10 Hockey Players Returning from Olympic Glory to Terrible NHL Teams

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2014

10 Hockey Players Returning from Olympic Glory to Terrible NHL Teams

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    NHL stars who participated in the Sochi Olympics will soon be returning to North America and rejoining their respective clubs. For these players, the Olympics provided a wonderful opportunity to perform at the highest level of competition.

    There is a risk that some of them could struggle to readjust to the NHL grind. Most will return to NHL teams certain to clinch playoff spots or jockeying for a wild-card berth. That should help these players maintain their competitive edge.

    Those returning to NHL teams that have fallen out of playoff contention face a different challenge. Having performed with and against the world's best, they must adjust to playing alongside lesser talent on mediocre clubs. Here's a look at 10 players going from Olympic glory to playing out the rest of the season on bad NHL teams.

Aleksander Barkov

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    Barkov had a promising start in his first-ever Olympics with Finland. The 18-year-old Florida Panthers center picked up an assist in his first game in Finland's 8-4 victory over Austria. However, he suffered a tournament-ending knee injury during a game against Norway.

    Sun-Sentinel.com's Steve Gorten reports Barkov returned to Florida to be examined by team doctors.  It's believed he could require surgery, which would sideline him four to six weeks. The Panthers currently sit second to last in the Eastern Conference. Even if Barkov could return to action, there's little he can do to help them reach a playoff berth. It's a heartbreaking end to the young Finn's NHL rookie season.

Alexander Edler

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    After missing the opening two games of the Olympics due to a suspension, Edler proved a welcomed addition to Sweden's defense, collecting a goal and an assist with a plus/minus of plus-two. The 27-year-old blueliner has been an integral part of Sweden's march to the gold-medal game.

    Following this Olympic high, Edler will rejoin the Vancouver Canucks. They are in free fall in the standings, winning only four of their last 20 games, including seven straight losses leading up to the Olympic break. Edler's struggled this season, carrying a team-worst plus/minus of minus-23. It'll be interesting to see if he can carry his Olympic form back to Vancouver.

Zemgus Girgensons

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    Girgensons had a solid Olympic debut with Latvia. The 20-year-old center picked up a goal and an assist during the tournament. He also helped his country reach the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time in its history, throwing a scare into heavily favored Canada before falling 2-1.

    After such a heady experience, Girgensons returns to the woeful Buffalo Sabres. With the NHL's worst record, the Sabres have no chance of reaching the playoffs. That could be quite the comedown for young Girgensons. A silver lining, however, is Sabres coach Ted Nolan was also Latvia's Olympic coach. Nolan should help Girgensons avoid a serious post-Olympic letdown.

Michael Grabner

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    Though Austria was eliminated in the qualification round by Slovenia, Grabner had a strong performance at the Sochi Games. His five goals and six points not only made him Austria's top scorer but also placed him among the tournament's scoring leaders.

    Grabner will be hard-pressed to match that performance when he returns to the New York Islanders. They currently sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Grabner struggled to score before the Olympics, with only nine goals in 56 games. His Olympic scoring touch could abandon him with the fading Islanders.

Ales Hemsky

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    The Czech Republic was eliminated in the quarterfinals by the United States, but Hemsky played a part in getting the Czechs that far. He had a good tournament, tying with two others for the team's points lead with four while his three goals led all Czech scorers.

    The 30-year-old Hemsky will now return to the Edmonton Oilers, who sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. If he's lucky, he won't be there for long. ESPN.com's Tim Kavanagh reports (Insider subscription required) Montreal, San Jose, Pittsburgh and Phoenix could have interest in Hemsky. He could be dealt to a playoff contender by the March 5 trade deadline.

Ryan Kesler

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    Kesler has played a significant role in helping the United States advance to the bronze-medal game. He's collected four points, has led the Americans in faceoff wins and has been arguably the squad's best two-way forward in the tournament.

    The 29-year-old center is also among the Canucks' best players this season. Sadly, however, his efforts weren't enough to prevent them from tumbling down the standings and out of a playoff berth by the Olympic break. He'll have to adjust from the high of Olympic competition as the desperate, injury-ravaged Canucks try to climb back into contention.

Ryan Miller

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    Though he served as a backup for Jonathan Quick in this Olympic tournament, Miller had a solid performance in backstopping the United States to a 5-1 win over Slovenia. The goaltending hero of the 2010 Olympics handled the demotion well, putting the team above himself.

    After being part of a star-studded American squad, Miller will return to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. With the NHL's worst record (15-34-8, 38 points), the Sabres have no chance of making the playoffs. The best Miller can hope for is to be shipped to a playoff contender by the NHL's March 5 trade deadline.

Daniel Sedin

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    Despite playing without sidelined twin brother Henrik, Daniel Sedin has had a strong performance with Sweden. Heading into the gold-medal game, he is second in team scoring with five points. Playing on a gold-medal contender was just what he needed to regain his scoring touch.

    It remains to be seen, however, if he can carry that over with the struggling Canucks. Though he's their leading scorer, Sedin managed only seven points in his last 20 NHL games prior to the Olympics. His scoring drought is a key reason the Canucks fell out of a playoff spot before the Olympic break.

John Tavares

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    It was a tough Olympic tournament for Tavares. Though sitting third overall in NHL scoring, the 23-year-old center failed to tally a point for Canada. Worse, he suffered a season-ending knee injury during Canada's 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Latvia.

    Had Tavares remained healthy, it's doubtful he could improve the lowly New York Islanders. Their playoff hopes were already fading before the Olympic break. With their superstar now out for the season, those hopes appear all but gone. Given a choice, Tavares would rather spend the rest of the season playing for a non-contender than recovering from injury.

Thomas Vanek

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    The 30-year-old Austrian captain managed only one point in the tournament. The Buffalo News' John Vogl reports Austrian Ice Hockey Federation President Dieter Kalt questioned his leadership after several players spent the night partying before Austria's 4-0 loss to Slovenia in the qualification round.

    To make matters worse, Vanek will return to the New York Islanders. Their playoff hopes are all but dashed, especially with captain John Tavares sidelined for the season with a knee injury. Vanek's fortunes could improve if the Islanders ship him to a contender at the trade deadline. ESPN.com's Tim Kavanagh reports the Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota Wild have interest in Vanek.