Just days after Sidney Crosby scored the “golden goal” at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, pundits – and wannabe pundits alike – started sharing their predictions for Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic roster.
Every so often, we’d hear another one . . . and then another one.
Predictions, as they say, are for gypsies. Predicting Team Canada’s Olympic hockey roster (and doing it that early)? I’m not even sure a gypsy could do that.
But now, as hard as it may be to believe, the 2014 Olympic Games are just over a year away. There’s still a lot of hockey left to be played before Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman must name his final roster, but it’s no longer a stretch to start looking ahead.
Thanks to the latest NHL lockout, the evaluation process for Yzerman and his staff has been reduced by half a season. The upcoming months, as a result, will go a long way in determining the squad that will attempt to defend Canada’s Olympic gold in 2014.
Below you’ll see what I suspect that squad might look like. But before I begin, here’s the obligatory mention that the participation of NHL players in Sochi has yet to be confirmed. I wouldn’t call it a formality, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t happen.
Without further ado . . .
Rick Nash* — Sidney Crosby* — Claude Giroux
John Tavares — Steven Stamkos — Martin St. Louis
Mike Richards* — Jonathan Toews* — Patrice Bergeron*
Jamie Benn — Ryan Getzlaf* — Corey Perry*
* Member of Canada’s 2010 Olympic roster.
Of the 13 forwards I’ve selected, I only consider five of them to be “locks,” which is saying something. Barring injury, I don’t see any scenario where Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Rick Nash, and Jonathan Toews don’t make this team. Aside from that, I think it’s wide open.
As we all know, Canada has an embarrassment of riches up front, particular down the middle. The fact that I left players like Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Jarome Iginla off this roster is a prime example of that. In Thornton’s case, the international-sized ice weighed heavily on my decision. He’s never had the quickest feet, and at 34 years old it’d be unreasonable to expect him to keep up.
I’d throw Jarome Iginla, who will be 36 next winter, into that same category. Leaving Iginla off the roster was a decision I struggled with, particularly because of his leadership qualities and ability to fill a third or fourth line grinder role, but I think the versatility of someone like Patrice Bergeron will be more appealing.
Bergeron struggled big time in 2010, but he was playing hurt at the time and he’s still one of the premier two-way forwards in the league.
Without Iginla, the “veteran quota” up front will be filled by Martin St. Louis, which may come as a surprise to some. He’ll be 38 next year, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Neither is Thornton, mind you, but St. Louis is still one of the fastest – and most fit – players in the game. Can’t say the same for “Big Joe.” Not sold yet? How about the fact that only Stamkos has recorded more points than St. Louis over the last three seasons?
Some will argue that St. Louis’ point totals are inflated from playing with Stamkos, but guess who I have him playing with in Sochi? It’s also worth noting that Yzerman watches St. Louis on a nightly basis and is well aware of what he’s capable of.
At the other end of the age-spectrum, I’d be very surprised if John Tavares doesn’t make this team as a top-six forward. Sometimes, he flies under the radar playing over in Long Island, but he still averaged just about a point-per-game last year and will almost certainly better that in this shortened season. Imagine what he could do flanking Crosby or Stamkos. It’s also hard to ignore what he’s done for Canada internationally – both at the World Junior Championships (20 points in 13 games) as well as the World Championships (12 goals in 14 games).
Along those lines, I have Jordan Eberle rounding out Canada’s roster as the 13th forward (though I’d admit it was tempting to throw him on Crosby’s wing). Call him a dark horse, but I’m convinced Eberle is one of the best pure snipers in the game. Do I have anything to back that up statistically (aside from his “unsustainable” shooting percentage that everyone loves to point out), not really. But watching him play, it’s easy to see it. He makes plays out of nothing, he may very well have the softest hands in the league and perhaps above all, he’s a big-game performer – something that can’t be underestimated in such a short tournament.
Another prime candidate for the 13th forward spot is Tyler Seguin, whose play on the larger ice surface at the Spengler Cup and in Switzerland during the lockout should at least propel him into the discussion. If St. Louis doesn’t crack the squad, I could even see Seguin replacing him in the top six.
Lastly, I’ve included Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on my roster – somewhat reluctantly. Despite taking a step back offensively last season, they both bring an element of size and grit that is much needed to complement players like Crosby and Giroux (that’s part of the reason why I think Jamie Benn will make the team as well). But there are a number of other Canadians who could also fill that role – perhaps just as well if not better. Ultimately, I believe Hockey Canada will turn to the Ducks duo once again, but they’re both on the bubble for me.
Duncan Keith* — Drew Doughty*
Kris Letang — Shea Weber*
Marc Staal — Brent Seabrook*
Things aren’t quite as interesting on the back end – or so it seems. Of the seven defencemen selected, I’d consider Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Kris Letang, and Alex Pietrangelo to be the obvious choices. I think the bigger debate is how each of them will be used.
The final two defencemen I chose were Brent Seabrook, who was a member of the 2010 squad and is still in the prime of his career, and Marc Staal, who is quickly becoming one of the league’s elite blueliners.
Staal is particularly attractive because aside from Keith he’d be the only natural left-sided (and left-handed) defenceman on the team. That’s one area where the departure of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer really hurts. Assuming Keith and Doughty are reunited, Staal and Seabrook could be used as a “shutdown pair” if the coaching staff decides to go that route.
If not Staal, another legitimate candidate to fill that role is Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis – someone who is above average at just about every facet of the game.
It’s a four-man race between the pipes for Team Canada, with Cam Ward being the odd man out. In reality, Yzerman could go with Ward or Marc-Andre Fleury and it wouldn’t make much of a difference, because I think Roberto Luongo and Carey Price will be the go-to tandem in Sochi.
Say what you want about Luongo, but he’s still one of the best back-stoppers in the game and he’s proving it early this season – not to mention the fact that he won gold for Canada in Vancouver. I’d be surprised if he’s not in net to start the tournament, but you’d have to think Price will get an opportunity at some point and who’s to say he won’t make the most of it like Luongo did in 2010?
By leaving out players like Seguin, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal and Tyler Myers, some might argue that I’ve (wrongly) favoured experience over youth – not unlike what Wayne Gretzky did back in 2006 for the Turin Olympics. We all know how that ended.
But when you look at the numbers, the average age of Canada’s gold-medal winning roster in 2010 was 27 years old (excluding the three goalies). The average age of my projected roster (again, excluding the three goalies): 26.9 years old. It’s almost identical.
Last year, Yzerman told the Edmonton Journal that he expects to see anywhere between 10-12 new faces on Canada’s roster in Sochi. Mine has 10.
Take that for what you will.
Yzerman has his work cut out for him, but I bet you won’t find him complaining.