The Tampa Bay Lightning – pictured Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman – have most players among the top-3 NHL players selected per team.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
There are various steps along the road to Beijing for the NHL players. The first was negotiating participation between the NHL and the NHLPA during last year’s Return to Play. The next step occurred a few short weeks ago when the NHL confirmed it would shut down to participate in the 2022 Olympics so long as the city and circumstances remained safe. The next stage played out over the last few days, when the 11 teams with NHL players announced their first three NHL players to the roster. It’s not much, but it is a start, and we can learn several things about the upcoming Olympics based on these 33 names.
Of the 33 players named, only three are goalies – Germany’s Phillip Grubauer (Seattle), Andrei Vasilevski (ROC/Tampa Bay), and Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia/Vancouver). Clearly, this is the position that is most volatile and subject to the greatest scrutiny among the various managements.
Some 23 of 32 NHL teams have at least one player on the preliminary list of 33 names, but the Cup champion Tampa Bay Lighting lead the way with five – Victor Hedman (Sweden), Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic), Erik Cernak (Slovakia), Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevski (ROC). Next is San Jose with three representatives (Rudolfs Balcers/Latvia, Timo Meier/Switzerland, Alexander True/Denmark). Four teams have two players (Colorado, Toronto, Chicago, Edmonton).
Of the 30 skaters, 16 have captained their team, either in the NHL or at an IIHF event. Current NHL captains include Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden/Colorado, since 2012), Connor McDavid (Canada/Edmonton, since 2016), Aleksander Barkov (Finland/Florida, since 2018), Roman Josi (Switzerland/Nashville, since 2017), Nico Hischier (Switzerland/New Jersey, since 2020), Alexander Ovechkin (ROC/Washington, since 2009), and the longest-serving captain Sidney Crosby (Canada/Pittsburgh, since 2007).
Every player of these 33 has competed at the IIHF level, but none more often than Alexander Ovechkin. Incredibly, his IIHF resume started two decades ago, at the 2002 U18. In all, he has played at two U18, three U20, 13 World Championships, three Olympics, and two World Cups. He is now the oldest player of the 30 skaters, and is only a few months younger than the oldest of the lot so far, Slovakian goalie Jaroslav Halak, 36.
TGC & History
There is only one Triple Gold Club member on this list, and that is Canada’s Sidney Crosby, who is the only TGC member to captain all three TGC teams to victory. However, there are 20 active players in the game who could join Crosby if they win Olympic gold. None is more notable than Vasilevski. He won gold with Russia at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in both 2020 and 2021, but he would be the first goalie to make the TGC cut. And if ROC were to win that gold, he’d possibly be joined by Ovechkin, Yevgeni Malkin, Yevgeni Kuznetsov, and Dmitri Orlov. Sweden has five potential TGC candidates (Victor Hedman the most likely) and Canada ten (the most likely Brad Marchand).
The Crosby Watch
Speaking of Crosby, his name towers above all others in terms of winning. Indeed, he has a most incredible 26-game winning streak. That includes six in a row at the 2016 World Cup, ten at the 2015 World Championship, six at the 2014 Olympics, and the last four games at the 2010 Games. His last loss was in the preliminary round in Vancouver eleven years ago.
Two teams will be making their Olympic debuts under very different circumstances. China, currently with a Men’s World Ranking of 32, is entered as host. And Denmark, which has suffered so many heart-breaking losses in the qualification rounds of previous Olympics, often at the hands of their greatest adversaries, Norway, finally made it to the greatest show on earth. Nikolaj Ehlers, one of their three early picks, was a star this past August in helping his nation qualify with a 2-0 win over Norway. The Danes will be underdogs, but they will happily embrace the role and opportunity.
NHL-IIHF Olympic History
It comes as no surprise that during the first period of NHL participation (1998-2014), Canada won three of five gold medals. But fans might not recall as easily that the country that won the most medals during that time was Finland. They won a silver and three bronze, shut out only in 2002. The Czechs, Swedes, Americans, and Russians all won two medals. As of now, Canada would have to be considered the favourites in Beijing, but not by much. All the aforementioned opponents will pack a powerful punch come the opening faceoff next February, which can’t come soon enough!