With rosters for the 2010 Winter Olympics due by late December, dozens of borderline candidates for the Games—such as Canadian defensemen Duncan Keith (Blackhawks), Marc Staal (Rangers) and Brent Burns (Wild, right), and U.S. right wing Ryan Callahan (Rangers)—are embarking on auditions as the NHL season opens. "It's important for all these players to have a good first half," Team USA general manager Brian Burke says. "On our team there are only 14 guys who I would say are locks. And we're taking 23. My message to the players is: Tryouts start October 1."
Teams flush with Olympians—such as Colorado in 1998 and Detroit in 2002 and '06—tend to be atop the standings when the Games roll around. But the Olympics can take their toll: Although the NHL will break from Feb. 15 to 28 for Vancouver, players who participate won't get time off to heal and recharge. In the past three Olympic seasons only two of the 17 teams that had more than six Olympians advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
The prospect of fatigue, though, is no deterrent to the players, who covet the chance to play for their country. "Everybody knows what's at stake—you want to get on that team," says Montreal forward Scott Gomez, who is hoping for a spot on his second U.S. Olympic squad. "It makes you work harder."