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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
What Stamkos' absence means

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

On Wednesday, it was announced that Steven Stamkos won't be ready for the Sochi Olympics. What does this mean for Team Canada and its competition? And who might replace the Tampa Bay Lightning star?

Steven Stamkos
Even though Team Canada is rife with talent, Steven Stamkos' absence hurts.

SCOTT BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, that's a rock-hard day for Steve Stamkos finding out his leg hasn't healed sufficiently enough to allow him to take part in the Sochi Olympics. Everyone knew it was going to be touch and go after Stamkos broke his tibia back in November, but it seemed as though the signs were pointing to his return to action Saturday and then a trip a day later to Sochi with Team Canada. Now, the focus shifts away from one of the game's most exciting players to who might replace him on that roster. If Stamkos played for any other country, we'd be talking about how his absence might impact a run at a gold, but Canada is so deep at forward that executive director Steve Yzerman, Stamkos's general manager in Tampa, has a handful of top-end wingers to choose from, including a couple that are playing extremely well right now.

For me, it comes down to two guys, Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux, who has 16 points in his past 14 games heading into action Wednesday (including six multi-point games) and, of course, Stamkos's teammate in Tampa, Martin St. Louis, the subject of much discussion when he was left off the original Team Canada roster back in early January. St. Louis, likewise, has 16 points in 14 games and has been held without a point only twice in that period of time. Hard to go wrong either way, but you know this is another decision that is going to ramp up the debate about who stays and who goes once again.

PIERRE LEBRUN: On this day, my first thoughts are definitely with Stamkos, who did everything humanly possible to make his magical comeback come to fruition. But a normal time frame for this recovery is three to six months --  and he'll be at three months Feb. 11 -- but it simply hasn't healed enough for him to risk it. Obviously, the right decision was taken here. The safe one. When Stamkos hinted last week in Toronto that perhaps he might go to Sochi even without playing an NHL game, I wasn't sure that was wise. And wiser heads have prevailed here. But you feel for Stamkos, especially when you consider it's possible the NHL won't ever go back to the Olympics (possible; not determined yet).

Although I agree with you that Team Canada is the one country that can sustain this kind of blow, I still think it's going to be felt at some level. His pure ability to snipe goals is matched only in the entire hockey world by perhaps Alex Ovechkin. Having said that, Team Canada has replacement choices in spades -- that's for sure. Aside from St. Louis and Giroux, you've got James Neal and Eric Staal, whom I believe complete the top four choices Canada would be looking at, and to a lesser degree, the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner. But like you, I think it comes down to St. Louis or Giroux, just a gut feeling on my part as well. And it once again puts Yzerman in a tough, tough spot. Can you imagine Team Canada passing on his Tampa captain again? Obviously the easiest decision here is to take St. Louis, but then is that fair to Giroux, who frankly I think was the biggest snub to begin with when the team was announced Jan. 7?

Tough, tough call here. Again!

BURNSIDE: I was surprised that neither Giroux nor St. Louis were on the original roster, and if I were to put a list together, I would have Eric Staal at No. 3 on my list. He's a point-a-game guy over the past 14 games, although as we have this discourse, he's pointless in three straight. But he's been there, playing extremely well in Carolina, and he's been a regular participant internationally for Hockey Canada. You can't understate these things. St. Louis has also been there before, part of that disappointing turn for Canada in Turin eight years ago. That should count for something as well. But Giroux has played like a man possessed the past couple of months, and I think he's shown tremendous leadership, as in leading by example in helping the Flyers dig themselves out of a significant hole they'd created for themselves through the first month of the season. I cannot -- I'm going to say it again -- cannot imagine the conversation between Yzerman and St. Louis, if the Lightning captain gets denied a roster spot twice in a month. How do you ever mend that fence? I'm not sure you ever do, frankly.

LEBRUN: Awful position for Yzerman to be in. And the Tampa/Team Canada GM has handled it all with great class since the beginning of the process, but under all the scenarios possible when you thought about this last August, it's just crazy how it's all played out for Yzerman from a Tampa Bay perspective. Oy. The thing about Giroux, meanwhile, is the he plays the exact same spot on the power play that Stamkos does, and you wonder how important that plays as a factor. Then again, St. Louis is a natural winger -- where Stamkos was slated to play on Team Canada. All four players -- Giroux, St. Louis, Staal and Neal -- have played really well over the past month since they were left off Team Canada and that hasn't gone unnoticed. And by the way, if you're talking replacing a sniper with a sniper, hard not to argue Neal isn't the best pure goal-scorer in that group. But I think the decision has to be more than just that.

Again, to me it's either Giroux or St. Louis. Both of whom I would have had on the original roster anyway.

But on this day, I feel the most for Steven Stamkos. He deserves to be in Sochi. It's a crushing day for him.