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The Penalty Box: Olympic fallout

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
The stretch drive is not only bringing out the best as far as play on the ice, but it is also reviving the Penalty Box community, as well.

For the past few weeks, the Penalty Box has been jammed full of passionate missives from fans. This week is no exception, as last week's look ahead to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver stirred up the proverbial hornets nest.

CTN greatly appreciates the passion the readers bring, not only in lending a liveliness to the Penalty Box segment, but in keeping CTN on his toes, as you will see from the first few letters this week.

So, let's keep this late-season momentum going. If you have anything to add to the conversation, put it in an e-mail and fire it off to roarkeblog@nhl.com. Remember to include your name and hometown if you wish to appear in a future edition of the Penalty Box

Hi Shawn,
First up, you seem to have gotten two players mixed up. There's Niklas Backstrom, the Finnish goalie, playing for the Wild, and Nicklas Backstrom, the Swedish center, playing for the Caps. I seriously doubt either one will be backing up Lundqvist in net for Team Sweden.

I very much doubt Vesa Toskala will ever be a starting goalie for Team Finland. If Miikka Kiprusoff's form really does continue to slide for a few years (which I seriously doubt); I still think both Niklas Backstrom and one Kari Lehtonen are ahead of Toskala and Niittymaki in the race for the No. 1 spot.

I also think Tuomo Ruutu (hoping his career will finally turn around for the better) and Jussi Jokinen are strong contenders for Niklas Hagman's spot in the starting lineup. You're probably right on about our starting D-men though. Looking at our current set of players in the NHL -- and the ones presumably breaking into the League before 2010 -- there's a small chance we might even see a non-NHLer picking up a top-line roster spot; who knows?

Anyway, keep up the good work of providing even the more-distant NHL (and CTN) fans with loads of interesting stuff to read.

--Andy, Helsinki, Finland


Andy, you are 100 percent right. CTN did goof with his Backstrom reference. And CTN still hasn't figured out how he got the Finnish goalie or the Swedish center by that name playing goal for Team Sweden. It is one of life's enduring mysteries, right up there with why Jaromir Jagr can't score anymore, what the initials in German band KMFDM really mean and why Iggy Pop would ever cover a Madonna song.

CTN loves the way Toskala has played goal this season for the Maple Leafs. He and Mats Sundin have been two of the few bright spots in a dismal season in TO. If Toskala builds on that showing next season, he will have to be in consideration for the top job in Vancouver. As for Tuomo Ruutu, CTN would love to see him put in a challenge for top-line duty. When he is on, which has been rare this season, he is the type of physically abrasive, yet skilled, player that CTN prefers. CTN sees him having more success in Carolina. Hey, if it works for Sergei Samsonov, why not Tuomo Ruutu? As you point out, Finland is always good for a few non-NHL players on its international roster. CTN can't see any of them making the starting six, at least right now.


***

Hey Shawn!

Interesting article; it's always fun to speculate on how the teams will look in a few years. I would like you to take notice however, that Niklas Bäckstrom is NOT a Swedish goalie that would back up Lundqvist. He´s from Finland, and I think you have him confused with our up-and-coming superstar Nicklas Backstrom, who's playing with Ovechkin for the Caps.

Just a heads-up, buddy!

Hope all is well and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Magnus Bjorklund


Thanks for the heads-up Magnus. Obviously, CTN can use all the people possible looking out for him. It is fun to speculate about the look of the Olympic teams more than 700 days before the tournament starts. But, it is merely speculation, as you seem to grasp so well. Unfortunately, that can not be said by all members of the Penalty Box community. Read on.

***

So, let me get this straight. A workhorse like Dion Phaneuf, who, at just 22 years old, is averaging 25 minutes a night and 50 points in his first three seasons, doesn't get the call so that Scott Niedermayer can play? Canada has made the mistake of icing veteran-laden teams in the past, and will definitely not do the same in 2010, especially on home soil. And if we're making arguments that players would be selected on the sole reason that the games are being held in Vancouver, how can you possibly think Roberto Luongo won't get the nod to start in net? While Martin Brodeur puts up great numbers consistently, Roberto does the same and is just now reaching his prime as a goaltender. I think 2010 will be a changing of the guard for Canada, so to speak; and as Patrick Roy declined the offer in 2002 to focus on the upcoming playoffs and to give his body a rest, so too should Brodeur for Luongo.

