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Tavares injury triggers a sobering thought: what’s more important to Leaf fans, a healthy Kessel or a Team Canada gold medal?

I was not planning to post until the Leafs were gearing up to play again, but the John Tavares injury at the Olympic Games brought home just how fragile the health of athletes is.  It’s not as though we, as fans, are not already well aware of the risk involved for the individuals whose careers we follow from a distance.  But it is nonetheless always disappointing to see. (And it does make me wonder if winning an “Olympic medal” for multi-million dollar professional athletes is really worth it, given the original intent of these Games was about bringing together the world’s best amateur athletes. I know the sports world has changed but pros already have their Stanley Cup, the World Championships and at times the hockey World Cup to play for…)

The injury to Tavares is obviously devastating for him personally. (And who knows if, even with the amazing medical technology we have nowadays, a player will ever be as dynamic as they were before such an injury?)  It’s awful for him, his teammates who depend on him and certainly the Islander organization who pay him handsomely to play for them—not for Team Canada.

What this triggered may seem like a ridiculous question, but I’ll put it out there anyway because, if most of us are honest, it’s the kind of unrealistic/theoretical “decision”/question that we contemplate in various parts of our life on a regular basis. For example, sometimes we may be facing a decision in life, and think, “If only one of these two things is going to happen for me, I would pick ‘x’…”. (What I’m presenting is maybe somewhat akin to the games some of us try to play with God—you know, as in, “if you do this for me, I’ll be a good guy”, etc…)

Well, with the U.S.-Canada contest just hours away, the ‘test’ for Leaf fans may be as simple as:  if you had to pick between Leaf star Phil Kessel staying healthy the rest of this tournament or Team Canada winning Gold, which would you want most? (Quick aside:  there are so many tremendous Leaf supporters around the world, of course, and certainly a ton in the United States.  The question could be framed a bit differently, perhaps, for American-based Leaf boosters who will be pulling for the United States to advance to the Gold medal game...)

It’s not a particularly great question for me, personally, because as I have disclosed here over the years, I’ve always been a Leaf fan, period.  I’ve rarely ventured (unless I’ve worked professionally with someone who plays for or is a coach with Team Canada at the World junior or NHL level) into having a serious rooting interest for our national hockey teams—at least not since we started sending professionals to the Olympics.  I’ve generally, at least in my youth, had a strong dislike for anyone who didn’t play for the Leafs, so the national pride/Canada angle was not a big tug for me, though I well recognize it is for 99+% of hockey fans in this country. 

I’m just different in this regard, I guess. I was never going to cheer for Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and players I hated in the NHL.  It’s just not in my sports fan DNA. (I can’t conceive that my father, born in 1910 and a devoted lifelong Montreal fan of all-time greats like Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Butch Bouchard, Doug Harvey and of course “The Rocket”, could ever have cheered for, say,  the hated Gordie Howe if Richard and Howe played together on a “Team Canada” way back when…)

So for me, regarding my “question” today, the answer is simple: Kessel avoiding a fluke injury (against Canada or anyone else) and staying healthy is way more important than Canada winning a medal at some made-for-Olympics, one-game elimination event. Throwing teams together a day before the “tournament” starts and then claiming one country is better than another (see Russia's disaster) at the end is kind of off base, at least for me. How can one game really provide a fair assessment?  (That's why I love the NHL playoffs- it's the best league in the world and if you survive that grind, you are a worthy champion.)

To be clear: I’m well aware this is not even a good hypothetical scenario but I’d be interested in hearing, as unrealistic as the question is, whether you place a Team Canada gold medal above all else.



39 comments:

  1. I'm Canadian and its Kessel healthy.

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    1. My guess is that will be a popular 'choice', brquad!

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  2. Canada gold... And I'm a Leafs die hard fan on the west coast.

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    1. Thanks for chiming in from the great West, Anon. Maybe the response will be less unanimous than I thought...

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  3. Michael,

    Without a shadow of a doubt my vote goes to team Canada. If Canada wins a gold medal, I would be extremely happy for at least the next four years. When it comes down to it, I am a Canadian first and foremost. A fiercely proud, patriotic Canadian. Whether or not my local hockey team plays well or not , is of little consequence to me, compared to the fate of the nation I am proud to call my home and native land. A gold medal to me means more than Phil Kessel, and the entire Maple Leafs franchise.

