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Hurricanes, Injuries, and the Olympics: Should They Play?

Has Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal been 100% healthy at all this season? (photo by LTD)

Carolina Hurricanes All Star center Eric Staal has already missed seven games this season due to an "upper body injury", which could mean anything from him having sore ribs, to a wonky shoulder. Trying to get specific injury information out of an NHL team is like trying to pry secrets out of the National Security Agency. It's not going to happen unless you have the "need to know".

But after reading a story published earlier this month in the Toronto Sun, it makes one wonder how many injuries Staal has gone through this year and when and where he got them.

Eric Staal is out for at least two weeks after suffering an upper body injury. This after a groin injury he sustained around the Canadian Olympic orientation camp slowed his start to the season.

Remember earlier this season when Staal missed some practice time because of a different injury? He continued to play in games, but rested a "lower body concern" by not participating in practice for about a week because of a nagging problem. Some fans criticized the move, saying that if he could not participate in practice, how could he be very effective in games?

Could that injury have been the same groin injury that he apparently got during or "around" Olympic orientation camp? Has Eric Staal been injury free at all, this entire season? If you were to look at his stats, it sure doesn't seem like it.

2009 - Eric Staal 13 3 2 5 -5 34 2 0 0 0 54 5.6

There was a lot of press about how Cam Ward had a back strain the first day of Olympic camp, but at the time there didn't seem to be anything out there about Staal being injured.

But whether Staal was injured at the orientation camp or not, this leads to another discussion altogether. Should he participate in the Olympics later this season and risk further injury, after having missed considerable time for Carolina already? And how about Cam Ward?

Ward was probably a borderline case to begin with, whether he would make the team or not, but Eric Staal would be welcomed with open arms if he wants to play.

Earlier this season, Gary Bettman took some flak for saying that the league might not support the idea of NHL players participating in the 2014 Olympics. But the commissioner was not promoting this idea just to be mean spirited. If a star player is injured in the Olympics and is unable to play afterward, his team might lose an opportunity to make the playoffs and it could cost that franchise millions in revenue.

Also, keep in mind that if a player gets hurt during international competition, they still get paid their guaranteed contract by their team or the club's insurance takes affect. It's a huge risk for ownership.

Carolina fans pay a lot of money for tickets. Most expected or at least hoped to be watching a competitive team play this season, which would include all Olympic hopefuls in the lineup. Do fans deserve to know, was the team's highest paid player hurt in orientation camp, and did that injury adversely affect his performance for the Canes early this season?

Joni Pitkanen falls in a similar scenario. The best all around defenseman for the Canes is on most expert's lists to participate for Team Finland. He has also missed seven games this season, for different reasons and is expected to miss more. After recovering from a preseason knee scope and then an illness, he is now fighting through a "lower body injury".

Of course injury problems are not just unique to the Hurricanes, the entire NHL is being hit hard right now. But as the injuries mount for Carolina, the franchise pushes against the cap limit, and the team falls deeper into an abyss in the standings, injuries in general become more and more of a problem.

If these players think they are healthy enough to play in the Olympics, should they participate? Especially, taking into consideration they will have missed substantial time for the Hurricanes already and they might be at a higher risk for further injury?

The Olympics are about three months away and there is still plenty of time for them to heal and return to action. Maybe this will be a moot point. What do you think?

(I will run a follow up to this article next week. Please leave your votes and comments below.)