-- Jason Wheeler, Vancouver


Scott Niedermayer will be 36 by the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and still Canada's best defenseman. Watch Scott Niedermayer video
Jason, CTN would love to see your reading comprehension scores on your last standardized test. CTN said specifically that Phaneuf would be in the running, and actually named him as the starter. But Niedermayer will be just 36 when the Olympics start, so, if he chooses to continue playing, he will still be in his prime when Vancouver '10 rolls around and he will still be the best defenseman that Canada has. Heck, with the effortless way he plays the game, he might be Canada's best defenseman in 2014. It has nothing to do with the fact the tournament is in Vancouver, although CTN admits it is a nice additional storyline to add to the Niedermayer legend. If he is active in 2010, Niedermayer is the starter and there is no way that can be construed as a slight to Phaneuf, who is a clear-cut No. 3 with Nieds and Pronger on the team. There is no shame in being a 24-year-old No. 3 on Team Canada, trust CTN on that one. As for your Roy analogy in goal, it would help to get the facts straight. Roy was not the picture of altruism in 2002. He decided not to play that year because he was not guaranteed the No. 1 job by coach Pat Quinn, a guarantee he had enjoyed four years earlier. And, if you remember, Quinn wanted to go with his goalie at the time in Toronto, Curtis Joseph, as Canada's No. 1. But Brodeur stole the job and never looked back until they draped a gold medal around his neck. Brodeur has earned the right to turn over Canada's starting job on his timetable, nobody else's. Right now, he is playing better than Luongo --  the numbers don't lie -- and if that doesn't change in the next 20 months, why should Brodeur let someone else take over the job?

***

Shawn,

Surely you're doing this article from the East Coast where you just don't get the exposure to Western teams as it is way past your bed time. There is no doubt who will be the starter for Canada in 2010 -- Roberto Luongo! I'll wager my first-born child that Bobby Lou will be the man and it won't even be close. Consider yourself corrected.

-- Steve


The Canucks' Roberto Luongo is one of many of Canada's best goalies.
Ah, it's been a while since the ol' Western Conference snub canard has been trotted out in the Penalty Box discussion. Poor CTN, so ill informed, because the good hockey is played after his beddy-bye time! What a load of rubbish! Steve, you should be very careful in what you are willing to bet on when it comes to your progeny. Roberto Luongo is a very, very good goalie that Canada would be delighted to have patrolling the crease. But he is merely one of a seemingly endless supply of quality goalies the country can trot out. As CTN as already stated, Brodeur has the credentials to reclaim his job as the No. 1 for a third time. And, let's not forget about J-S Giguere, who has a Stanley Cup ring -- something missing from Luongo's resume -- and 19 more playoff victories. Plus, Giguere has a better goals-against average this season than Luongo and the same save percentage. So, to suggest that Luongo is a lock is fool-hardy at best -- especially with your first-born on the line. Consider yourself corrected, Steve!

***

I strongly believe -- and not just because I am an avid Avalanche fan -- that Paul Stastny, not Gomez, will lead USA into the 2010 Olympics. He will definitely be the top guy in Colorado for years to come, even if Forsberg re-signs and Burnaby Joe Sakic plays till he's 45. His playmaking skills and vision on the ice are way beyond his years, and will have two more seasons to grow by then. I would love to hear your thoughts on my argument as soon as you can. Keep writing great CTN blogs, Mr. Roarke.

-- Cody Maess


Stastny
Cody, Paul Stastny is a great, great player who will only get better. But come 2010, he will only be in his fourth NHL season, still growing into the role of a No. 1 center. Gomez, meanwhile, will have almost a decade of No. 1 duty under his belt. He also has other important credentials that make him a logical choice in CTN's mind. He has won two Stanley Cups, appeared in three Cup Final series and already logged 97 postseason games compared to the zero playoff games Stastny can claim at the moment. Also, Gomez has played extensively for the U.S. in major tournaments like the last Olympics and the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, where he served an apprenticeship of sorts under the American legends that are now being phased out of the program. Gomez is the one that has been entrusted to carry the torch and the assignment will commence in Vancouver in two years' time.

***

Shawn,

Don't you think you could have gone a little deeper with your prospective American roster? Listing five obvious players doesn't really say much.

-- William Ferrer


Gionta
William, it actually says more than you think. Picking the starting six -- not five -- was not as easy as it appeared, especially when it came to the Americans. The reason CTN only did the starting lineups is because CTN believes it is too early to go predicting full rosters because too much can happen in almost two NHL seasons. Just think about it for a minute. Two years ago, nobody knew that Paul Stastny would be this good, nobody knew that Zach Parise would be a lock as a top-6 forward on Team USA, nobody knew that Brian Gionta would go from being a 40-goal threat to a 20-goal scorer or that Erik Cole would see his career flash before his eyes after a scary neck/back injury two years ago. Do you see what CTN means? It is just too random to responsibly select full 20-man rosters this far out from an event like the Olympics. Too much can -- and does -- change. Sorry if CTN left you wanting, Will. 

***

Hello,

I just wanted to say I was beyond stoked to see Fugazi mentioned on NHL.com. Thanks for making my day!
Let's go Islanders.

-- Glenn Dooley


Glenn, CTN is chuffed to bits that CTN could make your day! Mentioning Fugazi last week forced CTN to dig the Steady Diet of Nothing CD out of the pile at home and give it a good workout during the commute to and form the office. Not sure CTN's fellow commuters were pleased with that turn of events, but the smile could not be wiped off of CTN's face. Thanks for the note.

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