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  4. A tough question! But I'd have to pick a healthy Kessel. The gold medal is fine, but doesn't really prove any sort of superiority except on a given day with a bunch of players who are largely unfamiliar with each other. For some reason, I don't feel my national pride's on the line in the Olympics.

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    1. Everyone seems to have a slightly different take on this one, Gerund...

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  5. "if you had to pick between Leaf star Phil Kessel staying healthy the rest of this tournament or Team Canada winning Gold, which would you want most?"

    This one is easy for me ...a healthy Kessel.

    I'm a Canadian, but I would gladly trade the next three Olympic gold medals for just one Maple Leaf Stanley Cup.

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    1. I'm in your camp DP, but it's not the landslide I expected.

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  6. This year I would take a healthy Kessel over a gold medal because I expect the Leafs to do some serious damage this year - and they will need him. In the perfect scenario the Leafs take the east and then win the Cup against an injury decimated exhausted western team. Now four years ago I would take the medal because the Leafs were not even a playoff team.






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    1. Understood, Alton- the Leafs are certainly in a better position to make noise this season than they were four years ago!

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  7. Everyone so far has had no problem with this question. I do. I was a Leafs fan before I was a hockey fan but I really like the feeling of being part of something even bigger as a Canadian. A gold medal will keep me happy for four years, a Stanley Cup is a dream and I'm sure I'd be contented the rest of my life just to see the Leafs win it just once. I was a child last time.

    If the question was a gold medal or a Stanley Cup, I think I'd go for the cup. Canada's very capable of winning another gold, a Stanley Cup is a rare thing, possibly once in a lifetime. No one wins it with one game, it takes a long season and post-season. I don't enjoy international hockey. I've seen too many World junior tournaments where the Canadians won all but one game and had little to show for it in the end. I'd rather we have a summer World Cup for the NHLers and send amateurs to the Olympics. If we lose a few Europeans to the KHL because the NHL no longer participates in the Olympics, I'm perfectly fine with that.

    A very hard question to ask on the eve before Team Canada plays. I'm sure whatever I say I will disagree with myself several times.....Sorry, Michael, I've gone " Charlie Brown" on you. C.N.

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    1. Not at all, Colleen- while the question is not realistic on the one hand there is, as you reveal through your answer, a deeper element to the question beyond Kessel and his physical health.

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  8. Hoping Kessel stays healthy , has a big game vs. Canada together with JVR, and comes back home brimming with confidence. The Leafs haven't won a cup in 47 years - Team Canada just won in 2010. Also, why should I root for a bunch of players who try to beat the leafs every game in the NHL? There isn't a single Leaf on Team Canada.
    However, I do find it somewhat confusing that the Canadian emblem is the same Leaf as the Maple Leafs. So who should I root for? On the other hand, why do these guys represent my country? They all play for US teams a whole year! So you think you can just get together for 2 weeks and claim to be true Canadians?
    I'm hoping Kessel and JVR have big games and that should help the Leafs long term.And you know something? Maybe they are the true Canadians!

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    1. I think you raise fair points, Eli. I'm on an island but I've never been a Team Canada guy. I've always been a Leaf supporter first and only. It's just the way I'm made, I guess. I could not choose where I was born, but I made a personal choice to support the Maple Leafs more than fifty years ago. Thanks Eli, well said.

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    2. Thanks Michael.

      Also, just because I live now in Brooklyn, does that mean I have to root for the Rangers or Islanders?.You are totally right. Everyone has their personal choice who to root for.
      The main appreciation for Canada is that we were born in the country invented the sport of hockey.

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    3. Exactly, Eli. For me, there's no "right" or "wrong" here. If a person is more of a Team Canada guy, great. I'm someone who has a rooting interest in a particular franchise and in the case of the Leafs, I've always been invested in their legacy and heritage more than being a fan at a more nationalistic level.

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    4. Michael,

      I am a more than a little embarrassed that there is not more support for Team Canada here. Suggesting that Kessel and JVR are the true Canadians because they play/work for a Canadian franchise, is one of the most insulting things I have ever heard as a Canadian.

