Andrew Podnieks is the author of numerous hockey books including an updated version of The Blue and White Book for the 2001-02 season, Portraits of the Game, Canada's Olympic Hockey Teams, and The NHL All-Star Game: Fifty Years of the Great Tradition. He also writes a column called "Pods Shots" for the Hockey Hall of Fame Web site.
In fact, not only could the Leafs have more Olympians than any other NHL team, these players will represent a total of five nations, all of which are capable of taking home a medal. Imagine the dressing room during the first game back at Air Canada Centre. Lumme flashes a bronze, only to be shown a silver by Mats, who himself is trumped by Joseph's gold. What an image!
Certainly the Leafs can take pride in this representation, but do we learn anything about this team versus the rest of the league? If half of the team is indisputably stars and the other half is a group of role or support players, does this mean we can start whispering the "C" word (as in Stanley)? That is the million dollar question.
Certainly, when the Leafs play well, and they have of late, the team looks like one of the top half-dozen contenders with great goaltending, rock-solid defence, a zippy power play and creative flow to the game. And, hey, we're second overall in a 30-team NHL.
But on other nights, the team has looked sloppy and disinterested, qualities they hope will vanish when the intensity of the playoffs begin. Of course, having nine Olympians on the team is better than not having nine, and hopefully the ferocious competition of Salt Lake will provide the Leafs players with a preview for what is needed for the Cup chase, just in case any of that number has forgotten.
But most important of all, what those Olympian Leafs have to do is come back to the team in late February and share their experiences with the rest of the players and help prepare the club for a serious run at the word we can only whisper for now.
Complacency after Salt Lake would make for a dismal end to the season. Inspiration will allow the team, as a group, to take its game to another level.