Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Crow's picks for the 2014 Canadian Olympic roster

Since the NHL began sending its players to the Olympics in 1998, the debate over who should represent Canada on the biggest international stage has raged throughout the nation. Having four years to argue and over-analyze every single potential roster spot can have a debilitating toll on the masses, creating chaos and the potential for flying objects at the dinner table over whether you need the same amount of left and right handed shots...not that that's happened to yours truly...ahem...

With the announcement of the team coming this Tuesday, everyone and their uncle is giving their predictions as to who will wear the red and white in Russia next month. So, here's mine, less than 24 hours until we find out. 

GOALIES



Can Carey Price get it done for Canada?


Carey Price - Montreal Canadiens
Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks
Corey Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks


So much has been made about the goaltending situation and how Canada will go up against nations that possess elite net minders. In a tournament where single-game furies replace the grind of a seven-game series, the performance of your goalie can be the difference between Torino and Vancouver. 

While Roberto Luongo may have won it for the Canadians in 2010, it could be the goaltender of the Canadiens who helps them take the gold in Sochi. Carey Price has been a rock for the Habs this year, having the breakout season that many hockey analysts have been waiting to see, leading the way with 19 wins (second amongst Canadian goalies) and a .927 sv%. Meanwhile, Luongo has three shutouts and has shown shades of his former self with the Canucks in the first half of the season. Lastly, Corey Crawford was a huge reason for the Chicago Blackhawks success last year, gaining experience in big games and raising a Stanley Cup, fitting the mold for a last resort in net. 

Other options in goal include Phoenix's Mike Smith and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury. Smith has had a bit of a down year, but is still the #3 on several prediction rosters; Fleury was the #3 on the 2010 squad and won a Cup in Pitt in '09, but has been terrible in the past few playoff runs, and has been pulled from the pipes in several key situations. 

DEFENCE


Duncan Keith is a lock to make Team Canada, but is Brent Seabrook?
                                
 
Duncan Keith - Chicago Blackhawks
Drew Doughty - Los Angeles Kings 
Shea Weber - Nashville Predators 
Alex Pietrangelo - St. Louis Blues
Marc Edouard Vlasic - San Jose Sharks
Brent Seabrook - Chicago Blackhawks
P.K. Subban - Montreal Canadiens 
Jay Bouwmeester - St. Louis Blues  


How good is your D when the reigning Norris Trophy winner is a bubble-player? 

 
But seriously, I had the toughest time picking the blue line. Head coach Mike Babcock said several months ago that he wanted four left-handed and four right-handed shots for balance, yet having that mindset can cause you to overthink and leave someone home who would have made a difference (hell, Babcock's own D-core in Detroit is entirely left-handed). Duncan Keith and Shea Weber are two of the elite shutdown defenseman in the league, and were locks for Sochi from the moment Crosby ended it in 'couver. Alex Pietrangelo deserves to be in that elite conversation, possibly the cover boy for the dominant St. Louis Blues, and Drew Doughty has looked like a top-tier d-man from the moment he came onto the scene in Los Angeles. 

Then it gets interesting. Jay Bouwmeester has been a more-than-sufficient NHL defenseman since his days in Florida, and some are clamouring for him to be paired with Pietrangelo, whom he plays regular shifts with with the Blues. Also, J-Bow has extensive international experience, playing in three World Junior's, multiple World Championships, the '04 World Cup, and the Olympics in '06. Brent Seabrook was apart of the gold medal squad, and is regularly paired with Keith on the Blackhawks. Marc Edouard Vlasic is one of the mainstays on the Sharks blue line, becoming a premiere shutdown guy in the Western conference, and can be relied on for big minutes if need be. 

Subban is good enough to make this team; will Hockey Canada see otherwise?
                           

The wildcard for this team is the same player who was voted the best defenseman in the league last year: P.K. Subban. One of the best slap-shots in the sport, not to mention countless Montreal breakaways on account of his crisp passing, Subban's offensive ability might sit alone at the top of this tournament. The reason why so many people are hesitant to write his spot on this team in pen is the idea that he is a defensive liability. P.K. has been known to commit the odd turnover, and is caught out of position in his own end on multiple occasions. Here's the thing about turnovers -- you can't turn the puck over unless you have the puck -- and players like Subban have high T.O. totals because they try to create as much offense as they do. On a level of practicality, for a player like him who can do so much with the puck and be able to generate as many opportunities as he can, you have to be willing to take the good with the bad. And the good faaaaaaarrrrrr outweighs the bad. 

