Zetterberg injury raises team vs. country debate
SOCHI, Russia – As Henrik Zetterberg leaves the Olympics to return to Detroit to have an ailing back examined, some Detroit Red Wings fans will grouse that he should not have been in Sochi in the first place.
When you have a nagging injury, do you owe it to your NHL team to stay home from the Olympics?
That's a question that the hockey world has been debating since NHL players started participating in the Olympics in 1998. A case can be made for both positions.
The NHL is almost a $4 billion business, and making the playoffs can be the difference between being profitable or in the red. Ownership's greatest fear about Olympic participation would be losing a superstar to injury and missing the playoffs in the short run or worse in the long run.
The argument for participating is more altruistic. The loyalty that players owe to their teams should be suspended long enough to allow them to play for their country.
Zetterberg's case doesn't fit neatly into the debate because his chronic back problem was stable enough that he had been playing, and playing well, for the Red Wings, who are holding on to the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"He felt good coming into the Olympics," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.
But in that first game, his issue resurfaced, and Zetterberg's body told him Friday morning that he needed to pull out of the Olympics. "He just felt to get home to see a doctor," Holland said.
Holland said there is a possibility that Zetterberg won't be ready for Detroit's first game after the Olympics, but he can't be sure. "We shouldn't make the news before it happens," he said.
Nor should we use Zetterberg's injury as an argument against Olympic participation, no matter the impact on the Red Wings' season.
What this debate boils down to is acceptable risk. No one understands that that phrase better than NHL general managers, coaches and players. They live in a world where the percentages matter every day.
Coaches and players talk about making the high-percentage plays in every game.
You accept the risk of injury in the Olympics because you know there haven't been a lot. Going back to 1998, Joe Sakic and Dominik Hasek are the only prominent ones that come to mind. There haven't been so many injuries that alarm bells should be sounding
Olympic hockey is incredibly fast-paced and intense. But it's not like NHL playoff hockey where the injury list is long after every game.
If the NHL were still in session, Zetterberg could have aggravated the injury in a game in Tampa Bay or he could have also hurt it bending over to tie his shoes.
The Olympic break might actually heal more injuries than it causes because of 81% of NHL players are back at home recovering from the bumps and bruises they have acquired in the season.
The injury issue is a bigger in Detroit because some fans are unhappy that Pavel Datsyuk is playing in the Olympics with a leg injury that is severe enough to cause him to miss 14 of the last 16 games before the break.
It's clear that the leg is bothering him, and Detroit fans, understandably, wish he would rest and give that injury more time to heal.
But Datsyuk views the Sochi Olympics as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He's captain of a Russian Olympic team playing in his home country. How could he not play?
Datsyuk and Zetterberg have missed a combined 34 games, and the Red Wings organization probably does wish that those players had stayed home and rested during the break.
But Red Wings management understands the desire to play in the Olympic better than most because Detroit coach Mike Babcock is coach of the Canadian team and Ken Holland is part of the management team. They appreciate why Datsyuk is here playing on one good leg.
Playing for one's country is an intoxicating lure. Fear of injuries should not be what stops the NHL from continuing its participation in the Olympics.