Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Alex Edler's 2-game IIHF ban and Olympic ramifications

The heavy hand of the IIHF came down hard on Alex Edler this morning.  The Canucks defenceman, who was already forced to miss the last two games of the Worlds (a semi and a gold medal game), will have to additionally sit out the first two contests of Olympic play.  Though his unavailability for those opening matches now plays a factor in his eventual role for Sweden come February.

From an NHL perspective, the IIHF has a history of exaggerated suspensions.  With stricter rules for head shots and anything with the mere appearance of over-aggression, Canada's national teams often seem at a disadvantage when it comes to international punishment.  It's practically an annual tradition now that Canada's WJC team is depleted at some point in the tournament on account of suspensions.

So it is with some irony that Edler's increased ban was levied with a Canadian playing the role as victim.  But that's besides the point.  Any way you look at it, his knee-on-knee against Eric Staal was reckless.  And truth be told, given the IIHF's history, additional punishment was expected and, to a legitimate degree, warranted.  But a very large part of me protests this decision, nonetheless.

And it's not because Edler is for the most part a clean player (though fans in Phoenix might beg to differ).  Or that he has no previous history of IIHF malice.  It's for the same reason that suspensions handed out in the Stanley Cup playoffs with more leniency and everyone understands why.  Edler's two-game playoff suspension carries significantly more weight than a similar ban in the round robin.  And due to the shortened, tournament format of the World Championships compared to that of the NHL post-season, this means that Edler missed virtually his team's entire gold medal run.  Call me a softie, but with that in mind, an extra two carried through to another tournament is steep.

In addition to the ramifications observed in retrospect, his being unavailable for two games -- or alternatively put, almost the entire preliminary round -- undoubtedly puts his Olympic roster spot in some jeopardy.  Teams have no issue upgrading their roster on the fly during the World Championships, but the Olympics is an entirely different beast.  For that reason, you can bet that Sweden's management will want their roster to have as much time as possible to meld as a group.  Same as every other team.

Though he led Swedish d-men in goals, Edler is clearly not Sweden's only option on offense.
Now a perennial 40-point defenceman in the NHL, Edler is among Sweden's offensive elite in his position -- alongside Erik Karlsson and Niklas Kronwall.  But even with a 49-point campaign under his belt, the Canucks rearguard is not necessarily a lock for Sochi.  More so now with that 2-game ban.

Sweden's store of offensive defencemen is deep and countries need to fill roles.  Case in point is Tobias Enstrom's absence from Sweden's camp roster.  (Case in point is Dan Hamhuis' presence on Canada's selection roster.)  And with options like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Victor Hedman and even Jonas Brodin, all of whom have freshly emerged as credible two-way forces available to Sweden, having a guy like Edler only available for only a portion of international hockey's biggest stage must seem rather unappealing.

So with a top four opening lineup conceivably filled out by Karlsson, Kronwall, Ekman-Larsson and Hedman, it seems that the Ostersund native will be left hoping for either an injury or some truly atrocious play among the aforementioned.  Barring that, he may be left to duke it out in the bottom two with a trio of 2010 veterans - Johnny Oduya, Douglas Murray and Henrik Tallinder -- for a pair of obligatory stay-at-home spots that Edler may not be capable of filling.

Starting the Olympics as a reserve, Edler is faced once again with the prospect of being on-hand, but not on-ice for any potential Swedish triumph.  Out of his two IIHF appearances before this year's World Championships, his best result was a fourth-place finish at the 2008 Worlds, which says something about the impact that being on-ice for a championship win would have had for Edler.

In my mind, he paid his dues by having to watch from the sidelines as his countrymen won international gold.  Canucks fans celebrated alongside Daniel and Henrik for a well-deserved championship on their part, while Edler was made to be a goat.  And deservedly so, for that hit.  Anything less would have been an injustice.  But anything more is, arguably, injustice still.


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