- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Just because the NHL is taking a break does not mean we won’t have hockey! There will be plenty of action in the next few weeks with the game’s top players heading over to Sochi, Russia to compete for their respective teams in the 2014 Olympic Games. Here are some storylines to watch for the New York-local players once the puck drops overseas:
1. Ryan Callahan’s health: With the Olympic roster freeze now in effect, the 28-year-old captain’s future with the Rangers remains unresolved as he packs up for Sochi. Locked in a contract stalemate with the team, the pending unrestricted free agent was the subject of widespread trade speculation over the last week. Though it was assumed by some that the Rangers might try to deal the gritty winger before the Olympics, hedging against a potential injury, Callahan stayed put. GM Glen Sather has to hope for the best while the rugged forward competes for the U.S. in his second Olympic appearance. Whether Sather intends to trade Callahan or retain him for the playoff push, he needs his player healthy upon return.
2. John Tavares’ rising star: So his Islanders are pretty much cooked in terms of their playoff hopes, but the 2013 Hart Trophy finalist will still have the international stage to showcase what an elite player he has become. One of the league’s most captivating offensive talents, Tavares will be surrounded by a team of superstars so deep down the middle (i.e. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews) that Tavares may move to the wing. That shouldn’t be a problem for Tavares, who has played wing in international competitions before. Wherever he plays, he’ll be a key player in helping Team Canada defend its gold medal.
3. Leading the Swedes: With the Swedish team suffering a number of costly losses up front (Henrik Sedin, Johan Franzen), Henrik Lundqvist will shoulder even more responsibility in backstopping his team towards medal contention. That’s a welcome challenge for Lundqvist, who led Team Sweden to a gold medal in 2006 as a 23-year-old. Good news for the Swedes is Lundqvist is playing some of his best hockey of the year heading into the tournament. After a poor start to the season, Lundqvist turned the corner near the holiday break and has been resolute in goal ever since. Most recently he is 4-0-0 with a 1.50 goals against average and .950 save percentage in his last four games. He has also held opponents to two goals or less in 10 of the last 11 games.
4. To go or no: Though the Islanders have reportedly told veteran defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky he cannot play for the Slovakian national team because of injury concerns, they cannot technically prohibit him from participating. Though Visnovsky missed over three months this season with a concussion, he has since returned and been medically cleared to play in NHL games for the Islanders. As such, he can defy the Islanders’ wishes and compete for his country if he wants. Maybe Visnovsky does not wish to participate in the Games after missing so much time this season with a severe head injury. Either way, the decision is ultimately up to him.
5. Still got it: Though New Jersey’s goal-starved 2013-14 campaign has largely been a source of frustration for Devils fans everywhere, it’s been hard not to delight in the pure wizardry of 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr, whose offense has not gone dormant. The gray-bearded veteran leads the Devils in scoring with 17 goals and 48 points in 57 games for New Jersey this season. Expect him to be a force to be reckoned with on the Czech team, joined by New Jersey teammates Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky and fellow 40-something marvel Petr Nedved.
Just because the NHL is taking a break does not mean we won’t have hockey! There will be plenty of action in the next few weeks with the game’s top players heading over to Sochi, Russia to compete for their respective teams in the 2014 Olympic Games.