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  9. Seeing that Canada has won a couple gold medals already in recent years, and are certainly quite likely to win again in the future, I would absolutely trade a gold medal for a Leafs Cup win. I think the argument has been well proven by Canada that we still produce the lions share of the best hockey players in the world. Win or lose today, no one can deny that overall Canada can put out four or five teams worthy of competing in this tourney.

    In the end though, despite the worry among fans about injury, and the owners about their money (poor babies), the players themselves all volunteer and are honoured to represent their respective countries in the Olympics. They too know the risks but are willing to take that risk. For that reason alone, I respect their choice and accept whatever may come with it.

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    1. Thanks as always for a thoughtful post, Pete.

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  10. Hi Michael

    As VLM proves regularly, its different strokes for different folks and that's OK. Your question provokes some soul searching.

    I have now lived in the USA for many years and support USA endeavours. However, when it comes to World/Olympic sports the Canadian comes out in me. But why should this not be the case? My education, hockey background and much of my business career was in Canada. Thus, rooting for Canada, even against the USA seems to come naturally. This was proven yesterday, when Canadian Women won the gold medal in a thrilling comeback. The good thing these women are competing as amateurs, just like old KW Dutchman, Trail, Whitby Dunlops.

    How can you not like the Olympics, all the best players in the world once every four years, especially for the top top five teams. The Maple Leafs are not the same, as there are too many 'replaceable' hockey players on the team and throughout the NHL. Like you, I feel the first round of the NHL playoffs is the most interesting.

    Living in the south, I see many examples of deep patriotism. I did not witness a similar trait in Canada except Expo year, and when I attended a World Cup game at MLG versus Sweden. I am sure Russia games would be the same. The Summit Series in 1972 is fondly remembered, and I am sure the Olympic Games in Montreal and Vancouver were patriotic as well. Thus, I like seeing this patriotism coming from Canada.

    I have supported Kessell continuously on this blog. It is nice to see that Leafdom has finally realized how valuable he is, and I do not hear the cries about what a bad trade this was.

    Hopefully, he will not get injured. Michael, if I owned a Lamborghini I would not loan it to you to get bounced around on the QEW on one of your trips downtown. I am sure NHL owners must have the same feeling about their highly paid players.

    Time for the game. Go Canada



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    1. Loved your post- enjoy the game. Thanks Ralph (RLMcC).

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  11. I was torn yesterday. As much as I would have liked to see Canada win, I figured if it gave JVR and Kessel a high that carried over into their return to the NHL I could handle a US victory without much disappointment.

    As I watched the game today it was all Canada all the way. Although the thought did cross my mind that if they could hang on to that 1 goal lead our boys could catch an early flight home and be well rested for next week!

    So regardless of my shifting preferences, it seems that after closer inspection they are ultimately based on whichever outcome I think will be of greatest benefit to the Leafs.

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    1. Everyone has their own individual preference in these situations, Oliver. Kessel has had a nice tournament and Canada is going for gold, so Leaf/Canada fans may get the best of both worlds.

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  12. One of the main reasons I like international play, is the opportunity to see the best player showing what they're 'capable of' in an all-star setting that motivates them to play more than shinny.

    That said, I'd still prefer the off-season variety for the very reason that Snow (plus Florida and Detroit) must have considered when players 'go down'. At least, you can treat it like a pre-season injury if something happens (and you still have the hope of a late-season return).

    As much as I am able to enjoy the spectacle, I'd be quite discouraged if we were to lose Kessel or JVR to an Olympic injury. The team is just having a chance to 'play as constructed' and I'd really like to see that... so if you're forcing me to choose ;) I'd have to say injury-free would last me longer than a Gold medal (that I'd prefer to see amateurs win, but I don't think there are any high-level athletes, of that ilk, left - perhaps an age restriction on participant could make it a 'development' tournament that NHL contract owners could 'get behind'... kind of like the World Juniors, but make it an 'under 24' tournament).

    Your comments have been the fodder of my own concerns and it is a topic worth discussion, thanks Michael.

