Players left Canada’s Olympic orientation camp in Calgary knowing the road to proving they belong in Sochi begins now.
Coach Mike Babcock wanted each player to know what it would take to make the team, but it’s up to general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff to start evaluating once the regular season gets underway.
“The final scouting for the management group to put the final roster together begins immediately,” Yzerman said.
That’s a lot of pressure all around, when the expectation in Canada is nothing short of a gold medal. Team Canada’s management group has a representative from every division—the Boston Bruins’ Peter Chiarelli, the Detroit Red Wings’ Ken Holland, the St. Louis Blues’ Doug Armstrong and the Edmonton Oilers’ Kevin Lowe—so the spotlight will be bright.
“I think it’s going to be on your mind fairly often, whether you’re being asked about it or you’re playing against guys who were at the camp, it’s going to come up,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s always in the back of your mind, but I think if you just focus on playing well for your own team and making sure you have a good first half, then everything kind of takes care of itself.”
In the immediate future, players return to their preparations for training camp. Canada’s coaches and front-office personnel have jobs to do as well, but they’ll stay in touch regularly, mostly on conference calls.
“We’ll arrange our schedule over the next week or so to get ready for the start of the regular season,” Yzerman said Tuesday evening. “We’ll get together as a group early November to narrow things down a little bit and talk about what we’re seeing and make sure we’re all in constant communication and get organized from November to mid-December and make our final decisions at that point.”
The focus will be on monitoring the 47 players invited to camp, even though anyone can work his way into the Olympic conversation with a strong enough start. Yzerman doesn’t consider anyone who was in Calgary a “long shot.”
“We’ll keep an eye on everybody but focus on particular teams, particular games, particular players that we’re deciding on,” he said. “There was a few guys we don’t feel the need to watch. But we know what they can do and they’re going to be on this team, assuming they’re healthy.”
Yzerman estimated that, conservatively, there were eight or nine locks to make it. Crosby, Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and defenceman Duncan Keith, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, Los Angeles Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, Tampa Bay Lightning centre Steven Stamkos, Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, New York Islanders centre John Tavares and New York Rangers winger Rick Nash seem to fit that bill.
Putting together the rest of the roster could be a painstaking process, considering Canada’s depth. Weber wants no part of that.
“That’s why I’m the player, there’s too many tough decisions,” he said. “You go down the list and everybody deserves the chance. That’s why they’re here. There’s even guys that aren’t here that probably will get a good look during the season. We’re very fortunate in Canada to have a big selection, but definitely some tough choices.”
Yzerman expects to have the roster figured out by mid-to-late December. The deadline for all countries to submit is Dec. 31.
Between now and then, plenty could change Team Canada’s potential makeup.
“There’s a lot of could-be’s, but I think the first half of the year just has such an impact on who’s on the team,” Crosby said. “I’m sure there’s some guys in mind, but there’ll be guys who have standout first halves, and will make it tough not to be selected. So I think we’re going to see here in the first half who really shows they want to be part of it.”