It isn’t official that NHL players will skate at the 2014 Winter Games that begin in a year from now in Sochi, Russia.
But all indications are that they will be there, and that will give Hockey Canada’s management team the painful job of deciding which star players make the team and which don’t.
Since full participation of NHL players in Olympic hockey began in 1998, Canada won gold the two times it was held in North America: in Salt Lake (2002), which was played on the larger international ice surface, and Vancouver (2010), which used an NHL-size rink.
But Canada was not in the medals on the bigger ice surfaces at Nagano, Japan (1998) and Turin, Italy (2006).
And they will need a team that can win on big ice, which does not favour the slower or older players.
Here are our picks on who should be on the 2014 team, given that much can change over the next year. Also, there is talk of bumping rosters from 23 to 25 players, so an extra defenceman and forward have been added in parentheses just in case. That makes three goalies, eight defencemen and 14 forwards.
Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks; Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens; Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins.
Some feel Canada won in 2010 despite having Luongo as the starter but he was solid when it counted in the gold medal game. He’s playing well again after some rough patches in recent years. Price is has been growing into an elite goalie since he was drafted in 2005. Fleury has struggled lately, but he was a top draft pick, was a backup in 2010 and has a Stanley Cup ring.
Other contenders: Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, a veteran who is brilliant when he gets hot. Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes, had a great 2011-12 season.
Defencemen: Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings; Shea Weber, Nashville Predators; Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks, Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues; Brent Seabrook, Chicago; Kris Letang, Pittsburgh; Mark Staal, New York Rangers; (Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks).
Doughty, Weber, Keith and Pietrangelo may be unmatched in the world as a top-4. The first three of them, plus Seabrook and Boyle, were on the 2010 team. Boyle is a question mark because he will be 37 next year. Letang brings quick open-ice play to the big rinks while Staal is strong at both ends. An oddity is that only Keith and Staal are left-hand shots, so someone would have to play on his off-side.
Other contenders: Dougie Hamilton, Boston Bruins, rookie has the size and skill to be a no-brainer pick by next year (he’s also a right-hand shot). Same for Justin Shultz, Edmonton Oilers, and P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens (both also shoot right). Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers, could be a left-shot option.
Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Jonathan Toews, Chicago; Rick Nash, New York Rangers; Eric Staal, Carolina; Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim; Patrice Bergeron, Boston; Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Tavares, New York Islanders; Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers; Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers; Taylor Hall, Edmonton; Joe Thornton, San Jose; (Mike Richards, Los Angeles).
Canada is so loaded with size and skill up front that by only taking 14, you’re leaving off a potential line or two of all-stars. Crosby, Toews, Nash, Staal, Perry, Geztlaf, Bergeron, Thornton and Richards all won gold in Vancouver. Getzlaf’s play has fallen off and his spot may be tenuous. The 33-year-old Thornton may also be overlooked. Stamkos, Tavares, Giroux and Eberle have emerged as stars since 2010. And who wouldn’t want No. 1 pick Hall blasting down left wing?
Nine of these 14 are centres, so some will need to play wing, as Eric Staal did so well in Vancouver. Nash and Hall are left-wingers, while Eberle and Perry play the right side. Giroux can play on the wing, and Richards can play anywhere.
Other contenders: Jordan Staal; Carolina, could make it as a battler and a checking centre. Logan Couture, San Jose, is an excellent two-way player. Tyler Seguin, Boston, is another emerging star. Milan Lucic, Boston, was considered for 2010 due to his size and scoring touch. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay,remains a great playmaker but will be 38 next year. James Neal, Pittsburgh, is a left-winger who scores. Same for Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars. Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames, played well on right wing at the last three Olympics, but is 35 and looks to be fading a touch.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version reported that the Salt Lake Games were played on NHL size ice.