Imagine a Canadian Olympic hockey team without Rob Blake, Scott Niedermayer, Ed Jovanovski or Wade Redden.
All four were named to Canada’s team in 2006, although Niedermayer and Jovanovski were injured and couldn’t play. There’s a chance that none of them will be on the ice for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
That is because, along with centre, defence has become Canada’s deepest position for talent in recent years and it is where general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff will likely face their toughest decisions when they name the 23-man squad.
Last month, The Canadian Press had Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Green, Dan Boyle, Shea Weber, Chris Pronger, Duncan Keith and Dion Phaneuf on its 2010 Olympic team, with Robyn Regehr and rookie Drew Doughty on the bubble.
That leaves out talented rearguards like Brian Campbell, Brent Burns and Dennis Wideman, not to mention the older Olympic stalwarts.
In fact, putting Niedermayer, a B.C. product, back on the team at the expense of Calgary’s Phaneuf is the only change we’ve made from our March predictions.
The 35-year-old Niedermayer matches with his Anaheim teammate Pronger. He had 14 goals and 59 points in 82 games for the Ducks and, although he was minus-8, his 26:55 of ice time was only one second less per game than Pronger.
Phaneuf plays as much for Calgary, and had 11 goals and 36 assists and was minus-11. The 24-year-old is a big hitter with a blazing shot, but Canada has plenty of point men for the power play.
Blake, who played at the last three Olympics, had 45 points and was plus-11 for San Jose and can’t entirely be counted out even though he is 39.
Redden, now with the New York Rangers, and Jovanovski, a member of the Phoenix Coyotes, seem to have taken a step back from their best years.
Campbell may suffer from being too much like other puck-carrying defencemen who play the point, like Boyle and Green, while Burns’ season was marred by an injury.
Wideman was a revelation this season. The Kitchener, Ont., native had 50 points, played 24:38 per game and was plus-32 on a very good Boston Bruins team.
The team is also stacked at centre, with Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Eric Staal. Strong candidate Patrick Marleau is also a centre, so a few guys will have to play on the wing.
Martin Brodeur (New Jersey): He went into a little slide after breaking Patrick Roy’s career wins record, but remains the game’s best money goalie.
Roberto Luongo (Vancouver): His strong finish has made the Canucks a darkhorse Cup contender.
Steve Mason (Columbus): 10 shutouts as a rookie. Yikes.
Chris Pronger (Anaheim): A veteran workhorse and a presence in his own zone.
Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim): Still a smooth skater and smart playmaker.
Mike Green (Washington): He sometimes plays more like a rover than a defenceman, but his 31 goals and 73 points speak for themselves.
Dan Boyle (San Jose): Led the NHL’s top team in ice time and had 57 points.
Shea Weber (Nashville): Established himself as a premier two-way rearguard this season.
Duncan Keith (Chicago): Another two-way player who has become a key man on a talented team.
Jay Bouwmeester (Florida): Size, fine skating and much international experience are his assets.
Jarome Iginla (Calgary): A rock of consistency on the wing.
Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay): Played through injury for a struggling team, but still a top talent.
Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh): Missed five games or might have edged teammate Evgeni Malkin for the Art Ross Trophy.
Rick Nash (Columbus): A natural left-winger with size and scoring touch.
Dany Heatley (Ottawa): Another natural winger who knows where to find the net.
Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim): A big, physical centre with 91 points this season.
Jeff Carter (Philadelphia): A 46-goal scorer.
Joe Thornton (San Jose): Big faceoff man and playmaker.
Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay): A small winger with speed, but his best attributes may be consistency and a burning desire to compete.
Mike Richards (Philadelphia): An exceptional defensive centre who also had 30 goals and 80 points.
Shane Doan (Phoenix): A leader who can score but also adapt to a checking role if needed.
Simon Gagne (Philadelphia): Experienced two-way winger bounced back from injuries with a 34-goal season.
Jonathan Toews (Chicago): The young Blackhawks captain has skill and can fit into any role.
G Cam Ward, D Robyn Regehr, D Drew Doughty, F Patrick Marleau, F Marc Savard, F Corey Perry.