In 2014, the NHL will once again be sending their players to compete in the Olympic Games. Going back to the first time the NHL sent its players to Nagano in 1998, this will now be the 5th Olympics that the league has been involved in. The teams to win gold in this era have been the Czech Republic (1998), Canada (2002 & 2010), and Sweden (2006). The Devils have had sent a number of players to the Olympics over this time period, including Martin Brodeur and Scott Niedermayer for Canada; Brian Rafalski, Zach Parise, and Jamie Langenbrunner for the USA; and Patrik Elias for the Czech Republic, among others.
Representing one's country at the Olympics is a tremendous honor for a player and a number of Devils over the years have been able to participate. NOT participating in the Olympics, however, has its perks as well. A couple of weeks off from the greuling hockey regular season can be a big benefit, and when a team is as old as the Devils project to be this season, any time off is certainly welcome.
Taking a look at the Devils' roster, it would appear that New Jersey might have only a few players traveling to the Sochi for the Games this season. Unfortunately, those few players could be some of the oldest on the team. We'll break it down into groups:
Likely to Go
Patrik Elias, Czech Republic
Marek Zidlicky, Czech Republic
So the only two players I would put at near-lock status to suit up in the Olympics are the youngest two of the three old Czechs on the roster. Both being in their late thirties, these two are probably some of the players you'd most like to see get a rest. Still, if the only two players to go are the "locks" it means we could see a team that is thoroughly rested coming out of the break.
Cory Schneider, United States
Anton Volchenkov, Russia
Jaromir Jagr, Czech Republic
Schneider was invited to Team USA's Olympic camp this past month, but he'll have to battle it out with a stacked goaltending lineup for a spot on the team. With Johnathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, and Craig Anderson among the other netminders, Schneider will have his work cut out for him to make the roster. Still, I'd say he has a decent shot. Volchenkov was on Russia's most recent Olympic team and got an invite to their initial Olympic Camp (where the D doesn't look super deep), so it's hard to rule him out as possibility, despite his underwhelming last few seasons.
Jagr presents an interesting case as he likely could be on the Czech roster as long as he wants to go. But one has to wonder if the old winger is willing to take the trip out to Russia around his 42nd birthday. This season will be a grind already and the Olympics will only serve to make it longer. Still, Jagr has proven he can continue to play at a moderately high level in the NHL and I'm sure it will be hard for him to turn down the opportunity when it comes.
Adam Larsson, Sweden
Andy Greene, United States
Andrei Loktionov, Russia
Travis Zajac, Canada
Some of these players are more unlikely than others, but all of them are, at best, long shots to attend the Olympics. Larsson and Loktionov haven't really progressed enough thus far, Greene lacks the notoriety to be a candidate, and Canada's forward corps are just too deep for Zajac to find a foothold, especially coming off a down year. There are some other guys who may or may not fall into the "longshot" category if you get generous (Clowe, Ryder, Fayne, Henrique), and one guy who'd likely be going if his country had made it (Zubrus), but chances are that most of the Devils roster will be staying home this February and that's not such a bad thing.
So the nice thing is that the Devils aren't likely to have a ton of players heading to the Olympics this year. At a minimum, it's probably two, and the max looks like five right now. The only issue is that most of the players who you'd especially like to see getting a rest are the ones who could be making the trip. The three Czechs who could be going are three of the four oldest skaters on the team. If Volchenkov and Schneider go as well, that means four of the five players going would be over thirty.
Every team will have the majority of their roster staying home for the Olympics, the hope was that with an older team, the Devils might be the ones who need (and would benefit from) the rest most. Unfortunately, if I had to guess, it probably ends up in a wash for New Jersey, as the benefits of resting an old team are certainly mitigated by some of the oldest players not partaking in said rest. It's hard to say exactly how much of a benefit to the team's overall play the rest would be, but whatever it is, some of the oldest Devils may not be receiving it.
So what is your take? Do you think the Devils will benefit from the break, even with some of the older players still attending the Olympics? Do you think there is even much tangible benefit to players getting those two weeks off? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments and thanks for reading.