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    1. Hi InTimeFor62- I'd like nothing more than a return to sending true "amateurs" but as you note, it may be difficult to make that happen. There's some good hockey played in the Olympics, but I'm not sure it's worth the risk. I'd support a World Cup every four years in September. It can be during training camp, and when it's over, those players would just return to their NHL teams once the regular season begins.

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    2. I agree about a September World Cup being the only time we should see the premier NHL'ers in international competition (unless they want to go after their team is eliminated from the playoffs, a la 'captain Canada' Ryan Smith et al).

      I'd even prefer to clarify the 'development' idea (that under 24's could play in the Olympics), I should have said non-NHL players under 24 ( where the AHL or Junior teams could 'loan players' to Hockey Canada).

      The NHL players participation in the Olympics has 'run its course' for me, in that the exposure to new audiences is not as important to the growth of the game as it may have been for these past Olympics. Korea seems to be the right venue to 'make the change'.

      This is NOT to say that I don't appreciate the players volunteering to go and represent their countries, rather, that I think the potential cost is now too high for the teams that employ the players to risk their health for a 'trickle down' effect that seems to benefit the Olympic movement more than the teams carrying the risk.

      That last word twigs a thought... we heard about the insurance costs associated with the team (playing ball hockey to learn systems!), do you know if that insurance pays the salary, surgery and rehab of Tavares (Barkov, etc.) until they are returned to their teams healthy? Do the teams actually receive compensation if the player comes back with limiting health issues?

      One wonders if Garth Snow has as much to complain about as he has spouted... perhaps this is just part of the plan to gain acceptance for 'non participation' in the next Olympics... things that make you go.... hmmmm...

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    3. I wonder if the NHL and NHLPA will be able to agree on an arrangement for the next Olympics. Like you, I'd ready for a different kind of international event between hockey playing nations...

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  13. Kessel healthy is the only answer. I'm not interested in Olympic hockey at all. It's great when Canada wins and I cheer for them to win is passing but to me Leaf hockey is the only hockey. All I want is for the Leaf players to come home healthy and prepared to help put the Leafs over the top.

    It must be terrible to be an Islander fan right now. Another year in purgatory and now the best player and on most nights is the only reason to watch is now out for the year. Yikes!!!! How does a team playing out the string now sell tickets in a struggling market when its only marketable asset is now done?

    The sooner NHL and its players decide no more Olympics the better.

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    1. I'm a broken record, Willbur, but I loved Olympic hockey when we sent our amateurs in the old days. They had no chance but always played their hearts out for Canada.

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  14. healthy kessel... abbbsolutely.

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    1. Lots of back and forth on this one today, Alex!

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  15. We may have overlooked something very important. Our three Olympians came through the tournament unscathed physically, but Kessel and JVR have just endured an emotionally devastating 24 hours. I hope they don't need much time to bounce back from that, but I would imagine it must be tough.

    On the other hand, maybe what happened last May can now be seen as a blessing in disguise. Having experience with moving on from an extreme low could be helpful this time around.

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    1. It's always difficult to gauge the emotional push back ability you refer to, Oliver. Hard to say whether having experienced tough losses in the past helps in the future, but history seems to suggest it does if a team or an athlete is determined enough.

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  16. I'm sure Kessel got off the Olympics relatively unscathed, physically. And best of luck to both finalists, may the best team win. I rooted for a golden international finish for Selänne, but it wasn't to be. Not a big fan of the bronze, but better than nothing, I guess. There sure were no ifs or buts left in the wake of the loser final, certainly.

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    1. Yes, the bronze medal medal was a 'no doubter', CGLN. Well deserved for Finland, a team with some real character performers, for sure. These competitions, like the annual World Championships, mean so much to those European hockey countries, as you well know where you are located (Finland).

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  17. I think years ago when I had little interest in the Olympics this question would have been a no-brainer.
    For me, it's an impossible task to choose between two loyalties . Am I less a loyal Leaf fan (third generation) if I choose a gold medal, or less a proud Canadian (and I am fiercely proud) if I choose the Leafs? I was born to both and have worn both the red and the blue maple Leaf. I choose both. I guess I bleed purple. C.N.

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  18. That's maybe why, as I indicated in the post, C.N., that it's fortunate that we don't in fact have to "choose"!

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