With only 5 days remaining before 47 of Canada’s best hockey players convene in Calgary, I figured now would be a good time to give my thoughts to how Team Canada will look at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
This “camp” will not resemble a training camp by any means, but will rather be more of an info/strategy session. In fact, they won’t even be stepping onto the ice.
Most of the pundits have chosen to select their team based on the 47 player orientation camp roster, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right way to go. Obviously the majority of the players selected will be from that group, but I believe that a player that has a strong start to the season could (and should) play his way onto the roster.
I also believe that picking teammates because of their chemistry is highly overrated. I have seen some lists with Chris Kunitz on it, because he has played with Sidney Crosby. It’s the same reason why Brent Seabrook was picked in 2010 but ended up not playing a lot with Duncan Keith. That’s because Canada was loaded on D and Seabrook was clearly the 7th defenceman. Remember all the hoopla surrounding the San Jose Sharks trio of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley in 2010? They ended up being one of Canada’s least effective lines. Meanwhile Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards and Rick Nash (who weren’t familiar with playing with each other) became arguably Canada’s best line.
If I had to pick Team Canada today (obviously my picks will change by the team is chosen in December), here is who is on my team:
Lets start with the juiciest topic. Who is going to be Canada’s starting goalie in Sochi? In my mind there are no locks to make the team, even Roberto Luongo (this got me into a lot of hot water with more than a few Canucks fans on Twitter last month). If any goalie has a bad first 2+ months, they risk not making Team Canada.
Luongo – Price – Ward
Notable omissions: Smith, Holtby, Crawford, Fleury
As it stands today, Roberto Luongo is my starting goalie in Sochi. He has the experience and more importantly he is the most talented. He is also 34 years old and may begin to see his level of play regress. That’s why he will need to be good in the first 2+ months of the season to be the starting goalie. Carey Price is feast of famine, but I believe he will have a good season and will make the team. Battling for the backup job will be Cam Ward. Ward wasn’t selected for the orientation camp and that made no sense to me whatsoever. His SV% numbers are comparable to Luongo’s in the last 3 seasons, on bad defensive teams. Ward also has experience, having won a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006.
The most interesting decision facing Steve Yzerman and the rest of the Team Canada management team will be on how much they value left shot defencemen. Canada is loaded on the right side with guys like Doughty, Weber, Letang, Subban, Pietrangelo, etc. On the left side it gets rather thin after Duncan Keith.
Keith (L) - Doughty (R)
Subban (R) - Weber (R)
Hamhuis (L) – Letang (R)
Bouwmeester (L) – Pietrangelo (R)
Notable omissions: Seabrook (R), Boyle (R), Phaneuf (L), Green (R), Staal (L), Vlasic (L)
I am banking that the left/right shot issue is valued by the Team Canada brass and they will want at least 3 of their 8 defencemen to be left handed. That’s the reason why Brent Seabrook doesn’t make this team and Dan Hamhuis does (Hamhuis’ steady play and smooth skating on international sized ice also work in his favour). Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo get the nod as well in part because of their reliable play and skating ability. Dan Boyle gets passed over because of his age (37) while Dion Phaneuf gets passed over because of his risky play.
E. Staal – Crosby – Tavares
St Louis – Stamkos – Giroux
M. Richards – Toews – Nash
Perry – Getzlaf – Sharp
Notable omissions: Thornton, Iginla, Neal, J. Staal, Hall, Eberle, Lucic
Joe Thornton is probably the most decorated player to be left off my Team Canada roster, and it is because of his age and lack of foot speed. It’s also the position he plays (centre), for which Canada is absolutely loaded. It pains me to leave Jarome Iginla off the team after all he has done for Canada, but he is clearly past his prime. In my mind, Canada has too much talent to be picking undeserving players like James Neal or Chris Kunitz just because of prior experience playing with Sidney Crosby. There also isn’t room for defensive specialists like Jordan Staal, given the fact that this team will already have players like Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron to kill penalties and play tough minutes. If the 2014 Olympics were on NHL sized ice, Milan Lucic would be a lock to make the team, but it isn’t so I am picking Logan Couture instead.
Steve Yzerman has a lot of options when he makes his final decisions for who makes Team Canada and who doesn’t. He needs to find the right mix of experience, skill and chemistry. Canada has made mistakes in the past, like in 1998 when they chose third liner Rob Zamuner to play a defensive role rather than asking Pat Verbeek, Mike Peca, Ryan Smyth to play that role instead (or maybe they should have been looking for a shootout specialist). In 2006 Todd Bertuzzi was chosen based on reputation, Bryan McCabe was chosen based on his point totals and Simon Gagne, Ed Jovanovski and Eric Brewer were chosen based on loyalty while rookie Sidney Crosby was overlooked.
The most important factor when picking Team Canada is picking players who are playing well for reasonably well defined roles. All four lines will have skill and be threats to score but simply picking the top point producers isn’t the way to go. Steve Yzerman will need to think about who will be kill penalties and who will be playing on the power play. Having an idea of who will fit on a particular line is alright, but history has taught us that line combos are made to be broken in the Olympic tournament, so having versatile players is important.
There’s less than 6 months to go until Sochi 2014, can’t wait.