John Steigerwald Column

Employer should take precedence over country for NHL stars

Employer should take precedence over country for NHL stars

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What would the level of hysteria be in Pittsburgh Penguins land if it had been Sidney Crosby’s knee instead of Eric Staal’s knee that collided with Sweden’s Alexander Elder Thursday night in Stockholm.


Go to Youtube and check it out.


Staal writhing in pain and screaming is not a pretty sight. It’s one of those hits that can and has created a lot of discussion about whether it was intentional. Sorry, but it looks like Elder raised his knee before contact.


Before we go any further, you might be asking, “What were Staal and Elder doing in Stockholm playing hockey?”


In May.


It’s the IIHF Championship. IIHF is a Swedish abbreviation for My Team’s Not in Playoffs.


Staal is the Carolina Hurricanes’ franchise player. He and his brother Jordan are playing for Canada. Eric is the captain. Elder is a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks. He got five minutes for kneeing and was ejected from the game.


Staal was scheduled for an MRI Saturday, and, as I write this, the Hurricanes are praying that it’s not as bad as it looks.


Picture Ben Roethlisberger blowing out a knee in March at an overseas football tournament. Would any NFL team allow its franchise player to play in an offseason exhibition game?


Of course, international hockey is a big deal just about everywhere hockey is played except the United States. It’s monstrous in Canada.


Canadian kids grow up believing that hockey is Canada’s game and their country’s supremacy needs to be maintained at all costs.


A kid’s national pride, no matter where he lives, should not be an NHL team’s problem.


When a kid signs his life away to an NHL team for tens of millions of dollars, he should be signing away his ability to defend his country on any other ice rink, foreign or domestic.


Carolina general manager Jim Rutherford said, “They play for their countries. Every kid grows up wanting to play for their country, and nothing is going to change. Any time you can play for your country, you should.”


That is beyond stupid.


The kid who grew up dreaming to play for his country should be taken off the hook by the team that pays him millions of dollars by being forbidden to play while he is under contract.


If a kid is so overwhelmed by feelings of patriotism or pressure from his countrymen that he insists on playing for his country, then he should remain an amateur.


It’s hockey. Not war. The NHL is a business, and its players have no business risking the future of their employer for the love of their country.


• Sometimes you have to look past the statistics. Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Andrews had a lot of the experts picking his team to beat the Penguins in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal. He was a major factor in the Senators beating the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the first round.


Another factor, of course, was that Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jerome Iginla, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz were in Pittsburgh dealing with a New York Islanders team that – it says here – would have beaten the Ottawa Senators or the Canadiens.


Andrews has had a great a season, and he could still be a factor in this series. But, after two games, the Penguins are in his head.


Too much of the discussion after the Penguins “survived” to beat the Islanders in six games was about what the Penguins didn’t do or what they did do wrong. The Islanders had something to do with the way the Penguins played. Pittsburgh’s best stay-at-home defenseman, Brooks Orpik, said that nobody in the league gave them more trouble in transition.


Montreal didn’t have anybody who had scored more than 12 goals this season. The Penguins’ two goaltenders had to deal with a superstar and one of the top three goal scorers in the league, John Tavares.


I thought that the series with Ottawa would be easier than the one with the Islanders, which means, for me to be right, it will have to be less than six games. The Penguins letting the Senators back into Game 2 when they should have blown them out made me a little less confident that I’ll be proven right, but I still like my chances.


• Tomas Vokoun made some big saves late in Game 2, but he was also one more shaky goal away from becoming a backup again.


• If his teammates had played in front of him the way they played in front of Vokoun, Marc-Andre Fleury, despite some ugly goals, would still be the starter.


• Andrew Wiggins, the top prep basketball player in the country, finally made his decision. He surprised a lot of people by saying he’s going to Kansas.


Apparently, once a kid sees Lawrence, Kan., it’s hard to get him to consider anywhere else.



John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.


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