Written By: Mark “The Hard Hitter” Ritter
Patrice Bergeron, arguably the biggest surprise addition to Team Canada’s Olympic roster, took a shot off his right hand last night versus the New York Rangers.
By all accounts, Bergeron’s injury looks to be serious as it is suspected that Bergeron’s hand may be fractured. Early reports suggest that Bergeron will be out from two to six weeks.
If this is the case, Bergeron’s spot on the Olympic team is in jeopardy and, as such, Steve Yzerman and Co. will need to appoint a replacement.
The list of replacements is a virtual All-Star roster with a trio of Tampa Bay Lightning players: Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Lecavalier, all getting consideration, as well as the Phoenix Coyote’s Shane Doan, Los Angeles Kings' Ryan Smyth (a.k.a “Captain Canada"), Pittsburgh Penguins' defensive specialist Jordan Staal, and Dallas Stars' forward Brad Richards all getting consideration.
Another name being bandied around is that of Philadelphia Flyers' sniper Jeff Carter.
Carter, who has played for Canada at the under 18s in 2002-03, the World Junior team in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and at the 2005-06 World Championships, has struggled this season. His 14 goals through 41 games puts him on pace for 28 goals this season, well off his 46-goal effort in 2008-09.
That said, 30 goal scorers do not grow on trees and given the fact that Carter has supported Canada when asked in the past, he may very well get the nod to once again represent Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
But to be fair, Carter has struggled this season. He has had a six-game scoreless streak and a seven-game scoreless streak and, at times, his character and effort have been challenged.
While Carter’s game has suffered this season, many point to the Flyers' defense and their inability to get Carter the puck as being the real culprit. Carter has the ability to score in bunches and, considering the amount of talent and the strong defensive lineup Canada will ice, Carter may be able to find his groove in a short tournament, like the Olympic’s.
That said, Lecavalier and St. Louis have also struggled this season and, in the opinion of many, both players are not what they once were.
Tampa Bay teammate Steven Stamkos had a great start this season, but there are still questions about his overall game, and his scoring has cooled off considerably in December, scoring in just four of 16 games.
Richards brings similar attributes to the team that Bergeron did. Richards currently sits second overall in assists with 37, is a strong faceoff man, and has proven he can raise his game to another level, as witnessed by his 2003-04 Stanley Cup/Conn Smythe Trophy winning effort as the NHL’s most valuable player for his team in the playoffs.
Not to be forgotten, Jordan Staal is quietly having another great season. His ability to shut down the opposition is quickly approaching legendary status, not to mention his strong scoring abilities on the penalty kill.
Staal’s on-ice presence is exceptional and, as witnessed by his acceptance of his role in Pittsburgh, has no ego and would be willing to accept any role Canada asked him to play.
Make no mistake about it: Staal is a legitimate No. 1 centre on many NHL teams' rosters, a player that is capable of playing in any situation. Staal is strong on the puck, defensively responsible and, when given the chance, a very good goal-scorer.
Shane Doan and Ryan Smyth both bring grit, leadership, and the ability to shut down opposing forwards. While either player would be a nice fit for Canada, I suspect Yzerman will look to go with a younger player.
In the end, I think it all comes down to Carter, Richards, and Staal. All three are legitimate candidates to replace Bergeron, all three bring slightly different games to the table.
If Yzerman believes he needs to replace Bergeron’s goal scoring, he’ll likely look to Carter to fill his spot. If Yzerman wants a shut-down guy he’ll go with Staal. If Yzerman wants an all-around player, he’ll likely opt for Richards.
At the end of the day, if I had the choice, I would likely go with Staal. Sadly, my vote doesn’t count, which means Carter’s dream of representing his country at the 2010 Winter Olympic’s is still alive and well, which gives Flyers’ fans something to cheer about.
Until next time,