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posted: 1/27/2010 12:01 AM

Olympics will be enjoyable, but is the risk too high to pay?

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  • When the NHL shuts down for the 2010 Olympics next month, the home for ice hockey will be General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

      When the NHL shuts down for the 2010 Olympics next month, the home for ice hockey will be General Motors Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.
    Associated Press

 
 

EDMONTON, Alberta - I suppose I will enjoy watching the Olympics as much as any hockey fan, but that still doesn't make it a good idea for the NHL to shut down for more than two weeks in the middle of its championship season.

In fact, it's a bad idea. No other sport does this, and the NHL is the one league that can least afford to disappear from the public's radar for even the shortest period of time, let alone two full weeks.

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The NHL is compromising its regular season, basically saying participating in the Olympics is more important. While Olympic hockey is huge news here in Canada, it's not so much in the United States, and that's still where the majority of NHL franchises reside.

And what about the needless risk of subjecting the league's best players to possible injury? If the Blackhawks should lose Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane to a serious injury in Vancouver, their season is shot.

Let NHL commissioner Gary Bettman try to explain that one to Hawks fans who have been waiting 49 years for a Stanley Cup.

It's not just the Hawks risking everything. Could Washington win the Stanley Cup without Alex Ovechkin, or the Penguins without Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, or the Sharks without Joe Thornton? What if Martin Brodeur tears a groin? The Devils then become first-round fodder.

Serious injuries aren't likely to occur, but the possibility exists something bad could happen, particularly in such intense hockey games as the Olympics promises to produce.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman contends he isn't worried about injuries to the six players going to Vancouver.

"I think it's good for them, to be honest," Bowman said. "You get the boost emotionally knowing you were chosen to play for your country. It gives them a little confidence knowing they were selected to play. They're going to play in the ultimate competition, and if anything it might give a boost to their games. I'm looking at it optimistically."

It's appearing more and more likely as if the NHL will do the right thing and not participate in the Olympics past this one. The Games in 2014 will be in Sochi, Russia.

"We have to decide, on balance, is it worth it?" Bettman said last week when he spoke with reporters in Calgary. "When you're in Vancouver and Salt Lake City, when you're in North American time zones and you're getting that type of coverage, then maybe you're getting coverage that's commensurate to shutting down.

"When you're halfway around the world, maybe the coverage isn't as great. The time zone in Sochi, Russia, means games will be played between two in the morning and noon. So the question is going to be, is it worth it? Fortunately, it's something we don't have to decide right now."

No to Laraque

Those Hawks fans who would like to see GM Stan Bowman acquire recently waived Montreal enforcer Georges Laraque are forgetting one thing: Laraque is signed through next season at $1.5 million. On top of that, he was considered a distraction in the Canadiens' dressing room.

"We felt our goals were more achievable to continue without him," Habs GM Bob Gainey said.

"The game has changed, speed is an important factor," added coach Jacques Martin. "It's nice to have (an enforcer), but it's not a necessity, as certain teams have proved."

Kovalchuk talk

According to several reports, Ilya Kovalchuk would prefer to be traded to Los Angeles if the Thrashers decide to move him before the March 3 trade deadline.

Kovalchuk is believed to be intent on testing the free agent waters on July 1 no matter what happens in the next month with an eye on playing for the Kings. While the Kings likely would part with winger Alexander Frolov and defenseman Jack Johnson for Kovalchuk, they are said to concerned over his $11 million a year for 10 years contract demands.

Flaming out

The Flames aren't very good, now having lost seven in a row, but GM Darryl Sutter claims he is not looking to clean house at the trade deadline.

"We have no intention of breaking any of it up," Sutter said. "We have the intention of getting the most out of what we've got. Will we be active at the deadline? It depends on where we are."

Despite what Sutter says, it's believed he would like to move defenseman Dion Phaneauf and his $6.5 million salary for more scoring.

Around the rinks

• Jean Beliveau, the 78-year-old Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer with 10 Stanley Cup rings, is recovering following a mild stroke.

• Center Nathan Horton, Florida's leading scorer, will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a broken tibia suffered when a teammate, attempting to get the puck deep into the attack zone, fired it into his leg.

• Canucks center Henrik Sedin, the NHL's leading scorer, has made a serious leap into Hart Trophy talk as MVP with Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

The list

For calling Andrew Ladd a coward, Vancouver's Ryan Kesler has moved into the public enemy No. 1 spot of Blackhawks opponents.

1. Ryan Kesler, Vancouver

If you're going to fight, then fight.

2. Willie Mitchell, Vancouver

It might not happen this year, but payback for that hit on Jonathan Toews is coming.

3. Alex Burrows, Vancouver

You just don't pull a guy's hair.

4. Matt Cooke, Pittsburgh

He used to play in Vancouver. See a pattern here?

5. Todd Bertuzzi, Detroit

He makes anyone's all-annoying team.

Ex-Hawk of the week

Defenseman Jason Strudwick was out of the NHL a few years ago playing in Switzerland before resurrecting his NHL career in Edmonton.

Strudwick appeared in his 600th game Tuesday against the Hawks and has earned coach Pat Quinn's praise amid a miserable season.

"He's a stable, positive influence," Quinn said Tuesday. "He's had to fight, claw and chew to stay as a regular in the National Hockey League. He's back here because of his diligence and preparation. He has a positive way to effect his teammates, particularly the individuals that play with him."

tsassone@dailyherald.com

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