The Mule was back in the Detroit Red Wings lineup on Tuesday night after missing exactly four months with a knee injury, and his return triggered a bit of international controversy.
Sweden’s Olympic hockey team took a bit of heat from some fans for not including Johan Franzen in their lineup, especially considering his return before the Olympic break, but the team stood by their decision and even went on the offensive to defend their choice.
In the past week or so Team Sweden has taken to the newspapers, initiating a war of words with the Red Wings medical staff and trying to fend off criticism by saying Franzen came back too soon.
From the Detroit Free Press:
"You can ask yourself the following question: Would he have been back on the team if Detroit would have been first in the conference? Or is it because they're in a tough spot?" team manager Mats Näslund told the Swedish newspaper Expressen. "Surely it's been forced because of the situation the Red Wings are in."
A Swedish doctor also got in on the action, telling the same newspaper that the team was risking the “function of [Franzen’s] knee” by letting him play so soon after the injury. Bjorn Waldebäck says he shouldn’t play until six months has passed.
Here’s another interesting tidbit from the Free Press: at the ’06 Olympics, Nik Kronwall played for Sweden despite playing just three NHL games after, you guessed it, ACL surgery the previous fall.
Those accusations brought some good quotes from the Red Wings side of things too – here’s what general manager Ken Holland had to say:
“If [team doctor] Dr. Clancy says he’s OK, that’s what we go by. We’ve signed Johan to a $43-million contract. He wouldn’t play if doctors didn’t say he’s ready.”
Franzen threw in a bit of sarcasm:
“I'm going to try to get three games in here before the break, but I probably won't be 100% and then I don't want to play in Olympics. I don't want to risk not being any good."
The update to this story is that after not speaking to him since November and then criticizing the Red Wings medical staff, Team Sweden is now all "gung-ho," as the Free Press’ Helene St. James puts it, about hearing daily updates on The Mule’s readiness.
Why are they so interested all of a sudden?
Fellow Red Wing/Swede Tomas Holmstrom has a knee injury and it was thought that Peter Forsberg could miss the Games with some nagging injuries, though the latest reports have him ready to go.
The fact that a guy with 25 goals and 41 points in his last 39 NHL playoff games is Sweden’s “plan B” is pretty scary – but this is their second sorta-controversy in the lead up to the Olympics.
Will that affect the team at all? Only time will tell!
Speaking of replacement players – Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf hurt his ankle earlier this week and will try it out this weekend before deciding whether or not he’ll suit up for Team Canada.
Hockey Canada has announced that if he can’t go, Philadelphia's Jeff Carter will fill in for him, the second time he made headlines this week.
On Monday, Carter hit Anssi Salmela into 2014 as he sniped a shorthanded goal, knocking him out and out of the game.