Challenge: look at Team Canada’s list of 47 players invited to Olympic orientation camp and produce a starting roster that doesn’t leave off anyone you’d love to include on the team.
You’ll have more luck touching your elbow to your nose.
We’re still a little less than seven months away from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, but the release of orientation camp lists has titillated hockey fans who have now gone into full fantasy mode trying to form their own vision of the perfect final roster.
So, what the heck, I decided to join in the fun and take an early crack at what my ideal Canadian lineup would be.
Since the Red and White are loaded with centers, I started my process by picking out the four players I wanted to play pivot the most and filled in the forward units around them. I considered Steve Yzerman’s words that the 2006 Olympic team – the last to play on international-sized ice – “didn’t score a lot” and “needed more speed.”
I also kept in mind that Yzerman took bold steps to include players from a new generation on the 2010 team rather than automatically fall back on performers from the past. And though he pointed out leadership and big-game performance has great value, he followed it up with this bit of foreshadow:
“Having said that, we’ve got to make room for some of these younger players to come in. Some of these younger players are forcing their way into the lineup. Not only Stamkos, there will be a few of them. They’ve matured, they’ve put their time in and they’re elite players in the league.
“So it’s somewhat of a changing of the guard. There’s always been some transition where guys were on the cusp of breaking in at previous Olympics and for various reasons they weren’t selected and it’s time to move them in.”
With all that in mind, here’s my first attempt at forming Team Canada by putting together line combinations. However, I reserve the right to change my picks between now and February, as regular season performance will eventually come into consideration. And, boy, it’s difficult leaving some of these names off…
LINE 1 (LW-C-RW)
Steven Stamkos – Sidney Crosby – Martin St-Louis
My thinking: Crosby as the No. 1 center is a no-doubter. Putting the best player in the world (when healthy) between the best offensive duo in the NHL is a good way to make sure you don’t struggle to score goals as you did in 2006.
John Tavares – Jonathan Toews – Claude Giroux
My thinking: Captain Serious centers two newcomers to Canada’s Olympic entry. This line doesn’t lack in speed, offense or smarts and is full of players who have, at one time or another in the past three years, been considered in the running for the Hart Trophy.
Logan Couture – Patrice Bergeron – Mike Richards
My thinking: Another leader and true winner centers this line, which starts to tilt towards defense – though it doesn’t lack offense either. Like Bergeron, Richards is a winner and responsible competitor who has won a Cup and played in plenty of big games. Couture is the newcomer, but he’s ascended as a leader on the ice for the Sharks and is comfortable on the left side, where he has played in the past.
Jordan Staal – Eric Staal – Patrick Sharp
My thinking: Yes, I left off Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in favor of the Staals, which, I accept, will likely be viewed as my most contentious picks. I’ve always been a fan of Jordan Staal’s two-way play and the way he is able to protect the puck anywhere on the ice. Eric Staal is a better faceoff man than Getzlaf, uses his speed more effectively and is coming off one of his best seasons. Sharp, another responsible two-way player with speed to burn and a winning history, has to be on this team somewhere and, to me, fits well on the bottom line.
The most glaring are Getzlaf and Perry. While both performed well in 2010…that was four years ago. Both are world-class players I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see on the final roster, but for me it came down to this: a) which of the above centers would you replace with Getzlaf? b) does the pair’s down-low cycle style translate to larger ice better than what any of the above combos bring? and c) would you take Perry without Getzlaf? These aren’t questions with any clear answers.
Brad Marchand is another “snub” I really tried to squeeze onto this roster somehow. While I didn’t fit him on any of these four lines, I think he’s a perfect option to take as a black ace to have in case of injury or if a lineup change is necessary. James Neal is another player who falls into that category.
Drew Doughty – Shea Weber
My thinking: Two of the best defenders in the game. Next…
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
My thinking: Familiar pairing in the NHL, both were on Team Canada in 2010 and have two Stanley Cups to their names. Good combination of size, speed, puck-moving and defense – everything Canada is after.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Alex Pietrangelo
My thinking: Here is where it gets tricky. How much of a balance between lefties and righties will Canada want on its defense? Pietrangelo shoots right and of those on the first two pairings, Keith is the only one who shoots left. So – will Kris Letang or Norris winner P.K. Subban slide off because of the way they shoot? Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Hamhuis, Dion Phaneuf, Marc Staal and Karl Alzner are all lefties who will be considered, but in my eyes Vlasic is a real dark horse here. Responsible defensively with good speed, he logs north of 20 minutes a game for the Sharks and has really emerged as a player since 2010.
Letang and Subban. That has more to do with them being righties than anything else though. If the Canadian brain trust isn’t concerned with only having one lefty on defense, I’d sub in one for Vlasic.
I’ve always been a fan of Roberto Luongo and would, right now, pick him as the No. 1 with Carey Price a close second. But this position – the most questionable on the team – will surely be decided in the first couple months of the NHL schedule. Don't count out Cam Ward or, really, Martin Brodeur even though they weren’t invited to camp. A strong start to the NHL season could catapult someone into the No. 1 position.
Thoughts? Hate mail? Let me hear it all below.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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