It was very nice of Miikka Kiprusoff to make Jari Kurri’s decision on his goaltending glut with the Finnish Olympic team just a little bit easier.
The Calgary Flames goaltender publicly stated recently that if he weren’t guaranteed the No. 1 job with the team in Vancouver, he’d just as soon stay home and not play.
Fair enough. That’s his right. Just as it’s Kurri’s right – and obligation as Finland’s GM, I would opine – to tell Kiprusoff not to bother preparing for the Olympics because he won’t be with the team.
And this is not even about the fact Finland has arguably the strongest and deepest contingent of goaltenders in the world even without Kiprusoff. It’s more about a sense of entitlement and how that can destroy a team’s chemistry in an instant. It is an element vital to any team, but paramount to a squad that has so little time to prepare for its task ahead.
For his part, Kurri said he spoke to Kiprusoff about six weeks ago and the goalie didn’t give him that message, so he’s a little confused about Kiprusoff’s recent remarks. Kurri also said that, while he wants to get Kiprusoff’s side, it would be very difficult to take a player who makes such a demand.
“(If that’s the case) then he should call us,” Kurri said. “The players don’t make decisions, the coaches do. I think we start from there. I don’t think any team would allow the players to say, ‘Oh, I’m only going to play power play and that’s it.’ It just doesn’t go that way.”
The fact is, nobody in the game has the right to demand any role with his country’s Olympic team, particularly one who hasn’t gotten his NHL team out of the first round of the playoffs since 2004. Going into the 2002 Olympics, Martin Brodeur had two Stanley Cups and led the NHL in victories the previous four seasons, but he didn’t make any demands for playing time.
And what happened? Curtis Joseph faltered in the first game of the tournament and was replaced by Brodeur, who led Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years.
But Kurri doesn’t even have to look at Canada’s example to have a point of reference. All he has to do is go back to 2006 when Kiprusoff pulled the chute on the Finns after complaining of hip problems that didn’t keep him out of any NHL games. So the Finns went with Antero Niittymaki, who went on to backstop them to an unlikely silver medal and was named MVP of the tournament.
We really don’t know exactly what forces are at work here. It’s quite possible the Flames are pushing for this because they don’t want to burn out their prized goaltender. Whatever the case, if Kiprusoff isn’t willing to accept whatever role the team thinks is best he can stay home and watch it on television.
And if Finland has one area where it could afford to do this it’s in goal. That’s because aside from Niittymaki, Finland also has Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators, not to mention Antti Niemi of the Chicago Blackhawks and, if they get really desperate, Vesa Toskala of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Niittymaki, Backstrom or Rinne could easily fill in for Kiprusoff and the team would play hard for any one of them. That might not be the case for Kiprusoff, who might draw some resentment if he is handed the No. 1 job.
No player is above the team, particularly for a country such as Finland that can attribute any of its success to the collective effort. In 1992, the Canadian junior program, against its better judgment, bent to the whims of Eric Lindros and allowed him to be parachuted into the lineup.
And even though Lindros scored 10 points in seven games at the WJC that year, his presence was disruptive and killed team chemistry and the Canadian team finished sixth, which was its worst-ever showing to that point.
So if I’m Kurri, the decision is easy. Just say, “Either join us with no guarantees or stay home, Kipper. We’ll muddle along without you.”
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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