It is widely believed that most European players view the World Championships as more important than a Stanley Cup. A pretty good case can be made for that when you look at the turnout for the European teams in the WHC as opposed to those for the US and Canada. When a North American player's NHL team is eliminated, he is dejected and doesn't care about playing a "consolation" tournament overseas. On the other hand, even after the second round of the NHL playoffs, Russians and other Europeans rush to put on the flag of their nation and fight for gold.
Now, I'm not going to question the patriotism of North American hockey players like some asshat at the IIHF did yesterday, and I'm not going to question the loyalty to their NHL teams of European players. However, I do wonder if there isn't a subconscious desire among some players to get an early exit from the NHL to go play in the IIHF World Championships?
Look at how much better some players do when they put on that other uniform. Kovy would be case #1. He's amazing in the NHL, but in the IIHF tournament, he's always the best player on a team with true world-class talent.
Correct me if I'm wrong because I'm having trouble finding the rosters, but I believe Nabokov won a gold for Russia two years ago after an embarrassing exit from the NHL playoffs. This year, however, after collapsing in the Olympics, Nabokov was publicly given the cold shoulder in favor of Varlamov. Knowing that he wouldn't get the chance to start in the WHC might be a bit of added motivation for Nabby to get past the first round in San Jose.
Again, I'm not trying to start a conspiracy theory here, and I don't think anyone is tanking games. I just wonder if there's less motivation for Europeans, and Russians in general, to win in the Stanley Cup playoffs when they'd rather be playing for a Gold Medal in the WHC.