Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

Yzerman wrongly leaves St. Louis off Canada's Olympic team

Marty St. Louis has spent his entire hockey career being told he wasn't good enough.

On Tuesday, once again, he was told he wasn't good enough. But this time, those stinging words came from an unexpected source: his own boss.

The Lightning star was left off the Canadian Olympic team by Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman, who just happens to be the general manager of the Lightning.

Talk about awkward.

This is the second time Yzerman has snubbed St. Louis from an Olympic spot. In 2010, St. Louis was boiling mad at Yzerman and Yzerman had yet to join the Lightning. Imagine how St. Louis feels today.

Be warned, Lightning fans: this could get ugly.

It's going to be a problem for Yzerman. It's going to be a problem for the Lightning.

St. Louis is angry and he has every right to be.

He was just told by Yzerman that his services aren't needed to win a gold medal, and now Yzerman is going to ask him to go out and lead the Lightning to a Stanley Cup.

Yeah, good luck with that.

St. Louis is a proud man. He desperately wanted to play for Canada in next month's Olympics. Now you have to wonder just how badly he wants to play for the Lightning.

At 38, this was St. Louis' realistic last chance to play in the Olympics. (He played in the 2006 Games but didn't win a medal.) He's a borderline Hall of Famer who could use a gold medal on his resume. He looks at the Canadian roster and sees names such as Rick Nash and Jeff Carter and Chris Kunitz and surely thinks, "Seriously? You'd rather have those guys?''

You expect him to continue giving the Lightning his all and act with the class that has helped define his distinguished career, and the key role he played in Tuesday night's victory showed that. But you know he is crushed by being left off the team.

You worry that his disappointment will creep into his play, and you can't help but wonder if his relationship with Yzerman is fractured beyond repair. Even if St. Louis is added to the Olympic team as an injury replacement, the damage has already been done.

When asked if he was concerned about St. Louis' reaction, Yzerman said, "I'm very concerned. I didn't take this lightly. Believe me. This was not easy.''

Yzerman isn't alone in picking the Olympic team. He put together a committee of four other NHL general managers. There's a coaching staff. So there are other voices and other votes. But Yzerman is in charge. You would think that if he stood up, pounded his fist on the table and said, "Doggone it, Marty St. Louis is on this team!'' then, doggone it, Marty St. Louis would be on this team.

And if he didn't do that, then why the heck not?

"I put together a committee to help me select this team and, together with the coaches, we came up with our roster,'' Yzerman said. "If I'm not going to listen to the others then why have them?

"But I'm not going to pass the buck. If you want to put this on me, that's fine. I can't let my duties as general manager of the Lightning conflict with my role with the Canadian Olympic team. I suppose that if I insisted on a certain player then I could have had that player. But that's not the way to do things.

"I will tell you this: I'm confident that we put together the best team we possibly could to compete in this tournament.''

Is Yzerman falling on the sword? Was he overruled by others? Did Canadian coach Mike Babcock of the Red Wings have something to do with this?

Yzerman would not elaborate Tuesday. He refused to point fingers. He took responsibility for the final decisions.

The thing is, it's not as if anyone would have questioned St. Louis' selection. No one would have accused Yzerman of favoritism. St. Louis led the league in scoring last season. He is averaging nearly a point a game this season. He has carried a Lightning team that is missing superstar Steven Stamkos and has it in the mix for a playoff spot.

How was he not picked?

"I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Marty St. Louis,'' Yzerman said. "He is a tremendous leader and has played well and has carried us since Steven Stamkos went down. I realize he is upset. I understand that.''

Granted, when putting together an Olympic team, you can't just go with an all-star team of top scorers. This isn't fantasy hockey.

You need a balance of scorers, two-way players, special-team specialists, power forwards and grinders. But no matter what criteria you use for a valuable Olympic player — speed, grit, experience, leadership, scoring prowess, a history of playing well in the clutch — St. Louis has it all. The only thing he can't do is the one thing you're not allowed to do in the Olympics: fight.

Look, Yzerman and the rest of Team Canada's officials have an impossible job. The number of deserving players is far greater than the number of available spots. St. Louis wasn't the only player snubbed Tuesday.

And you can't help but feel for Yzerman. You could hear in his voice Tuesday that he was just sick over St. Louis not being on the team. He knows he's not the most popular guy in Tampa Bay at the moment. He knows he has some serious fences to mend with St. Louis.

He's trying to do what's right. He's trying to put together a team that can win a gold medal. Clearly, Yzerman set aside personal feelings for the good of Team Canada.

Hockey News writer Adam Proteau tweeted out, "No Martin St. Louis. Cold, Stevie Y, cold.''

Which leads me to this point: Maybe Yzerman shouldn't be running Team Canada.

Yes, it's a terrific honor to represent your country. Putting together an Olympic team for hockey, which is like religion in Canada, is an esteemed position. It's hard to turn down such a position.

But if I ran the Lightning, I would tell Yzerman that this is it. No more. You want to be GM of Team Canada or do you want to be GM of the Lightning? If you do one, you can't do the other. We're trying to win a Stanley Cup here and we just alienated the best player in franchise history. We don't want to go through this again in four years when another one of our players is in line to make the Olympic team.

Heck, the way St. Louis keeps on ticking, that player might be him.

Maybe then Yzerman will do the right thing.

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