Dan Hamhuis’ health is in question. If he can’t play for Canada at the Olympics, who should replace him on the blueline?
Martin St-Louis will replace Steven Stamkos in Sochi. Debate over. Alas, just when we thought we were out of the Canada speculation game, Dan Hamhuis pulls us back in.
The Canucks defenseman will miss Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury. At this point, we’re close enough to the start of the Games for any malady, major or minor, to jeopardize a player’s shot at competing for gold.
If Hamhuis isn’t cleared to play for Canada, who should take his spot on the blueline? It depends on what GM Steve Yzerman wants.
Best available: Brent Seabrook
Seabrook should’ve made the team in the first place. He won gold with Canada in 2010 and is having an outstanding season, amassing 34 points and a plus-24 rating in 59 games. He’s a proven winner with two Stanley Cups and a penchant for scoring a clutch goal. Sorry, make that clutch goals. He’s mobile enough for his size, he blocks shots and he can shoot the puck. We shouldn’t, however, assume Seabrook will make the team to play with Hawks teammate Duncan Keith. Remember, at the Vancouver Games, Keith and Drew Doughty were the dynamite tandem.
Left-handed shot: Mark Giordano, Marc Staal, Dion Phaneuf
The likely reason Hamhuis made the team as a surprise pick: he shoots left and his presence gives Canada four lefties (Hamhuis, Keith, Jay Bouwmeester, Marc-Edouard Vlasic) and four righties (Doughty, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban). Ken Hitchcock is an assistant coach with Canada and, as we’ve documented in THN’s pages, loves deploying a defense corps with a righty and lefty on each pairing so every D-man can receive breakout passes and handle the puck under pressure on his forehand.
If Hamhuis is out and Canada still wants the Hitchcock model, Giordano, Staal and Phaneuf make sense, albeit for the fourth pairing. Giordano has a growing number of supporters on social media and it’s justified, as he’s playing his heart out right now with 10 points in his last 10 games. Staal has the best shutdown ability of this group. Phaneuf has elements of both, as he’s used to logging huge minutes against teams’ top forwards and he chips in offense.
Veteran presence: Dan Boyle
He’s a winner with a Cup ring and a gold medal and he can still quarterback a power play. Still, Boyle’s game is in clear decline and it’s not like Canada’s blueline lacks for experience and offense. A real long shot.
Note Kris Letang’s and Mike Green’s absences from this list. No point debating whether these polarizing offensive dynamos should be the No. 8 blueliner when both aren’t healthy enough to play for their NHL teams right now.
My two cents: go with Seabrook. If Canada wants a perfect balance of righties and lefties, it can achieve that with its top six and tuck Seabrook away in a reserve role.
Agree with me? Think someone else should get the nod? Have I forgotten someone? Let me know in the comments.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin