NHL general managers will already be watching the World Cup through their fingers hoping their star players stay healthy. However, a number of NHL players are already playing meaningful games while representing their countries in the Olympic qualifying tournament this week.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have already had their fears realized as No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen left a qualifying game early Friday with an apparent injury.
While playing for Denmark in their second qualifier against Slovenia, Danish forward Oliver Bjorkstrand collided with the goaltender after a puck race. Andersen went down hard and appeared to land on his shoulder. He appeared to be in pain on the ice and was removed from the game. Here’s a look at the play in question:
Later Friday, the Maple Leafs confirmed that they would be flying their offseason acquisition back to Toronto for further evaluation for what is being termed only as an upper-body injury. The severity of the ailment is not yet known, but the Danish hockey federation says Andersen could be sidelined one to two weeks, while also noting that he is going back to Toronto for further evaluation.
This injury could also have a significant impact on a World Cup team as well. Andersen was expected to be the No. 1 goalie for Team Europe at the tournament. That team is supposed to be opening its training camp in Quebec City Monday. What are the chances Toronto makes him available for the tournament if there is even a hint of an injury, though? Marginal at best, one would think.
The Maple Leafs acquired Andersen in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks in late June. He was then promptly signed to a five-year, $25 million contract with Toronto essentially handing him the keys to their No. 1 goalie job. With that kind of investment, there’s probably no chance he skates in the World Cup.
If he does have to miss, that means New York Islanders teammates Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss are battling it out for No. 1 duties on Team Europe, too. There aren’t a lot of goalies out there that would be an adequate replacement for Andersen. Washington Capitals backup Philipp Grubauer of Germany, and Tampa Bay Lightning farmhand Kristers Gudlevskis of Latvia may be the most likely options as an Andersen replacement if such a decision is needs to be made.
By the way, Denmark lost Friday’s game to Slovenia 3-0. They have officially been knocked out of contention for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Andersen, who also played in a loss Thursday, allowed six goals on 41 shots in 113 minutes between the pipes for his homeland.
With no financial gain for teams who allow players to play in events like Olympic qualifiers or even the Olympics themselves, you can understand why owners are becoming more and more reluctant to continue releasing players for them.
Other NHLers currently playing in Olympic qualifying include Anze Kopitar, Mats Zuccarello, Mikkel Boedker, Frans Nielsen and more. It just goes to show how much participating in the Olympics means to the players and why the NHL may have a fight on their hands when they decide on whether or not they go to PyeongChang in 2018.
The players’ contracts are typically insured for tournaments like these, but insurance won’t put the player back on the ice if he can’t play during the season. That’s why, with exhibition games for the World Cup starting next week, NHL teams get about three more weeks of watching and worrying about their top players as they play in high-stakes games during the preseason. Hopefully all of the GMs are current on their blood pressure medication.
Source: CBS Sports / Maple Leafs G Frederik Andersen injured in Olympics qualifier; World Cup in doubt