Steve Yzerman is watching. And he’s revising.
The executive director of Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team is already working off a fairly short list of players to consider for 2010, but it’s certainly not written in stone. In fact, Yzerman and his advisers are likely to make some changes to their top secret A-list when they get together next month.
“Players are popping onto the radar screen that are having better years,” Yzerman said Thursday on a conference call. “(Since) early November, there’s a handful of guys that we hadn’t really thought that much about or discussed a lot. … That list potentially will be fine-tuned a little bit.
“Names may be removed and names may be added to it.”
For obvious reasons, Yzerman avoided getting into specifics about individual players. But there are a few obvious examples who have improved their stock: Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter (34 goals), Calgary’s Mike Cammalleri (28 goals) and Boston’s Marc Savard (63 points) are all having strong campaigns up front; and Columbus rookie goaltender Steve Mason (19-12-2, 2.09 GAA) has also put himself on the radar.
The goaltending position in general has provided the Olympic management team with a tangible example of what can potentially go wrong over the next year. Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo are considered shoe-ins for the team, but each has missed considerable time this season because of injury.
“If this happens next December, obviously that brings in different goaltenders,” said Yzerman. “It really reinforces to me and our group that we have to be out there and know all these goaltenders – know all these players for that matter.”
A key part of the education originates with that list of roughly 40 players.
The management group is employing a pretty fluid method of evaluation. Yzerman, Ken Holland, Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong all work off the agreed list of top prospects and have frequent conversations about those players.
“(The list) is just a reference point and good for our discussion,” explained Yzerman. “When you’re out watching games, it’s something good to look at, to pay attention to.
“It forces you to really go out and watch some of these guys that you might not know that well.”
There is still hope for Olympic hopefuls who aren’t currently under the microscope.
The management team is approaching the process with an open mind and isn’t interested in awarding spots based on past achievement or reputation. Essentially, that means that any NHLer with a Canadian passport could theoretically play his way into the mix.
“I’m not prepared today to say, ‘this player’s definitely not in consideration or this guy’s definitely on the team’ – it’s far too early,” said Yzerman. “A player’s level of play can change a lot throughout the course of the season, let alone between this season and next.”
The only guarantee is that the decision-makers will be casting a close eye on as many games as possible during that time.
“I watch a lot of hockey,” said Yzerman. “Hockey’s become somewhat of a six to seven day a week job for the time being.”
The Vancouver Games will be the fourth Olympic hockey tournament played with NHLers.
Even though they’ve all come with sky-high expectations and scrutiny from Canadian hockey fans, this experience will likely top them all. Yzerman deflected a question about the pressure on his team, noting that the Russians, Swedes and others will also arrive in British Columbia expecting to win gold.
It’s not an answer that other countries are buying.
“I was there in Vancouver when they opened that envelope and said, ‘Vancouver,”‘ said Brian Burke, the U.S. general manager. “At that moment, all of the pressure shifted to the Canadian team for the hockey part of this tournament. How they handle that is going to be a huge part of whether they’re successful or not.
“The Olympics are this huge elephant on the sports page. You’re talking a religious part of Canada that hockey represents and now they’re playing for a gold medal on home soil? The pressure’s immense.”
It’s something that the players won’t truly have to deal with for a year. In the meantime, Yzerman and his executive team will be shouldering most of the load.
They plan to name a coaching staff shortly after the Stanley Cup final in June and will extend invites to the summer orientation camp around July 1. Following that, the camp will be held Aug 24-28 in Calgary and the final 23-man roster will likely be announced in December.
Even though that’s still 10 months away from now, many Canadians are already crafting their desired Olympic rosters. Yzerman gets a kick out of seeing that.
“I love sitting and listening to people’s opinions on who should be there and who should be coaching,” he said. “More information is good.”
Of course, there’s really nothing an outsider can teach him.
Even though Yzerman is surrounded by many capable hockey men, he acknowledges that there might be some situations down the road where he has to make an important call on his own.
“I like to talk to people, I like to ask questions,” said Yzerman. “But I think there’s some danger in (getting too much advice). At the end of the day, I’ve got to make some decisions and I’ve got to have my own idea of what I want to do regardless of what we’re discussing.
“It’s good to gather as much information as I can. You get different opinions and different viewpoints, but then I’ve just got to go sit down and think about it and make a decision at that time.”