As the countdown to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver squeaks into single digits, the hype about the hockey tournament has kicked into overdrive. With one week left in the NHL regular season before the Games begin, every player partaking in the worldwide event has their play under a microscope.
This time around there has been a major shift.
Many teams have said goodbye to most of their long-time, veteran players who have represented their countries for the last few Olympics. The talk is all about the young guns with limited or no Olympic experience taking charge of their teams and making a name for themselves as more than just an NHL star.
But there are more than just young, flashy superstars with their best years ahead of them stepping onto this world stage in a week; there are plenty of former NHL stars who will be stepping back into the spotlight one more time.
And they won't necessarily just be playing a supporting role.
The two biggest names in this category are, of course, a couple of two-time Stanley Cup Champions: Peter Forsberg on Team Sweden and Jaromir Jagr on the Czech Republic. They are considered two of the best players of their generation.
Forsberg played from 1994-2007 as member of the Quebec Nordiques, Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, and Nashville Predators. He scored 885 points in 706 games while adding 171 points in 151 playoff games. Forsberg will be forever known as one of the best power-forwards to ever step foot on the ice.
He was an important component to Sweden's 2006 Gold Medal (six points in six games) and is a God-like figure in his homeland.
Playing on a team with current stars like Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom, and the Sedin twins, Forsberg won’t be looked at as the go-to guy for offense, but with his experience he can still play a vital part in any success Sweden has. And you never know; since his game is apparently still at a high level since he was named to the team, he may surprise people with how well he plays.
Mostly recognized for his clutch performances as a member of the Avalanche during their numerous playoff runs, Forsberg’s familiarity with high-pressure situations will certainly prove useful on a team filled with players who have hardly experienced half of what he has.
And you can bet an impressive performance in the Olympics will only fuel the fire when it comes to talk of yet another attempted NHL comeback for Forsberg.
It’s a similar story when it comes to Jaromir Jagr, who spent 11 seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins before playing the next seven split between Washington and the Rangers. With 646 goals and 953 assists in his career, he currently sits just one point shy of the 1,600 point-mark—something he’s no doubt thought about once or twice since leaving the NHL to play with Avangard Omsk of the KHL.
He started his career with the Penguins, making it to the playoffs 11-straight seasons from 1990-2001 and winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’91 and ’92. He amassed 181 points over 169 playoff games
Though he is 38-years-old, he still has his scoring touch, recording 25 goals and 53 points in 55 games with his KHL club last season. He also was a member of the Czech’s World Championship Team in 2008-2009, where he tallied nine points in seven games.
His role on the Czech Republic Olympic Team will be a big one as the team looks to build upon their Bronze Medal in the 2006 Games in Torino. He, along with snipers like Martin Havlat, Patrick Elias, Milas Michalek, and Tomas Plekanec, will be the focal point of the team when it comes to scoring. If they can play well for the short tournament, the team has a chance to once again find themselves on the podium.
It will be tough for the Czechs, as they’re in the same pool as the powerful Russian Team and have to compete with the likes of Canada, Sweden, and the US before even thinking about finishing the Games with a medal around their necks.
But with Jagr in the mix, and his usual flair for the dramatic, don’t be surprised to see this team make some noise on the West Coast this February.
Joining Jagr on the team is another former NHLer who has moved on to play in the KHL, Petr Cajanek, who spent four seasons with the St. Louis Blues. The crafty forward played 269 games with the team, scoring 46 goals and 153 points in that time.
His career has certainly been that of a feel-good story after being selected 253rd overall in 2001 and making it to the NHL the very next season, appearing in 51 games.
Another name you may recognize from the Czechs is Josef Vasicek, who played eight seasons in the NHL for the Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, and New York Islanders, but now plays for Lokomotiv Yaroslavi of the KHL.
His best season was 2003-2004 in Carolina when he scored 19 goals and 45 points.
Joining Forsberg on Team Sweden is Mattias Weinhandl, who played 182 games in the NHL with the Islanders and Minnesota Wild, appearing in 182 games. He will not be looked at as being an offensive threat, but more of a role player and grinder on the fourth line.
On Team Finland there are a few former NHLers making the trip to Vancouver as well. Niko Kapanen, who played six seasons in the league, and Ville Peltonen, who played in eight, both play in the NHL now but were named to the Olympic club.
Peltonen had nine points in eight games in the 2006 Olympics when Finland won the Silver Medal, and will be looked toward to do the same as the team is made up largely of veterans out to prove they still are a powerful country when it comes to hockey.
The Slovakian Team has a slew of former NHL players as well, starting with guys who spent parts of different seasons in the league like Branko Radivojevic (393 games), Lubos Bartecko (257 games), and Richard Lintner (112 games). It also has guys who had brief stints, such as Martin Strbak and Rastislav Stana.
Marian Hossa’s brother, Marcel, is also a member of the team and now plays for Dinamo Riga of the KHL after playing 237 games in the NHL. Jozef Stumpel played in the NHL from 1991-2008, appearing in 957 games while scoring 677 points. He finished his career as a member of the Florida Panthers and now plays with BARYS of the KHL.
Richard Zednik, who played in the NHL just last season, appeared in 745 games since 1996, scoring 200 goals and 379 points. He will always be remembered as the victim of a horrific accident on the ice where his neck was slashed by the blade of a teammate’s skate. He has made a full recovery from the trauma and currently plays for Lokomotiv of the KHL.
The most prominent of these players is Ziggy Palffy, who was as dangerous a scorer as there was in the league when he played. He played five seasons with both the Islanders and the Kings before finishing his career with the Penguins.
He scored 40 goals or more three times and 30 or more six times, his career high being 48 in 1996-97. He averaged more than a point per game (713 points in 684 games) and though he only made it to the playoffs three times in his career (24 games) he was a lethal sniper and usually the best player on his team.
Palffy currently plays in Slovakia with a team called HK 36, and if you think he’s lost his offensive skill with age, you’d be wrong. Last season, through 53 games, Palffy scored 52 goals and 99 points.
Though he will be playing with superstars like Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik who can score at will, Palffy will still have plenty of opportunity to be a leader both in the room and on the score sheet in Vancouver.
The Russian Team also has a group of players who used to call NHL home. Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Radulov will be back with so many of the players they played with and against as a part of the NHL; and of course we can’t forget about Sergei Federov.
Made famous with his time on the Detroit Red Wings, Federov scored 1,179 points in his 18-year career and won two Stanley Cups.
So many players are stepping back into the North American spotlight after seeking refuge (or money) in a league different than the NHL once the Olympic Games begin. Most will simply be role players for their all-star Olympic teams, but some could take advantage of the stage they’re on and blast themselves back into the minds of hockey fans across the world.
The Games will also bring about questions for guys like Federov, Palffy, Jagr, and Forsberg about their futures in North America and if we really have seen the last of them in an NHL jersey.
Whether you barely recognize them at this point, or they were one of your favourite players when playing in the league, fans will be able to get a sneak peek at what used to be in the NHL—while overdosing on the pure young talent currently in the NHL today.
With the tournament ready to begin in just a few days, the players, old and new, are ready to put their country on their shoulders and fight for that Gold Medal on the biggest stage in the world.
I guess there’s only one more thing to say.
Let the Games begin.