OK, I’ll succumb to the pressure and write about the makeup of Canada’s upcoming Olympic hockey team. Ever since NHL players were cleared to play in the Winter Olympics way back in 1998, that is the almost irritatingly constant question passionate Canadian hockey fans throw at me: “Will he be on the Olympic team?”
And, of course, controversy over who did indeed make the team also started in 1998 when Mark Messier was omitted while Rob Zamuner was included.
So, here and now, I’ll weigh in with some of my own thoughts, and what I hear from some “close” to the Canadian Olympic team scene.
Before we get into naming names, let’s look at the numbers. In 2010, 20 percent of all NHL teams (six of 30) were in Canada, yet only two Canadian-based players — Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla — were on the 23-man squad, accounting for nine percent of the roster. In 2014, though there’s one more Canadian team (so, 23 percent of the NHL total) only one player (four percent) will be selected for Team Canada: Montreal’s Carey Price, who will get the opportunity to star as Canada’s No. 1 goaltender in Sochi. Phoenix’s Mike Smith will be his backup while Corey Crawford of Chicago will be the No. 3 goaltender but will likely see very little or no action.
Despite his Norris Trophy season and strong play this season, P.K. Subban remains very much on the bubble for the No. 7 defence spot.
The two players that didn’t play on the Team Canada blue line in 2010 and appear to be locks this season are St. Louis’ Jay Boumeester and the Sharks’ Marc-Eduoard Vlasic. The 30-year-old Boumeester was a member of the 2006 Olympic team but languished in Florida and Calgary before seeing his stock rise again after being traded to the Blues. The 26-year-old Vlasic is like the Sochi version of what Duncan Keith was in Vancouver: a solid player quietly progressing into an elite NHL defenceman who can no longer be overlooked for the Olympic team.
Up front, Steve Yzerman won’t be making the same final three cuts from his Tampa Bay Lightning team like he did in 2010 when he dropped Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Sure, Yzerman didn’t become Tampa’s GM until after Team Canada struck gold in 2010, but it is ironic that those three were among his difficult last cuts. A healthy Stamkos (or even a close-to-healthy Stamkos — similar to Yzerman’s health when he won gold with Team Canada in 2002) is a lock. Lecavalier won’t be on the team but St. Louis could be that one player who, being close to the cut, gets a hand from the boss to grab the last roster spot.
While every defenceman who played in 2010 and is still active in the NHL will be offered a spot in 2014, the same can’t be said for the forwards. And that goes beyond just Jarome Iginla. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will likely get to focus on San Jose trying to win their first even Stanley Cup (or even make it to the Stanley Cup Final) without the distraction of playing in the Olympics. Vlasic and Logan Couture will represent the Sharks instead.
The Anaheim tandem of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf will likely both be left off the squad.
Jonathan Toews is a lock for Team Canada and he will have teammate Patrick Sharp with him this time. John Tavares of the New York Islanders will be the newest member, looking to make the kind of impression that Toews did in his first Olympics in 2010.
Patrice Bergeron, who was the 13th forward for Team Canada in 2010, will be one of the core dozen for 2014.
Despite the great young talent on the Edmonton Oilers and the involvement of Kevin Lowe on the Canadian Olympic management team, no Oilers will be included.
Though they had a difficult time finding the appropriate wingers for Sidney Crosby in 2010, that tag won’t be enough to get Chris Kunitz included to the 2014 team.