there are plenty of questions surrounding them collectively; here’s a look at the five biggest that will be answered over the course of the tournament.

5. Will Jimmy Howard Have Any Impact on Team USA?

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    Jimmy Howard’s position as the third-string goalie for Team USA is well established.

    Amid questions of who will start in net Thursday against Team Slovakia, Howard’s name isn’t even an option, via Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports. With Ryan Miller the reigning hero in America’s net and Jonathan Quick just two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe win, the conversation about who can bring USA a gold medal is rightly focused on these two players.

    However, Howard would surely jump at the opportunity to start a game—any game—should Team USA coach Dan Bylsma see the need to do so. What would facilitate that need would likely come down to injury or a complete lack of confidence in one of the two aforementioned goalies. While the former is always a possibility, the latter seems highly unlikely.

    No player dreams of putting on his country’s colors only to display them while sitting on the bench, but that appears to be what Howard should prepare for during his time in Sochi.

    Should he have the opportunity to take the net, he’ll have a shot at displaying why Team USA general manager David Poile selected him to the team to begin with.

    However, whether or not he ever gets that shot is the biggest question hanging over Jimmy Howard’s head at the moment.

4. Will Tomas Tatar Help Slovakia Emerge as a Dark Horse?

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    When talking about gold medal-contending teams, Team Slovakia would need a promotion to be considered an afterthought.

    Against presumptive powerhouses like Teams Canada, USA, Sweden and Russia, Slovakia doesn’t look to stand much of a chance of beating any of them for a medal of any kind.

    Still, the Slovaks boast a couple of superstars in Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara as well as a budding offensive dynamo in Tomas Tatar.

    Tatar is slated to be a top-line player for Slovakia and will have ample opportunity to be an impact player for his team, via Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press.

    If Slovakia has any hope of emerging as a dark-horse team in Sochi, Tatar, along with Hossa and Chara, will all need to perform at their best.

3. Will Mike Babcock Lead Canada to Another Gold Medal?

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    As is the case every four years, it’s gold or bust for Canada in Sochi.

    Hockey’s homeland is right to expect nothing less as their roster is stacked with some of the best talent in the NHL, and thus, the world.

    The man behind the bench and his importance to Team Canada’s success or failure should not be overlooked.

    Mike Babcock has already delivered gold once to Canada in 2010, and he’s expected to do the same thing in 2014. While his ability to deliver on any hockey challenge is beyond question, Babcock will have a slightly different challenge ahead of him in Sochi. For as difficult as it is to deliver gold once, repeating the feat is tougher still.

    Babcock certainly has a familiar cast to work with as Sidney Crosby, the overtime hero in 2010, will lead his team on the ice as captain, and Roberto Luongo will once again look to anchor the team in net.

    Still, even the most impressive rosters can sometimes fall short of their apparent glory, and it will be up to Babcock to make sure his team returns to Canada as Olympic gold medalists.

2. How Healthy Is Pavel Datsyuk?

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    As of now, Team Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk is planning to play in the opening game Thursday against Slovenia, as per Brendan Savage of MLive.com.

    Despite a lingering groin injury that kept him off the ice during Team Russia’s practice Monday, Datsyuk will be expected to lead his country to a gold-medal finish on home soil.

    While Datsyuk’s ability to consistently perform as the best player on the ice is well established, his 35-year-old body will likely need to be in peak condition in order for him to do so.

    Playing through an injury to contribute to one’s team isn’t exactly the same as being healthy, and which of the two scenarios Datsyuk is truly pursuing will likely become apparent as the tournament progresses.

    If Datsyuk is truly healthy enough to play, he will no doubt prove able to lead an offensively potent team consisting of Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk. However, if his love and pride for his country is stronger than his groin, then Datsyuk’s team will not be nearly as strong as it could be.

1. Will Henrik Zetterberg Lead Team Sweden to a Gold Medal?

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    As his predecessors are national heroes like Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidstrom, it’s safe to say there’s a fair amount of pressure on Team Sweden captain Henrik Zetterberg’s shoulders.

    Added to that a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2010, the expectation for a much higher finish for Team Sweden adds additional weight to the load Zetterberg will be expected to carry.

    Sweden is eight years removed from its last gold-medal finish, and Zetterberg, along with teammates Niklas Kronwall and Daniel Alfredsson, have the glory of that achievement to draw inspiration from.

    However, with new faces such as Gustav Nyquist, Gabriel Landeskog and Jakob Silfverberg sufficiently wet behind the ears when it comes to national team play, Zetterberg will need to make sure he provides a steady hand when guiding his young teammates through the challenges they’ll face along the way.

    Team Sweden isn’t nearly as strong on paper as it was in 2006 with players like Lidstrom, Sundin and Peter Forsberg long since retired. However, they still boast one of the world’s best goalies in Henrik Lundqvist and have enough veteran experience and young talent to legitimately challenge for a medal.

    Still, anything less than gold is likely to be viewed as a disappointing finish for Sweden, and delivering on that expectation is something which Zetterberg will take personal responsibility.