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February 6, 2014 | 2:38pm ET
Giroux, Flyers should benefit from Olympic exclusion
By David Strehle,

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- Almost every young Canadian hockey player grows up with the dream of one day representing their country and being a part of a Canadian gold medal victory.

Claude Giroux -- who was in his NHL rookie season when the 2010 Games took place in Vancouver -- will have to wait at least another four years to get his first taste of Olympic hockey.

The Philadelphia Flyers' captain was one of the more prominent names missing from Team Canada's roster when it was announced on January 7, and was passed over a second time when a replacement was needed for injured forward Steven Stamkos.

Stamkos' Tampa Bay Lightning teammate, Martin St. Louis, was added to Canada's roster Thursday, a day after the Lightning announced that a CT scan revealed Stamkos' tibia had not fully healed, and he would not be medically cleared to participate in the Sochi Games.

There's no doubting with the depth of players available to him that Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman had the toughest decision-making process of any nation. There was still a pretty sizeable uproar on just about every social media platform out there when Yzerman decided to go with Jeff Carter on right wing instead of the Canadian player that has posted the most number of NHL points over the past three seasons (Giroux).

Giroux -- who has overcome a brutal start which saw him amass just seven assists in his first 15 games, by posting 18 goals and 48 points in his last 42 outings -- was also the hottest of the main candidates to replace Stamkos since the original snub.

Since Team Canada's roster was announced on Jan. 7, here are the four players who had been considered the most-likely replacements for Stamkos if he was not ready:

  • Giroux 6-11-17 in 15 games (2-3-5 in last two, 3-5-8 in last four)
  • Martin St. Louis 8-8-16 in 14 games (8--6-14 in first 10 following the Jan. 7 announcement; 0-2-2 in last four)
  • Eric Staal 4-5-9 in 10 games (0 points in last three)
  • James Neal 3-6-9 in 12 games (2-2-4 in last four)

But Yzerman's choice may just end up being a blessing in disguise for both Giroux and the Flyers down the road.

The route through the Olympic medal rounds is very much the same grind as the grueling path that leads to the Stanley Cup. It is a highly competitive, physically and emotionally-draining undertaking, one that requires each player to pour every bit of themselves into the effort. The rigorous journey has seen a good number of players return with their wells almost completely dry for the NHL's regular season stretch run and postseason.

It would seem to be the biggest problem with the system as it continues to exist today. Shutting down league operations for a two-week period just prior to the start of the playoffs is something none of the other three major sports are willing to undertake.

It's crystal clear to all. We get it. The NHL gets to showcase the top players and their sizeable talents on a global stage, and the exposure the game receives during worldwide broadcasts -- and let's not forget the revenue generated -- is their largest of any time. It would be a much more league / player-friendly mechanism if Olympic hockey were played in the offseason, but the NBA is unwilling to share its spotlight produced during the Summer Games.

One stretch of time that always comes to mind when the argument arises as to whether or not NHL players belong in the Olympics in the current setting is just following the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

With an 18-5-1-2 record in the 26 contests leading up to the stoppage, Philadelphia roared into the Olympic break with a tremendous head of steam.

John Leclair and Jeremy Roenick battled hard for Team USA, while Roman Cechmanek and Jiri Dopita gave their all for the Czech Republic. Youngsters Simon Gagne (Canada) and Ruslan Fedotenko (Ukraine) also participated, giving Philly a good portion of their core the equivalent of a physically taxing playoff-type hockey with little left in the NHL regular season..

USA and Canada slugged it out in the gold medal game, and the respective players had nothing left to provide their NHL club when the schedule resumed in late-February.

The big contributors began to go silent during a 5-10-4-0 stretch run (9-12-4-0 overall after the break), then went completely MIA in the club's historic power failure in a five-game, first round loss to the Ottawa Senators. They managed only one goal during regulation play, and posted just two overall for the entirety of the series.

There was no likeness remaining to the charging locomotive the team had resembled prior to the break, as the Flyers looked more like the stationary train underneath a Christmas tree once it derails.

Granted, there were a couple of players from that group who were on the downsides of their respective careers, and Giroux just recently celebrated birthday number 26.

But even Gagne, just about to turn 22 years old at the time, was a classic example that year, as he came back still riding the crest of momentum from Salt Lake City with a gold medal. He recorded six goals and seven points in his first four contests following the Olympic Games, then managed only three goals and 10 points over the course of the Flyers' final 20 outings. Like Leclair and Roenick, Gagne also was held off the score sheet in all five playoff games against the Sens.

Giroux has yet to reach his prime, and shouldn't feel snubbed. He was just lost in the numbers game of Canada's immense depth. If NHL players continue to participate in future Olympic Games, there is no doubting he'll be a vital contributor to those endeavors.

Although visibly shaken when left off the original Canadian roster Giroux never sulked, as evidenced by the above-mentioned numbers in games from January 7 moving forward.

It will be interesting to see how he responds the rest of the way, beginning with the two remaining contests left before the Olympic break (both home games, tonight against the Colorado Avalanche, and Saturday's meet up with the Calgary Flames.

The best thing he can do now is use this as motivation from here on out. He gets the benefits of resting any bumps and bruises most NHLers nurse during the course of the regular season over the next two weeks, while others that were selected are enduring the grueling physical tests.

While representing his country on the Olympic stage will remain an unfulfilled dream for the moment, Giroux gets the benefits of coming back from the break refreshed and ready to lead the Flyers in their quest to secure a postseason spot.

David Strehle is the Philadelphia Correspondent for The Fourth Period.

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