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Analysis: Several gambles on Sweden Olympic roster

by Adam Kimelman

The players Sweden named to its team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics could be a gambler's paradise.

There's a lot to like in those picked; there's also a lot that could go wrong.

It starts in goal, where Sweden could have a huge advantage on other teams in the tournament -- if New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist plays to his top form.

Lundqvist, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner, has had an uneven NHL season with the Rangers. In 32 games he's 12-16-3. His 2.78 goals-against average is 32nd in the League and his .906 save percentage is 34th; this comes after Lundqvist ranked in the top eight in both categories every season since 2009-10.

He also has seen backup Cam Talbot make consecutive starts on multiple occasions, something that would have been unthinkable in the past.

However, Lundqvist still can be the dominant, game-changing performer who has led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs seven times in his first eight seasons. And four years ago in Vancouver, Lundqvist had a 1.34 GAA and .927 save percentage in three games.

Lundqvist isn't the only player Sweden is gambling on coming up big in Sochi.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes is recovering from a concussion sustained during a game Jan. 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was slammed into the boards by Derek MacKenzie of the Columbus Blue Jackets. MacKenzie was suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for the hit.

If Ekman-Larsson is unable to play in Sochi, or is less than 100 percent, Sweden's defense could be even more shorthanded than it already will be to start the tournament. Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks, who has missed the past month with a lower-body injury, will miss the first two games to finish a suspension assessed during the 2013 IIHF World Championship.

A healthy Ekman-Larsson, however, would join the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson to give the Swedes a remarkable one-two offensive punch from the blue line.

Up front, the Swedes are gambling on the health of a few forwards young and old, starting with 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson. The Red Wings forward has been productive when healthy but has missed time with lingering groin injuries.

Concussion issues have made the Boston Bruins' Loui Eriksson, Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings and Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues question marks. Eriksson tied Alfredsson for the team lead with three goals in Vancouver, but a pair of concussions this season has limited him to 24 games, none since Dec. 7.

Franzen had two points in four games four years ago in Vancouver but hasn't played since Dec. 15. If healthy enough for the Olympics he would provide a strong veteran presence on one of the bottom two lines as well as bring a net-front presence on the power play.

Steen is third in the League with 24 goals despite not playing since Dec. 21 due to a concussion. Like Eriksson and Franzen, his return is unknown; but he certainly would provide another threat on offense if available.

Sweden has the potential to do some big things in Sochi. That's if all their gambles pay off.


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