The level of competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics will be almost as intense as the Stanley Cup playoffs, which is one reason why several NHL stars battling injuries have decided to skip the trip to Sochi.
When the league’s players come back from Russia, the playoff races are going to intensify and teams will need their best players at full strength.
Let’s take a look at the most notable NHL players who have been ruled out of the Olympics because of injuries.
Mikko Koivu (MIN), Center, Finland
Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu hasn’t played since he fractured his ankle on Jan. 4, and his injury hasn’t healed in time for him to represent Finland at the Olympics for the third time (he won silver in 2006, bronze in 2010).
Koivu: If I would be healthy, it would help me to [go to Sochi] and play here, but at the same time make sure I'm 100% healthy for #mnwild.—
Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) February 07, 2014
The loss of Koivu is a huge one for the Finnish squad. He’s one of the senior members of the team and brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the ice, both of which would have greatly benefited a young roster. Finland lacks elite talent at forward, and without a playmaking center such as Koivu, the team will be forced to rely on young players such as Florida’s Aleksander Barkov and Minnesota’s Mikael Granlund to provide scoring depth down the middle.
Tampa Bay Lightning and Finland center Valtteri Filppula will also miss the Olympics because of an ankle injury.
Steven Stamkos (TBL), Center, Canada
Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos did a remarkable job in his recovery from a broken tibia suffered in November, but his leg isn’t quite healed enough for him to play in Olympic competition. Stamkos has skated with Tampa Bay and participated in drills for the last few weeks, but he’s not cleared for game action yet.
Even without Stamkos, Team Canada has seven elite centers on its roster, including Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. Stamkos was replaced by Lightning teammate Martin St. Louis, who will provide speed, playmaking skill and Olympic experience to the Canadian roster.
Marian Gaborik (CBJ), Winger, Slovakia
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Marian Gaborik hasn’t played since suffering a collarbone injury against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 21. The veteran forward announced on Friday via Twitter that he will not travel to Sochi.
Im very disappointed to not play in Sochi!Collar bone is not there yet where I could play at my best. I'll be cheering for my boys out there—
Marian Gaborik (@MGaborik10) February 07, 2014
Gaborik is one of the NHL’s best goal scorers when healthy but several injuries over the last two years have prevented him from being on the ice consistently for Columbus. Chicago Blackhawks top-six winger Marian Hossa will need to carry the load offensively for Slovakia with Gaborik unable to play.
Henrik Sedin (VAN), Center, Sweden
Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin returned to the team on Monday after missing six games with a rib injury. Sedin didn’t play well when he rejoined his teammates on the top line, and his decision not to participate in Sochi was no surprise.
The veteran center hasn’t scored in his last 17 games, and the best decision for him and the team was to take the next few weeks off and rest. The Canucks have lost seven of their last 10 games, which has allowed Dallas, Phoenix, Winnipeg and Nashville to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race. Sedin needs to be healthy and productive for Vancouver to earn a playoff spot.
Sweden has not announced who will replace Sedin on the roster as of Friday afternoon.