In the daily act of writing about the Islanders, the last season-and-a-half in particular has necessitated finding the little bright spots from following a team at the bottom. Losses become less devastating ("Oh no! That knocks us from 30th place to ... 30th. Bummer."). Numbness becomes your friend, like a stiff drink. Formerly meaningless awards take on a floral scent. You suddenly uncover positives in even Yann Danis. And you start to see the the bonus flip-side of yet another losing streak.
Well, here's another one: The Olympics in February will affect every team in the entire league. Except, for most teams it will be bad and cause for two weeks of jitters among fans worrying about the health and toll taken on their stars. For the Islanders, who will likely be below playoff consideration at that point, it should be nothing but roses.
SamFels at Hawks blog Second City Hockey had an interesting post about just how bad the Olympics could screw with his rising team. Let's consider, then, just how peachy it could be for the Olympic-light Islanders, as they take on a series of Olympic-weary teams in March. Games resume just four days after the Feb. 28 gold medal game:First off, the main Olympic concern for the Islanders is Team Switzerland leader Mark Streit, potential USA candidate Kyle Okposo, and maaaaaybe Finland's Sean Bergenheim. Streit is a lock, Bergenheim a long shot. With Okposo, just because he's invited to camp doesn't mean he'll make the team. Even if he makes the team, that doesn't mean he'll play every game. It should be a good experience for him regardless, but if he plays he'll be expected to use his high-tempo style to forecheck with youthful abandon, which would be draining. Streit will log heavy minutes, but his team shouldn't go too far into the tournament, and the man simply never tires. Otherwise, though, the Islanders could be golden.
March 2: vs. Chicago: And wouldn't you know it? Their first post-Olympic opponent is the visiting Blackhawks, who will surely send two or three stars to Vancouver but could easily have several more from their roster playing two weeks of high-intensity hockey. If there is an Olympic hangover benefit to be had, this is it.
March 3: Trade Deadline. As if things won't be crazy enough during the transition from Olympic "grow the game"-ism to NHL stretch-drive madness, here comes the trade deadline. If the Islanders are selling off guys like Doug Weight, Brendan Witt or Andy Sutton, they could be just as jumbled as any Olympics-heavy team.
March 4: in Atlanta: The second game after the break is on the road, but Thrashers captain Ilya Kovalchuk will have been away with Team Russia, who has a great chance of making it all the way to the gold. Kovalchuk's play for the Thrashers improved dramatically last season once he was awarded the "C," but I wouldn't be shocked to see the uninspired version of Ilya return when he has to come down from high-stakes Team Russia to potentially lottery-bound Atlanta.
March 6: vs. Boston: The gifts keep on giving. Bring in the Bruins, who could have representatives throughout the Olypmic tourney, from Zdeno Chara to Phil Kessel (if he's still a Bruin) to David Krejci.
March 9: In Philadelphia: Will Martin Biron still be an Islander at this date? Will he be back in Philadelphia at a cap-friendly figure after Ray Emery falters? Regardless, the Flyers could easily send three or four key players to Team Canada, guys who just might see a match against the lowly(TM) Islanders as a chance to cruise through a little in-game Olympic R&R.
March 11: vs. St. Louis: It may be too late for Paul Kariya to make the Olympic team in his home province, but you never know. He missed most of last season with two hip surgeries, but when healthy he was back to his old form. He's an Olympic possibility, as is Andy McDonald and Kyle Okposo's World Championships linemate, David Backes. Will the Blues skate into the Coliseum with some Olympic hangover issues? Ya' never know.
March 14: vs. Toronto: Toronto might not have any Olympians (although: Czech Tomas Kaberle?), but the collective national pressure on Team Canada's shoulders to win gold on their home soil should infect the Maple Leafs locker room through sheer osmosis and the fact that all hockey hyperbole flows through Toronto first. (Yes, that is a sarcastic statement filled with B.S. The Leafs should be fine.)
Seriously, though, few things in international sports are more entertaining than watching a country that believes it owns a sport (hello, Canada; hi there, England) driving itself insane with anxiety over the possibility of losing that sport's international title. With England and soccer, this is an annual rite. With the U.S. in baseball or other specialized sports, this effect is muted, because Americans have 1,000 rooting options and the conscience-liberated luxury of a front-runner mentality, where no loss takes away from the fact that we: a) won something else, or b) won a bunch of wars and saved the free world a time or two.
That takes us through the first two weeks of post-Olympic play. Realistically, any hangover effects will be from injury (or injury re-aggravation) suffered during the Olympics, plus some fatigue in the days immediately following. Beyond that, it falls into that ambiguous area where you know it had some effect on the rest of the NHL season and playoffs -- you just have no way of quantifying how much.
But it's summer, so we either have to toss stuff like this around, or dissect Martin Biron one more time.