Confirming what had been speculated for months, the NHL/NHLPA and International Olympic Committee announced today that they've agreed to a deal that will allow NHL skaters to play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. While the puck won't drop on the first Olympic game for nearly seven months, it's never too early to start speculating on who will have the honor of pulling on his country's sweater and battling for the gold medal.
Here's a look at the Bruins who could potentially find themselves skating in Sochi when February rolls around.
Zdeno Chara, Slovakia
The Bruins' big man is far and away the best Slovakian defenseman in the NHL, and arguably the best Slovakian skater (with Marian Hossa being his closest competitor). Barring injury, Chara will be the rock upon which the Slovaks build their medal hopes. Chara captained the 2010 team that pushed Canada to the limit in the semifinals before falling to the Swedes in the bronze medal game. Chara also captained the Slovakian team that finished second to Russia in the 2012 World Championships. He's been a fixture on Slovakian national teams for over ten years, and that won't change this time around.
David Krejci, Czech Republic
Krejci has risen to prominence as one of the best Czech players in the NHL since the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver concluded, helped along by huge playoff performances in 2011 and 2013. These Olympic games will give Krejci a chance to reunite with his childhood idol, Jaromir Jagr, for Jagr's last chance (probably) at a gold medal. It's hard to see anyone other than Krejci centering the top line and running the power play for the Czechs. Krejci is already held in high esteem in his homeland, as he was named the best Czech hockey player in the world back in June.
Loui Eriksson, Sweden
Eriksson has been representing Tre Kronor on the international stage since 2003, and will add another appearance to his ledger this year. Eriksson won't get the name recognition of Swedes like the Sedin twins, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson, or Henrik Lundqvist, but he figures to be a key secondary scorer on a Swedish team that is loaded with talent. Eriksson has been a point-per-game or better player in three of his last four go-rounds with the Swedish national team, including scoring four points in four games back in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Tuukka Rask, Finland
Rask is probably the best Finnish goalie in the NHL right now, with Pekka Rinne a close second. Rask, like Rinne, has seen his stock rise dramatically since the 2010 Olympics, when both were left off of the Finnish roster. Rinne is a lock this time around, and barring a disastrous first half in 2013-2014, Rask is as well. Rask, Rinne, and Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom are the three best Finnish netminders, so it stands to reason that all three will make it to Sochi. Whether or not Rask will be the starter remains to be determined, but he has a pretty good shot.
Patrice Bergeron, Canada
Sure, Bergeron was a part of the Canadian team that won gold back in 2010, and he's done nothing to decrease his stock in the years since (in fact, he's gotten better). So why isn't he a lock? It all depends on how Canada's management builds the team. If they want a more well-rounded squad, Bergeron is in as a dependable forward who can win faceoffs and kill penalties. If they want a run-and-gun offensive squad, he may be passed over in favor of players like Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Claude Giroux or Taylor Hall. Canada would be wise to include Bergeron, but they may be blinded by the allure of more offense.
Jarome Iginla, Canada
Iginla has been a good solider on Canadian national teams for nearly 20 years, but Father Time has caught up with him. Iginla has the tread on the tires for one more go-round in the NHL, but it remains to be seen whether or not Canada will give him a shot or if they'll pass over him in exchange for the young guns. Iginla would be a sentimental pick for Canada, giving him one last chance to represent the maple leaf on the world stage, but there's no room for emotion when it comes to Canadians and a gold medal. He's got a shot, but a slim one at best.
Carl Soderberg, Sweden
Soderberg has been the best Swede not in the NHL for a couple of years now, but it remains to be seen how his exit from Sweden affects his standing with Tre Kronor. Remember, the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation wasn't exactly thrilled with Soderberg's passing on the World Championships in favor of the NHL. Would they hold it against him? Possibly, but Soderberg's spot will depend more on how he performs in the first few months of the NHL season than on politics. He'll have to prove himself again in order to pull on a Swedish sweater in Sochi.
Milan Lucic, Canada
Like Bergeron, this pick depends on how Canada decides it wants to play. Lucic would provide a big, bruising presence that many teams lack on the international stage. He can score too, though not nearly as proficiently as Stamkos and Co. If the Canadians decide they want to add a physical element to their roster, there's no better choice than Lucic. However, the international ice sheet doesn't favor a heavy game, so Lucic may be left out in the cold.
Torey Krug, United States
A wild card indeed. Krug set the playoffs aflame with his wicked start against the Rangers, and while he tailed off a bit towards the end of the Bruins' run, he added a new element to the Bruins' game: puck-moving from the back end. The American blueline was loaded with lumbering defensemen like Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, and Tim Gleason back in 2010; if they decide they want a little spark and puck-moving confidence from the blueline, Krug could get a look.