Other players left off my lineup are Dan Hamhuis, Dan Boyle, Dion Phaneuf Marc Staal, and Mike Giordano. Boyle was on the team in 2010, but his age is a factor, and his spot has been essentially replaced by his San Jose teammate in Vlasic. 

CENTRE


John Tavares is emerging as a star, while Ryan Getzlaf is having a Hart trophy candidate season


Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins
Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks
Patrice Bergeron - Boston Bruins 
Ryan Getzlaf - Anaheim Ducks 
John Tavares - New York Islanders


This may have been the easiest section to choose. Jonathan Toews was the best Canadian forward in 2010, Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two-way players alive; Ryan Getzlaf was a member of 2010 and is a potential Hart Trophy candidate this season, and John Tavares has settled into his role as an elite centre who puts points on the board, not to mention having the ability to move over to the wing if you need to do some line-changing. And I won't even mention what Sidney Crosby means to your team. 

The big omissions from this core is San Jose's Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who were both on the squad in 2010 that won gold; although, their line with former Shark Dany Heatley seemed irrelevant during the tournament. Age is a big factor, although it's hard to ignore the fact that Thornton leads the league with 43 assists in 43 games, and may be the best playmaker of his generation. 

RIGHT WING



Martin St. Louis' spot on this squad may depend on the status of Steven Stamkos
                               



Corey Perry - Anaheim Ducks
Martin St. Louis - Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay Lightning
Rick Nash - New York Rangers 

Corey Perry was a leading force in Vancouver 2010, won a Hart trophy, and has won almost everything you can win in the game (waste an afternoon and look it up); Rick Nash has been slowed down this season with inconsistency and injury, but is a big body who can score at will and can be asked to play defensively in his own end, e.g. 2010 Vancouver. Marty St. Louis led the league in points last season and is playing some of his best hockey at the age of 37. His teammate Steven Stamkos, who's been out with a broken leg since November, is slated to be ready for Sochi, and truly is a generational talent who can score anywhere on the ice. 

Claude Giroux has been a player who's name has come up and is on several final prediction lists, but his inconsistency these past few years, not to mention his horrid start to the year, talked me out of taking him to Russia. Jeff Carter is another player who may be low on the depth chart, but has weight for being on the team with his experience with Hockey Canada. 

LEFT WING 


The lack of attention and buzz may cost Taylor Hall a spot on this roster
                                

Matt Duchene - Colorado Avalanche 
Logan Couture - San Jose Sharks
Jamie Benn - Dallas Stars 
Patrick Sharp - Chicago Blackhawks 
Taylor Hall - Edmonton Oilers 


Before we go any further, how has Taylor Hall not received any attention from anyone during this process? 50 points in 45 games last season, 41 points in 38 so far this season, and showing strides of being an elite winger in this league. But I digress. 

The mentions of the Sharks have been plenty and bountiful in this column, and they continue with Logan Couture, who's become the leading figure for the evolution out of San Jose and their organization. Patrick Sharp's pure scoring ability is unbelievable, and can move around the lineup and play with anyone. Matt Duchene can't go one night without making the highlight package, showing signs of becoming elite. Also, Jamie Benn has emerged as one of the top power forwards in the league, racking up 36 points and producing at a level that's rarely seen for physical players. 

Would Chris Kunitz be good enough to make this squad without Sidney Crosby?
                           

One player who many believe should be on the team is Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who is getting attention for his success with Crosby this season. Sid's struggles in 2010 showed that it's not entirely possible to just put someone with him and expect results (just ask Pens head coach Dan Blysma how hard it was to set lineups before Kunitz) and that chemistry is significant in these short-tournament situations. However...for someone to make the team simply because he works well with the best player in the world is insane. Don't get me wrong, Kunitz is a good player who can add depth to a championship team and has a skill set that allows him to play with great players. But he's not good enough to be on this team. Him making this squad would leave someone who should be playing in this tournament at home, all in favour of someone who's taken advantage of an opportunity to play with the best in the world. Hell, why doesn't Kunitz's own teammate James Neal get more Olympic love? 16 goals and 34 points in only 24 games, and has looked just as useful with the likes of Crosby and Russian star Evgeni Malkin. Regardless, guys like Couture, Hall, and Sharp are more worthy of playing with top talents than Kunitz. 

So there's my team. When the announcements comes tomorrow, several of these names won't be on it, some will, and maybe some I haven't even mentioned could squeek through. Either way, come February, I'll be right there watching with the rest of the world. 

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