In 2006, the top 4 Western Conference teams all lost in the first round of the playoffs. Of course, 2006 was the last time NHL players took 2 weeks off to play in the Winter Olympics in Turin. Also, 2006 was the last time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs… and went to the Stanley Cup finals as one of the biggest underdogs in recent memory.
With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics less than 2 months away, NHL GM’s might be wondering what kind of effects the games will have on their star players and their chances to compete for the Stanley Cup. The potential for burnouts, demotivation, and injuries is very real. And any of those scenarios could have a crippling effect on the top 4 Western teams (as well as other powerhouse Eastern Conference teams like the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins).
At the time of writing this article, the top 4 Western Conference teams are the Blackhawks, Sharks, Avalanche, and Predators. Here’s a closer look at the players each team have participating at the Olympics:
- Chicago Blackhawks – Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky
- San Jose Sharks – Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Dan Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, Doug Murray
- Colorado Avalanche – Kyle Quincey, Paul Statsny, Jonas Holos, Ruslan Salei, Peter Budaj
- Nashville Predators – Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Marcel Goc, Alexander Sulzer
It makes you wonder if a Western Conference playoff team with less Olympic-bound players will squeak through each series like the Oilers did in 2006. Perhaps a team like the Calgary Flames (who only have 3 players going – Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Miikka Kiprusoff), or even the Phoenix Coyotes (who also have 3 players going – Zbynek Michalek, Sami Lepisto, and Ilya Bryzgalov) could have a better odds in the 2010 Playoffs because of this…
I’m not saying this will or won’t happen. It’s purely speculation. And I’m not suggesting that was the only reason the 2006 Oilers got all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, but it could be a partial explanation why the top 4 Western teams were defeated by lower seeded teams that year. If anything, this probably blurs the line that much more between the top and lower seeds in the West.
With the Western Conference being as tight as it is, the same questions can be asked about Detroit, Los Angeles, and Vancouver. These teams are sending a number of players to the Olympics as well.
While fans can’t wait for the Olympics hockey to get started, I’m sure GM’s across the league are dreading it. Or perhaps they are dreading the impact following the games. At any rate, it will be fascinating to see the effects these Olympics will have on these legitimate Western Conference powerhouse teams. And for a team like Chicago who’s Cup window is small to start with, that’s just another hurdle to climb through in order to meet expectations.
Stay classy, Olympic Western Conference stars.