Shortly after hearing about the inevitable snubs for the 2014 Canadian Olympic team, I asked myself a question: “If a biopic was made about Martin St. Louis’ life, what kind of movie would it be?”
For a long time, I figured that the 38-year-old would probably receive the “scrappy underdog with a happy ending”-type Disney treatment.
And really, that’s not totally off the mark. Barring some documentary-worthy money mismanagement, he’s rich and respected. He has a Stanley Cup and some nice personal accolades. To some extent, feeling bad for St. Louis seems akin to mourning Roberto Luongo being generally inconvenienced before ultimately getting more or less what he wanted.
(Or, if you want to ruffle more hipster feathers, sobbing about Conan O’Brien getting a bajillion dollars not to work.)
There’s a key difference between St. Louis and other guys whose sadness seems unrelatable though: MSL has been dealing with this garbage for his entire career.
NOT FITTING THE PROTOTYPE
Instead of that Disney story, the bigger picture now feels more like a sad indie film about a man whose brilliance* is frequently ignored for a “condition” he was born with. In this case, that “condition” is being short and that “flaw” is used to explain away genuine moments of greatness.
Team Canada people can talk about speed and defense all they want, but let’s not kid ourselves. If MSL stood at average height and generated the same high-end, stupidly effective offense that he does at his current stature, he’d be a no-brainer.
To me, that height explanation is the only one that would really shut me up because there's no refuting his measurements, even if it would be a shameful admission for those team-builders. Otherwise, you could tear down almost any other complaint by using Canada’s own logic against it.
-- How can St. Louis’ chemistry with Stamkos not matter more than Chris Kunitz’s chemistry does with Sidney Crosby, when Stamkos will already be in an uncomfortable situation (Olympic pressure while likely not being 100 percent) while Crosby could generate offense with a fire hydrant on his line?
-- Where guys like Jeff Carter might be labeled difficult or inconsistent, St. Louis has scored even when Tampa Bay’s been in turmoil and is a great locker room guy.
-- For all the concern about going to Sochi with too many centers, St. Louis is a pure winger.
Much like with Bobby Ryan, Canada’s brass outsmarted themselves. Or, maybe more uncomfortably, they searched long and hard for reasons to leave a proven producer off their teams because he didn't fit the usual star player mold.
SOMETIMES MOTIVATION IS OVERRATED
It’s a burden Steve Yzerman must bear, and I can’t help but wonder if some of this problem came from Stevie Y being uncomfortable with the idea of looking like he was playing favorites. To make a really ridiculous analogy for the sake of fun, it’s like John Kerry choosing to dunk his french fries in Hunt’s instead of Heinz ketchup merely so people didn’t think that he was just pumping his wife’s tires.
Don't get me wrong; leaving St. Louis off the Canadian Olympic team wasn’t the worst move of them all. Personally, I find Claude Giroux’s omission the most stunning. Still, St. Louis’ plight is the most tragic. As melodramatic as it sounds, there’s a part of MSL that’s thinking: “They still think I can’t get it done because I’m not big enough.”
Slights can drive a man to greatness, but at 38, what more can St. Louis do? And, honestly, he's justified in holding a grudge even if injuries end up buying him a ticket to Sochi after all.
With that rant out of the way, I thought I’d echo my column about the U.S. Olympic selection process and consider a few abstract fantasy impacts from the selections. Please keep in mind that I’m focusing mostly on Canada, so there will be a few egregious snubs that I’ll mostly ignore.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
Claude Giroux: loser - Much like St. Louis, it’s difficult to spin this in a positive way for Giroux, who seemingly received this slight because he skipped a summer Olympic orientation meeting and had a bad start to the season. Other than that, he’s been the same dominant and versatile player; who wouldn’t want a guy who can score that much and kill some penalties here and there?**
I can’t help but conjure images of USA Basketball’s Dream Team when Michael Jordan (Crosby) froze out hated rival Isiah Thomas (Giroux), but that’s just me daydreaming about even more delightful dramas.
Penguins (winners) - To review:
-- The Penguins benefited from Kunitz playing over his head to make the Olympic team. (Call it the Team Canada contract year.)
-- Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy enough to play, a victory in itself.
-- Meanwhile, James Neal, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury get a breather. Neal and Letang have struggled with injuries while Fleury is carrying a significant workload. Getting breaks for all three could be a really nice thing.
Jiri Hudler (loser) - It’s one thing to get snubbed by Team Canada or another more loaded nation, but guys who got the shaft in shallower talent pools like Hudler might be especially stunned. There’s an outside chance he could use the breather as his production is sliding, but I can’t help but think that he’d rather keep a strong season going instead of sitting out for a couple weeks.
Sharks (winners) - I can’t help but think that Joe Thornton isn’t so offended by a little mid-season vacation. That off time should also greatly help some Sharks heal up; it’s actually a reminder that certain injuries that extend beyond a month (example: Logan Couture) might not be so bad with two weeks of international instead of NHL action going on. San Jose’s an older team, so a few big snubs could be helpful, even if it’s a subtle thing.
Lightning (losers) - The St. Louis snub is bad. Stamkos potentially rushing back brings back plenty of memories of great careers tarnished by ambitious recovery windows. Victor Hedman can’t be happy with being left off of Sweden’s defense for the likes of Henrik Tallinder and Johnny Oduya, either.
Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne’s fantasy owners (losers) - When you own a player in the 40+ club, losing out on two weeks for those guys to recharge their batteries is a tough blow. That’s especially true with Jagr, who is averaging the second-most ice time of Devils forwards at 19:16 per game. (Double-J tied Mario Lemieux for seventh all-time in point scoring last night, by the way.)
No doubt, those guys are absolutely glad to play in the 2014 Winter Olympics, but it isn’t great for their fantasy owners.
P.K. Subban, John Tavares and other budding stars (winners) - When it comes to really young players, it’s hard for me to get too pragmatic and pencil them into the “loser” categories, heavy minutes or not. There’s something to be said for being recognized - accurately - as one of the best players in the sport. After all Subban (weird and borderline uncomfortable criticisms) and Tavares (dragging the shambling corpse that was the Islanders franchise to moderate respectability) have gone through, they deserve high honors.
Besides, they might just pick up a good habit or two from their talented and more “established” countrymen.
The favorites (winner) - For all of the fussing I’ve done, Canada’s roster is still bowl-you-over better than everyone else. If nothing else, the rest of the world seems like it’s slipped a bit; Russia’s defense and goaltending might just undo its home ice advantage, Sweden saw key players age out while big names struggle and other countries generally seem stagnant compared to 2010. It all sounds pretty positive for the Great White North.
(By that logic, the U.S. might even avoid falling on its face after stumbling over its own feet, but that’s a shakier proposition.)
It stuns me that Giroux isn’t on the roster and it saddens me that St. Louis must fight with yet another shortness slight, but the bottom line is that Canada remains the behemoth we’ve come to expect. For some of us, that loaded group means that you’ll see your world-class fantasy players receive much-needed rest … or recognition.
* - While it’s true that St. Louis has received awards during his career, my feeling is almost that he’s received higher-end nods almost begrudgingly. His Hart Trophy-winning season was demonstratively clear, as he scored an undeniably higher amount of points (94) than the runners-up (Ilya Kovalchuk and Joe Sakic at 87).
Heck, I almost wonder if the NHL wished that it could find a loophole not to give the purely objective 2013 Art Ross Trophy to him last season.
** - 1:20 SH TOI in 2013-14
1:42 in 2012-13
2:14 in 2011-12
2:06 in 2010-11