Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman
knows his job is not likely to make him many friends. In fact, the tough decisions he and his management were forced to make in forming the team that will compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics could very well wind up making him a few enemies.
"These players are all proud and confident in themselves and all believe they should be there," Yzerman said Tuesday after the 25-man Canadian roster was announced. "I understand that … it's hard. All these players that are left off are disappointed today and probably aren't real thrilled with me."
However, there is one player in particular that falls under that category that Yzerman would like to ensure remains on good terms: his captain with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Martin St. Louis.
For the second straight Olympics, Yzerman chose not to select St. Louis on the Canadian team. The first time in 2010, Yzerman was not yet the Lightning general manager.
"Obviously, I want Tampa Bay to do very well, that's a concern for me," Yzerman said. "But ultimately when I took this position, [Hockey Canada president] Bob Nicholson has given me the responsibility to make a lot of decisions and I have to, with this group of management and coaches, do what I feel is right for the Canadian men's Olympic ice hockey team. That's what it comes down to.
"That is no disrespect to any player, including Marty St. Louis. He's a tremendous player, he's a tremendous person. I'm hopeful that we can get through this and continue to play. He's a guy that I want to finish his career [in Tampa Bay]. I'm hopeful that somehow we can be fortunate enough to win a Stanley Cup. He's going to play for as long as he chooses and [I hope] that we're going to have success there.
"There's not much I can say. I can't apologize. We've got to make these decisions."
What St. Louis has accomplished this season at age 38, coming off an Art Ross Trophy season as the NHL's scoring leader, has been remarkable. When his longtime running mate Steven Stamkos broke his tibia Nov. 11, few gave the Lightning a chance to stay in the hunt in the Eastern Conference.
But behind St. Louis' production of 10 goals and 12 assists in the 25 games since the injury, prior to the game Tuesday night against the Jets, the Lightning have gone 13-8-4 in Stamkos' absence.
"All I can say is that Marty's been a tremendous player for us," Yzerman said. "This year with a transition to a much younger group and [Stamkos] being injured, he's been a tremendous leader, he's played extremely well and he's been great for our younger players. I can honestly say that's not a decision that I enjoy making. It's a tough one."
As Yzerman spoke in Toronto, St. Louis was in Winnipeg at a morning skate preparing to play the Jets. Yzerman had already broken the news to him by phone Monday night, so St. Louis arrived at the rink knowing what the rest of the country was about to find out. He didn't speak to reporters after the skate, but Lightning coach Jon Cooper tried to put in perspective what had just happened.
"He's a human," Cooper said. "I don't care if he is one year in the League or 20 years in the League. I'm sure he is extremely disappointed, as we all are. But he is a pro, and if there is one guy, unfortunately, that can handle it, it's Marty.
"But he wouldn't be human if he wasn't disappointed."
Yzerman has known that very same disappointment, twice getting cut for the Canada Cup early in his career. But the situation is different with St. Louis, now late in his tremendous career and unlikely to have an opportunity to play in the Olympics ever again.
"To be perfectly honest I was bitter. Extremely bitter," Yzerman said. "It took a while to get over that."
Yzerman can only hope it doesn't take St. Louis nearly as long to recover from his disappointment this time around.