St. Louis replaces injured Stamkos on Team Canada
Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, February 6, 2014 5:41AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 6, 2014 12:59PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- When it was confirmed that Steven Stamkos wouldn't play in the Olympics, Hockey Canada officials weren't really surprised.
"Quite clearly, it's a scenario that we were all, inside and outside, prepared for," coaching consultant Ralph Krueger said Thursday. "He's such a prolific scorer that it's not a one-on-one replacement when you make that move now."
In replacing Stamkos with Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Marty St. Louis, Team Canada isn't making a true one-for-one switch. But as Krueger and vice-president of hockey operations Brad Pascall said -- before the St. Louis announcement was made -- this was about finding the right fit in the absence of Stamkos.
"It's really re-mixing the team and the lineup and then looking at the best possible player for that spot," Krueger said. "They're all excellent players, it's just which strengths do we feel that we need the most."
In St. Louis, Canada is getting last year's Art Ross Trophy-winner, a veteran whose play hasn't deteriorated at the age of 38. It was his being left off the initial 25-man roster that drew the most attention and criticism, especially considering executive director Steve Yzerman is St. Louis' general manager in Tampa Bay.
St. Louis went on a 10-game point streak (eight goals, six assists) for the Lightning starting Jan. 7, the day the team was announced. He said that had nothing to do with his increased production, but his play of late might have given him the edge over Claude Giroux and James Neal.
"I don't think it's motivation," St. Louis told reporters in Tampa. "I've been motivated the past four years ... the past 10 years. If you're not motivated, you're not even considered for these things."
Judging from Krueger and Pascall's comments Thursday at Bolshoy Ice Dome a lot of players were at least in consideration. They said Canada's "long list" of players submitted in October were all in the conversation.
Most specifically, those who didn't make the final cut in January figured to be the leading candidates.
"From the day we named our team we told everybody, 'Hey you're still in consideration of the long list of players,"' Pascall said. "So whether they believe that they're still in consideration or not, it's more real now."
St. Louis "knew it was a possibility" once Stamkos was not medically cleared to play. The 23-year-old broke his right tibia Nov. 11 and worked furiously to overcome long odds to make the Olympic team.
When that didn't happen, St. Louis took his place.
"Obviously he's disappointed and I'm disappointed for him," St. Louis said. "Stammer's a true professional and he's done everything he can this past month to get back to the Lightning first and hopefully to Team Canada."
Canada's staff kept a close eye on Stamkos as he rehabbed, thanks in large part to Yzerman's dual role. But that didn't mean everyone expected him to be ruled out Wednesday.
"I think for us to pretend that we knew where he was in his recovery, we really had to wait for the official medical opinion," Pascall said. "It's unfortunate, we feel bad for Steven. I know how much he wanted to be here."
So did St. Louis, who was also left off four years ago in Vancouver. Three years later he led the NHL in points and is almost a point-a-game player this season with 25 goals and 29 assists in 56 games, playing a major part in keeping the Lightning going strong in the absence of Stamkos.
"He deserves it, he's been one of the best players in the league in the last so many years," former Lightning assistant and current Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters in Arlington, Va. "I'm happy for him and I hope he does a great job."
What role St. Louis will play in Sochi remains to be seen. But it certainly shouldn't be assumed that he'll simply jump in to the lineup where coach Mike Babcock had Stamkos pencilled in.
"Especially (Stamkos) leaving can re-mix the whole situation," Krueger said. "It changes, of course, your specialty teams. I don't think I'll surprise anybody to say that Stamkos would have been on the power play. That also is a big factor here to make sure that our power play setup (is OK). It really bumps a lot of things around."
Stamkos was considered a possibility to play alongside Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby. But Krueger didn't want to consider that the "first line."
"When you look at this lineup, we're expecting to create offence on all four lines," he said. "We want to be really strong right through every game we play from beginning to end and I think that you need all four lines clicking."
Having St. Louis and his offensive punch down the lineup could provide that.
But as the coaching and management staffs deliberated on who would replace Stamkos, Krueger said he didn't feel like secondary scoring -- or anything, really -- was lacking from this roster.
"I think we've got it all," he said. "It's just up to us coaches now to put the puzzle together in the right way. I think if you could feel it, it's more like you're putting an automobile together and maybe you feel you need a little better engine or you need some better tires or whatever."
St. Louis has the kind of wheels that could help Canada on the bigger, international-sized ice in Sochi.
"It think my quickness, my speed ... that's what I'm going to rely on," St. Louis said. "It's a different game, but I think whatever game plan we come up with, it's going to be well thought-out."
Stamkos is confident that his teammate can fill any position on Team Canada.
"He's going to go over there and play whatever role possible. I personally think he's going to play a big role," said Stamkos. "The character that he has, the way he's played in big-game situations in the past. I mean, he's won individual awards, he's won the team championships, he's been in those situations.
"It's not like it's a young guy that's never been in these situations before filling in for someone. This is a guy who can step in and play any role asked."