Team Canada Hockey Preview
UPDATE : This article was written over a year ago, as a preview of the Olympic Hockey Tournament. Please check out our updated Olympic Hockey Primer, and our full Podcast Preview of the Olympic Hockey Tournament.
Updating our 2010 Winter Olympic Ice Hockey Preview, today we examine Canada. And there’s no more hotly debated national team than who will represent Team Canada in 2010. Not only does Canada boast the majority of NHL players (unofficially 52.8% of all NHLers at last count), but Canada will host the 2010 games for the second time in Winter Olympics history. What player wouldn’t want the honor of representing his home country on home soil in arguably its most popular sport (Canada has a total of 574,125 players registered nationwide, 1.76% of its population)? And as strange as it may sound, Canada has never won a gold medal in any sport while hosting an Olympics. That includes the Calgary Winter Games of 1988 and the Montreal Summer Games of 1976. The men’s ice hockey team offers one of the better bets Canada has for gold in 2010. Although odds favor the host country winning gold in something before the men’s ice hockey final, maybe the following skaters can help finally bring a host country gold to Canada.
The biggest obstacle in selecting a national team is who to leave off. With such an abundance of talent, there’s inevitably going to be some future Hall of Famer, or a current All-Star, or a future superstar who ends up sitting at home next Olympics. For example, people still wonder why Sidney Crosby was left off the 2006 squad that disappointed in Torino. No matter who makes the cut, some big name will not make the team and their absence can be a lightning rod for any underachievement. Despite all the talent, Canada has only one one medal in the three Olympics since NHLers were allowed to play, a gold in 2002. It just goes to show that nothing is guaranteed in single elimination international tournaments.
Team selection will be overseen by Hockey Canada. Canada is currently ranked number one in the IIHF World Ranking. Combined with home ice advantage, they will be heavy favorites to capture gold. The current coach is Ken Hitchcock.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks
Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames
Dany Heatley, Ottawa Senators
Rick Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks
Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes
Simon Gagné, Philadelphia Flyers
Jeff Carter, Philadelphia Flyers
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks
Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers
Brenden Morrow, Dallas Stars
Health permitting, there are several locks on the offensive side of the ice, starting with Crosby. Even beyond Crosby, Canada’s not hurting for offense with players like Thornton, Lecavalier, Iginla, and Heatley. All are going to be on this team. The next question to ask is how many centers does this team want. We’ve already included three natural centers, and several of the next wave of candidates are also centers. To take them means you’re going to ask someone to play out of position. For many players that’s not an issue. But there may be a tendency to include at least some natural wings so not too many players are forced into new positions.
Let’s start the rest of the selection with a few natural wings to get the ball rolling. Gagné and Doan have national team experience and are playing well. Both are in. Rick Nash does as well, even if he’s played some center this season. He’s in too. The next spot goes to Jeff Carter, who leads the league in goals and has played his way onto Team Canada. He can’t be left off. Ditto for Getzlaf, who is just too good a player to miss the cut. That puts us at ten forwards, with only three spots remaining. With some of the big names not yet selected, you can see a roster crunch coming.
The most prominent name I haven’t mentioned so far is Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche. He’s still productive (when not injured) and may very well still be playing next season. There will be some who will want him on the team, and I can’t fault that logic. He’s a veteran, a great player, and a future Hall of Famer. Even if he isn’t quite as good as he once was or as good as some other players not on the squad, Canada’s not really going to be hurt by his presence. It’s a compelling argument to make, but I’m selecting the best 13 forwards I can, and Sakic misses this cut. In his place I’m inclined to take two players that are current team captains in Jonathan Toews and Mike Richards. I realize both are natural centers and this creates a bit of a log jam up the middle. I’m not worried that some of the centers can adapt to the wings, and the intangibles provided by these guys are too much to pass up. Toews started the season slow, but has started to really come on of late.
That leaves one spot remaining, and I’m going to pencil in Brendan Morrow. His ACL injury clouds this selection, but he should be recovered by the summer and this team could use another natural winger. By taking him I cut out several notable players. Topping that list is Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes. I suspect he gets on this team somehow, either through injury or better play. Also missing is offensive wizard Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators. He’s not good enough to be on a top line of this team, and doesn’t bring enough defense for the bottom couple lines. I also hate to cut Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks, Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins, and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning. One other name to consider is phenom John Tavares. He’s not going to make this squad, even with the backlash about Crosby from 2006. But Tavares should be real good, real fast. Here’s a sample of what he can do:
Scott Niedermeyer, Anaheim Ducks
Chris Pronger, Anaheim Ducks
Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames
Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
Robin Regehr, Calgary Flames
Mike Green, Washington Capitals
Niedermeyer and Pronger are Team Canada staples, and although both are getting up there in age, both should be expected to be selected if they are still playing. Niedermeyer almost retired before last season, but since he’s still active, we operate under the assumption he’ll be a go in 2010. If Niedermeyer isn’t around, you’ll probably see a young defensemen go in his place, likely either Brent Burns of the Minnesota Wild or Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks. I’d give a slight edge to Keith at this point. After the top two, players like Phaneuf and Bouwmeester seem like locks right now, and help usher in the next generation of Canadian defenders. Weber has quickly joined that status after returning to health this season.
The last two spots are a little more uncertain. Regehr is a good bet based on his defensive prowess and his experience. Experience could come in handy for a group that trends a little young, even moreso if Niedermeyer bows out. The last spot I gave to Mike Green, who really exploded on to the scene during the 2007-2008 season. Injuries have hampered him this year, but he still is a fantastic offensive rearguard and could be used as a power-play specialist. With seven defensemen, it’s always great to have a guy with a unique skill set to fill out the roster. If it’s not Green, it should be Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks. Both are similar type players. If you want a real darkhorse, keep an eye on Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. It’s almost certain that it’s too early to select him, but it gives a glimpse of the future.
Martin Brodeur,New Jersey Devils
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens
It hasn’t been a good season for either of Canada’s top two goalies as both Brodeur and Luongo have gone down with injuries. Brodeur will miss most of the season, and given his age there’s at least some concern as to how he recovers. But in the end, he’s Martin Brodeur and he makes this team if he wants the spot. He’s the only man to backstop Canada to gold after all. Luongo should be back fairly soon, and was playing very well prior to getting hurt. If he returns at the same elite level, it may be enough to capture the number one job away from Brodeur, but I wouldn’t count on it. There’s a reason Brodeur has won four of the last five Vezina trophies.
Most people agree on the first two goaltending spots. It’s the last spot that dominates the conversation. To me, Price should get the spot. And it’s not because he’s a young goaltender that can be groomed for a larger role. Price is playing very well this season, at least when healthy, and has won at every level he’s been at. There are certainly arguments to be made for Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins or Jean-Sebastian Giguere of the Anaheim Ducks, but in my mind this is Price’s spot to lose. It would take an implosion, particularly in the playoffs to get bumped from the squad.
Outlook: Canada’s going to be the most talented team in Vancouver. They’re also going to be playing at home in front of some rabid fans. And they will benefit from smaller, NHL style rinks this time around. All the pieces are in place for a historic gold medal run. The question is if this team executes. I believe the answer is yes. But even if they don’t, I can’t really say they failed. There’s a certain randomness to tournaments like this and you never know what it all will bring. And that’s part of the fun of watching. For Canada, at least you’ll have this fan no matter the result: