Olympics Hockey 2014: Ranking the Most Disappointing NHL Players in Sochi so Far
For months before the Olympics, theories were shared and names were tossed about over who would thrive and who would wilt under the spotlight at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
With four teams now left to fight it out for gold, we're starting to see how the legacy of the tournament will play out.
As we learned from Canada's sudden-death overtime gold-medal win in 2010, having two more games gives players plenty of time to take a stab at becoming national heroes. Heading into the semifinals, here's a look at eight NHLers who haven't lived up to their billing in the Olympic hockey tournament.
8. John Tavares: Canada
What was expected: Ranked third in NHL scoring going into the Olympic break, 23-year-old Tavares was expected to represent the next generation of Canadian offensive superstars, especially with Steven Stamkos sidelined.
What's been delivered: Tavares was knocked out of the tournament with a torn MCL and torn meniscus on Feb. 19 against Latvia. Before that, he was shuffled throughout the lineup of a Canadian team that's loaded with talented centers, but struggling to score. Tavares was pointless with six shots on goal, with the second-lowest average ice time among Canada's forwards at 10:39 a game.
Impact: In the short term, NHL.com reports that Team Canada's Matt Duchene will draw back into the lineup in place of the injured Tavares for the semifinal game against the U.S. on Friday.
Back at home, Arthur Staple of Newsday reports that New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow is fuming at the announcement that his team's best player is out for the season. Add Snow's voice to the growing chorus that's against having NHL players participate in future Olympic tournaments.
7. Nino Niederreiter: Switzerland
What was expected: In the midst of a breakout season with the Minnesota Wild, 21-year-old Niederreiter was expect to score some goals for a Swiss team that's better known for its defense than its offense.
What's been delivered: Nada. Despite playing more than any other forward for Switzerland, Niederreiter finished the tournament with 10 shots and no points. The entire Swiss team managed just three goals in four games before being upset by Latvia in the qualification round.
Impact: After taking a silver medal at the 2013 world championships, where Niederreiter had eight points in 10 games, Switzerland's failure to crack the top eight will mean a drop in their IIHF world ranking. The Swiss' reputation as the team most likely to play spoiler will also take a hit—until the next time they pull off an upset.
6. Jaroslav Halak: Slovakia
What was expected: After challenging for a medal in Vancouver in 2010, the Slovak team was missing some important forwards coming into the Olympic tournament. Vancouver all-star Pavol Demitra was one of the players who passed away in the Lokomotiv plane crash in 2011, and sniper Marian Gaborik was forced to miss the tournament due to injury.
Slovakia's best chance to stay competitive was with great goaltending from Jaroslav Halak.
What's been delivered: Disaster. Halak lasted barely half a game before giving up five goals to the U.S. in Slovakia's first outing. Then he allowed three goals on 31 shots in a loss to Slovenia. Backup Peter Budaj wasn't much better, so Slovakia turned to third-stringer Jan Laco for its last two games, a 1-0 shootout loss to Russia and a 5-3 elimination drubbing by the Czechs.
Halak leaves the Olympics with a 5.13 goals-against average and .857 save percentage.
Impact: After four years with the St. Louis Blues, Halak becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season. His shaky Olympic performance won't boost the Blues' confidence that he's the man they want between the pipes in the playoffs. It will also hurt his market value if they try to swing a deal before the trade deadline on March 5.
Ultimately, Halak will feel this lapse in his wallet when he signs his next NHL contract.
5. Chris Kunitz: Canada
What was expected: It helps to have friends in high places. Kunitz is a 34-year-old plug who was named to the Canadian Olympic team because of his chemistry with Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Sidney Crosby. It was hoped that the pair could bring its scoring touch to Sochi.
What's been delivered: A lot of "I told you so's." Kunitz has no points in the tournament and Crosby hasn't scored. Many fans feel that Kunitz is eating up valuable ice time when more talented wingers could be riding shotgun with Crosby.
Impact: Minimal. Though Canadian coach Mike Babcock thought Kunitz's role with the Penguins justified an Olympic roster spot, his lack of production can't be seen as a major surprise. Other players will be held much more accountable if the Canadians' lack of scoring costs them the chance to repeat as gold medalists.
4. Zach Parise: USA
What was expected: Zach Parise finished third in scoring at the 2010 Olympics and potted the critical tying goal for Team USA with 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation time. Now the captain of the American team, he was expected to lead the offensive charge once again in Sochi.
What's been delivered: Not so much. The U.S. team hasn't been hurting for goals, but Parise didn't score his first of the tournament until the midway through the quarterfinal game against the Czechs—a power-play tally to make it 4-1, with an American victory already all but secured. Parise's playing big minutes, but he should have more than one point with just two games remaining.
Impact: To be determined. If the U.S. team wins the gold medal—even if it beats Canada in the semifinal—the tournament will be deemed a success and Parise's leadership will be lauded. If Team USA loses on Friday, he'll have no choice but to shoulder some of the blame.
3. Sidney Crosby: Canada
What was expected: Dominance. Sidney Crosby is the NHL's leading scorer, in the prime of his career, playing the best hockey of his life and already has an impressive Olympic legacy. He was named captain of Team Canada as the very best of a talented group of stars.
What's been delivered: Less than expected. Canada's undefeated in the Olympic tournament, but three of its four games have been too close for comfort. The gifted Canadians aren't scoring at the rate that was expected. With no goals and just two assists, Crosby has come under the sharpest scrutiny of all.
Impact: Much like his counterpart Zach Parise, Captain Canada's legacy hinges on the outcome of the tournament. Crosby didn't dazzle in 2010—until his gold-medal-winning overtime goal. He might need to employ similar heroics if he hopes to also walk away as a all-star from Sochi.
2. Alex Ovechkin: Russia
What was expected: Alex Ovechkin traveled to Greece this summer to be the first Russian to carry the Olympic flame in the torch relay. As the NHL's leading goal scorer, he was pumped to try to win a gold medal for his country on native soil.
What's been delivered: National shame. Ovechkin scored his only goal of the tournament 1:17 into his team's first game, against Slovenia, then went deafeningly silent. He finished with just two points in five games despite 24 shots and buckets of ice time, ultimately leading to Russia's devastating quarterfinal defeat by Finland.
Impact: Massive. Ovechkin does nothing to shake off his reputation as a player who can't produce in pressure situations in either NHL or international play. The entire Russian program will get a serious look since the team not only failed to deliver gold in Sochi, but has now finished out of the medals at three straight Olympics.
1. Semyon Varlamov: Russia
What was expected: When Semyon Varlamov was arrested on charges of domestic violence in October 2013, Voice of Russia quoted Igor Ananskykh, head of the State Duma Committee for Physical Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs as saying that the justice process was an effort to weaken Russia's Olympic hockey team. That's how much was expected of Varlamov, months before he stepped on the ice in Sochi.
What's been delivered: Varlamov was fine—until he wasn't. He gave up two goals in the tournament opener against Slovenia, then shut out Slovakia as coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov alternated him with 2013 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. In the quarterfinal against Finland, Varlamov allowed three goals on 15 shots before getting the hook. By then, the damage had been done.
Impact: Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post poignantly captures the somber mood from Sochi in this column. He touches on the national shame that the members of this team will bear, then wonders whether Varlamov will be able to come back to Denver and finish what he started, leading the Colorado Avalanche to their first playoff berth in four seasons. It'll be hard for this group of Russians to shake off such a stinging defeat.