“The coaches indicated they were relieved at the previous management discussions about Jack Johnson and how there was growing consensus his level of play wasn't up to Olympic standards.”
The above line is from Scott Burnside’s ESPN.com piece revealing the selection process for the U.S. Olympic roster. Among those coaches was Todd Richards, an assistant under head coach Dan Bylsma who also happens to be Jack Johnson’s coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Like most of the executives and coaches involved with USA Hockey’s Olympic team, and like their counterparts in Canada, Richards is wearing two hats this season. And that’s where things get a little tricky, messy and uncomfortable for those picking the rosters:
How to tell one of your best players that he’s actually not quite good enough?
Johnson is having a hard time processing that three coaches left him off their ballots for roster spots, as he told the Columbus Dispatch:
“It’s over now. … Anything that’s said now is empty and meaningless. When I needed the belief and trust, I didn’t get it, and I didn’t get it when it counted from numerous people.”
“The team’s picked. I sat there and watched it on TV along with everybody else. That’s how I heard. From TV.”
Richards explained to the Columbus Dispatch that Johnson’s play “wasn’t where it needed to be at the start of the year.”
He’s a player that’s appeared nearly a dozen times in international competition for the U.S., and he ended up on the cutting room floor for the final roster. He said it himself: Belief and trust he thought USA Hockey had in him weren’t there when it counted, and his coaches is a part of that brain trust.
What about when your guy is the braintrust for a team?
Steve Yzerman is the last word for Team Canada. He was the architect of a gold medal winner in Vancouver. If he wanted to pull a lever on a guy, that guy’s on the team.
He didn’t pull it for Marty St. Louis, the Hart Trophy candidate that’s helped keep Lightning GM Yzerman’s team alive while Steven Stamkos, who made the Canadian roster, was out with a broken leg.
St. Louis is 38 years old. This was the last time he’d have a shot at the Canadian Olympic roster, after being left off in 2010. (He played for them in the Turin 2006 Olympics, with three points in six games.)
But his GM opted not to bring him to Sochi.
"All I can say is that Marty's been a tremendous player for us," Yzerman told the Canadian Press. "This year with a transition to a much younger group and Stammer 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."
St. Louis wouldn’t talk about the snub after the Lightning defeated the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night and he scored two goals, other than saying he’s "extremely disappointed.”
He also scored two goals in the win.
And that’s the other aspect of this delicate balancing act between Olympic team snubbing and NHL team ego massaging: Insults are a hell of a motivation.
Richards hopes this was a kick in the rear for Johnson, saying “now, with him at the top of his game, look where we’re at as a team, how well we’re playing. It’s a compliment to him and his game.”
Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said of St. Louis: "Knowing Marty, this is probably going to motivate the snot out of him."
But that doesn’t take away the sting. Or the disappointment. Or, in some cases, the violation of trust. It’s like applying for a job and finding out that one of your references can you a bad recommendation. It’s like discovering that the guy who has your back in public sings another tune in private.
It’s like finding out that you’re good, but not good enough.