Home Puck Droppings

Puck Droppings

by admin February 16, 2010

Get out your patriotism, folks, the Olympic Winter Games are here, and the buzz is huge. To some, it is the exhibition of such real-world challenges as skiing and sledding down an icy slope with three of your close (oh, so very, very close) friends. To others, it’s a nice replacement for the NHL All-Star game. In fact, without the idiocy of the fan voting process, the Olympic hockey tournament is most likely the best hockey you’re likely to see. The best talent with something important and worthy to actually compete for. Though teams like Russia and Canada have a nice heap of pressure on them, certain players are hoping for good performances to give them an NHL boost.

Initially the tournament is all about the flag you bear. You play for your country and sacrifice for the good of the team, and the pride of your nation. For the motherland! The catch is that since hockey is the marquee draw of the Winter Games, all eyes will be closely following each game, each team and each player with the kind of criticism and scout’s eye that will have every play under a microscope. A good performance can send your NHL stock through the roof. A couple of bad turnovers and suddenly you’re no longer as attractive of an unrestricted free agent as you might have been. The pressure is doubly on for the likes of Jaroslav Halak and Olli Jokinen.

For the past two seasons, Montreal has been clinging to their playoff lives. The streaky team has never had a comfortable lead in that time. The constant paranoia of always looking over your shoulder has been hell on the fans, and even worse for the goaltending. When Carey Price faltered, Halak came from the backup role to steal games and vault Montreal up the standings to maintain their post-season ticket. Though I’m not going to debate whether or not Halak should be the number one goalie in Montreal, his starting job for team Slovakia will surely put to rest the lingering doubts that Halak can’t handle the pressures of being a starter. Slovakia is dangerous. They are not getting the same respect that Canada, Russia or Sweden are getting, but the way Halak is playing (to the likes of a .927 save percentage and a GAA below 2.50), Slovakia can do some damage. He won’t be doing it alone for the Slovakians, either. He has a pretty decent cast of snipers to give him a chance. The Marians, Gaborik and Hossa, Pavol Demitra and Miro Satan will be ample firepower to give Halak a fighting chance. With Zdeno Chara and Lubomir Visnovsky anchoring the blue line, Halak can potentially lead the Slovakians to a medal round, where any whispers of Halak not being a pressure goalie, or a legitimate starter, will finally be put to rest.
Becoming an established player is not an issue for Jokinen. The big centre was an all-star in Florida and brought a rare scoring touch to the position. For a player who seems to fit the profile of what every team wants from a first-line center, he is treated like the drunk girl at a party. Everyone wants a piece but won’t answer her calls the next day. He’s gone from Florida to Phoenix and Calgary to New York. Why can’t he find a permanent team?

Word is that Jokinen is a distraction. He isn’t a team player, and is selfish. With unrestricted free agency on the horizon, and Jokinen looking for a hefty payday, I’d be hard-pressed to think any team would want to sign him to any extended contract. A successful team wouldn’t want to mess with the chemistry of the locker room and a team in the process of building would be making a mistake to introduce a negative presence to mentor the young players. The Vancouver games are a perfect chance for Jokinen to step up, earn respect and show that he can perform against top tier talent and play for something bigger than a contract. With all the cameras, media and stories that will emerge from the Olympics, there has to be a lot of positive words said about Jokinen coupled with some pretty stats if a team will think about signing someone NHLer turned sports commentator Matthew Barnaby calls “a cancer”.
We can all pretty much agree that Canada is one of the favourites. Though there are three medals to award, and twelve teams competing, leaving Vancouver without any hardware is not a total loss for Halak or Jokinen. They are each playing for teams not expected to win anything, but strong performances can have solid repercussions in the NHL.

Leave a Comment