Now that the nation has had a few days to catch its collective breath, it’s as good a time as any to take a closer look at the roster that will try to capture gold for Canada in Vancouver this February.
I think we can all agree that assembling such a team is an unenviable task, especially when you consider the high-end talent that must be left off. There just aren’t enough spots to include everyone who deserves to be there.
Still, there were a few shockers (at least for me).
Primarily, the absence of Martin St. Louis is both surprising and disappointing. He’s having a great year (45 points in 41 games) playing on a line with Steven Stamkos, and was one of only a handful of players who actually competed hard during the Travesty in Torino four years ago. I’m not saying loyalty should trump performance, but when a guy has a track record AND is performing, then for heaven’s sake put him on the team. St. Louis’ speed and creativity are tailor made for such a tournament: can you imagine him on a line with a pair of finishers like Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla?
I have a few other minor issues with the roster, but rather than type out a rant in stream-of-consciousness mode, I have decided to organize the invitees and omissions from Team Canada 2010 into 8 groups. This is my best attempt to organize the potential members of Team Canada and assess their situation regarding their inclusion or exclusion. Keep in mind that, for the most part, I think Yzerman and his minions picked a good team. But what kind of Canadian would I be if I didn’t complain at least a little?
Let the griping begin!
Group 1: The ‘they would have had to be dead/comatose/in jail to not make the team’ group
Analysis: It’s startling to consider just how few sure things there were for Team Canada this time around. But you have to assume that these four guys were shoo-ins all along for their combination of skill and leadership. It’s no coincidence that three of these guys will be wearing letters for the red and white. It’s also worth noting that with his sub par season (4G, 21A, -9), Niedermayer did everything he could to play his way off the team and STILL made the squad as the captain.
Group 2: The ‘they were always strong candidates and didn’t screw up badly enough to be removed form consideration’ group
Analysis: The general consensus seems to be that Morrow and Richards were two of the last names added to the team. They’ve both had slightly below average seasons, but are strong two-way players, captains of their respective teams, and world junior veterans. Eric Staal’s season (and Olympic hopes) seemed ruined by injuries and a total meltdown by the Carolina Hurricanes this year, but his strong play of late (14 points in his last 10 games) showed the brass that he is healthy and motivated. He is a worthy addition and will be incredibly difficult for some of the smaller European defensemen to handle.
Group 3: The ‘they were considered too young or fell out of favour and needed to play their way back onto the team, but did’ group
Analysis: I, for one, was shocked to hear Steve Yzerman say in an interview on the Fan 590 that the San Jose forwards were essentially off the team but played their way back on with a strong first half. That’s how totally and vehemently the hockey world had soured on the Sharks, who have basically become the NHL’s version of the Atlanta Braves: regular season brilliance, postseason ineptitude. Well, they have been on fire so far in 09/10 and are the best line in the entire league. Yzerman would have been insane to leave them off and Coach Mike Babcock would be insane to break them up. As for Doughty and Toews, they are worthy candidates and I’m glad that their youth didn’t prevent them from being included. Toews is worth inclusion if only for his prior international shootout dominance.
Group 4: The ‘they always had a decent shot at the roster, just like 15 or so other guys’ group
Analysis: I’ve been beating the drum for Keith since last year’s All-Star break, and Fleury essentially won the third spot by default when someone kidnapped Cam Ward and replaced him with an imposter this season. Seabrook makes sense, I guess, since he and Keith play so well as a defensive pair for the Blackhawks. Look for them to be kept together (Doughty is destined to be the 7th D-man). That brings us to Bergeron, the name that looked the most out of place to hockey fans nationwide. I don’t have a huge problem with his inclusion, but I’ll be shocked if he gets any significant playing time in the tournament.
Word from Hockey Canada is that P-Berg was included because of his strong penalty killing and 8th-best faceoff percentage (58.2%). That’s all well and good, but can you really see him taking an important faceoff in the Olympics over Crosby or Toews (58.4% and 59.8%, respectively). Even Marleau and Thornton (53.1% and 54%, respectively) are so close to P-Berg’s percentage that it hardly seems worth it to include another faceoff specialist. And as for his penalty killing, well that’s a hard thing to quantify, but for my money I would take my chances with a guy like Brad Richards, who does a lot of the same things as Bergeron but with much more offence (Richards has 48 points to Bergeron’s 31). I can be convinced that it’s a good idea for Yzerman to take an energy guy who is tough on the boards over another skilled guy like St. Louis, but if you are going to make that decision, at least go with Richards.
Group 5: The ‘they easily could have made the team and maybe should have’ group
Martin St. Louis
The word in Calgary is that Bouwmeester is next on the list if any of the 7 Canadian defencemen get hurt. By the way, how glum do you think the Flames’ dressing room was following the Team Canada announcement? At one point the local media was making noise that there would be as many as 4 Flames on the squad, yet Iginla was the only one to ultimately make the cut. You can’t tell me that Bouwmeester didn’t fully expect to be heading to Vancouver.
But back to the Canadian defence for a moment… this is the deepest position on the team and undoubtedly led to a lot of headaches for Stevie Y. In one sense, it is hard to go wrong picking 7 defencemen from such a talented pool. In another sense, it is foolish to keep someone as offensively gifted as Mike Green off the roster. He is leading all NHL defencemen in point with 39, plays 25 minutes a night and is a +13. He quarterbacks the second-best powerplay in the league and by all accounts a fantastic teammate. So why was he passed over for the likes of Drew Doughty and Brent Seabrook (and if the rumours are true, Jay Bouwmeester)? I think it has to do with his defensive meltdown in last year’s playoffs. He’s not that bad a defensive player (at least he hasn’t been since) but that was a pretty epic failure and Hockey Canada was no doubt a little gun shy to replicate the Bryan McCabe disaster from Torino four years ago.
Group 6: The ‘they had a shot but played their way off the team or got injured’ group
Former Olympians Lecavalier, Gagne and Regehr were left off this time, signaling that the brass was serious about the turning the page and moving on from Torino.
Group 7: The ‘they were inexplicably never really considered by Hockey Canada’ group
Can someone tell me what Hockey Canada has against Marc Savard? Despite being a gifted playmaker and offensive force (97, 96, 78 and 88 points the last four seasons, 22 in 25 games so far this year) he wasn’t even invited to the Olympic camp this summer. You know who was? Milan Lucic. Jordan Staal. Andy McDonald. Dan Cleary.
Huh? Dan Freakin’ Cleary?!?!
I have a sneaking suspicion Savard slept with Bob Nicholson’s wife. How else do you explain such a humiliating snub? Cammalleri was also summarily dismissed, despite his game-changing scoring ability.
Group 8: The ‘they never really had a chance but their names were bandied about nonetheless’ group
Shane Doan gets a lot of love for his Hockey Championship experience, and Sharp was a trendy pick for a while this winter, but c’mon, this team represents the best hockey players that our country is able to assemble. Let’s not fall to far in love with the scrappy underdog picks. Several of these guys might make the 2014 team (if NHLers go to Russia) but this time around it just wasn’t meant to be.
So how do I think Team Canada will fare in Vancouver? There’s no doubt they are the best team on paper, but I’m scared by the possibility that a hot goaltender (ie Ryan Miller, Miika Kiprusoff, Evgeni Nabakov) might steal the tournament. Still, I’m picking Canada for gold, with Russia taking the silver and Sweden the bronze.