Implications of John Tavares' injury

Team Canada can afford to lose a player like John Tavares. The New York Islanders cannot. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s the worst nightmare for the NHL franchises sending their best players over to Sochi to compete in the Winter Olympics: It’s quite possible, even probable, that one of them won’t return in the same condition.

These games are played with playofflike intensity, which puts the health of the best hockey players in the world at risk. NHL owners, such as the New York Islanders’ Charles Wang, take most of the risk without very little tangible reward.

On Thursday morning, news emerged that Islanders captain John Tavares is out for the season with a knee injury suffered against Latvia during Canada’s stunningly close win to advance it to the semifinals.

Team Canada coach Mike Babcock can just plug another All-Star forward into Tavares’ spot. Islanders coach Jack Capuano doesn’t have that luxury.

The impact on the Islanders is immediate. Any hopes of clawing back into the playoff race are shot. The Islanders entered the Olympic break 3-6-1 in their past 10 games, 12 points behind Detroit -- a team that has played two fewer games -- for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The playoff hopes were probably toast regardless, but the Islanders started 2014 with eight wins in their first 10 games. They will also come out of the break with games against Toronto, New Jersey, Florida, Winnipeg and Edmonton, not exactly a murderer’s row. The trio of Thomas Vanek, Tavares and Kyle Okposo is as lethal a line as there is in the NHL. Only two other lines (the David Krejci and Jonathan Toews lines) have produced more than their 33 goals this season.

Now it’s likely that Okposo will be the only one of those three on the ice for the Islanders when New York plays the Oilers after the trade deadline on March 5.

If he wasn’t already, GM Garth Snow has to go into complete sell mode.