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Greg Wyshynski

Thanks to injuries, Team USA defense not looking golden

Greg Wyshynski
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The U.S. currently has 7-to-1 odds right now to win Olympic hockey gold, according to Bodog. The way the blue line is shaping up, Andy Samberg may have had better odds at winning a rap Grammy last night.

Lost amid all the transactional fireworks on Sunday was the fact that Team USA could be without its best defensive defenseman, as well as arguably its best puck-moving defenseman, during the Winter Olympics.

New Jersey Devils defenseman Paul Martin(notes) is still rehabbing a busted arm. Now, defenseman Mike Komisarek(notes) "will almost certainly not be a part of the Team USA lineup for the 2010 Olympics after receiving bad news from the doctors on Saturday," according to NHL.com. The Toronto Maple Leafs D-man has been out since Jan. 2 with a shoulder injury, and the Toronto Star reports that there may not be enough time for Komisarek to prepare before the Games begin:

Komisarek visited with specialist Dr. James Andrews last week in Birmingham, Ala., and while he did not reveal details, the surgery option was discussed.

"The Olympics is a huge honour and privilege, but I'm here to help the team, so obviously if I don't come back and play with the Leafs I'm not going to be going to Vancouver," Komisarek said. "In the back of my mind, that hour glass is definitely ticking, but I'm not losing track of the present and doing what I have to do to get back."

Ticking hour glasses aside (huh?): If he can't go, it's a huge blow to the U.S. blue line.

Sure, Komisarek started his Leafs tenure looking like No. 2 while getting paid like a No. 1; he improved before the injury, and in an Olympic tournament his hitting and shot-blocking were going to be essential. Plus, he provided size on what is an undersized U.S. blueline.

Neither Komisarek nor Martin has been ruled out of the Games; in fact, Martin has renewed optimism that he can be ready by the Feb. 16 Olympic opener. If they can't go, we're looking at potential injury replacements such as Tim Gleason of the Carolina Hurricanes (Craig Custance reports he'd be Komisarek's replacement; Ron Hainsey(notes) of the Atlanta Thrashers; Ryan Whitney(notes) of the Anaheim Ducks; and longer shots like the Pittsburgh Penguins' Alex Goligoski(notes) and Atlanta's Zach Bogosian(notes)). None of these players are all that bad; but none of them really jump off the page as difference-makers, either.

But what we'd really be looking at is enormous pressure on players like Ryan Suter(notes), Jack Johnson(notes), Erik Johnson(notes) and Brooks Orpik(notes) to play beyond expectations in the Olympic tournament without a couple of foundational players on the blue line; for the gritty collection of rink rats Brian Burke assembled up front to play fundamental defense against better offensive teams; and, most of all, for Ryan Miller(notes) to play bigger than Uncle Sam's arms on his mask.

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