Canada’s Olympic team(s): Nation’s depth large enough for three teams

By Kyle Muzyka

Dec. 30, 2013

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Discussion on who belongs on team Canada’s roster for the upcoming 2014 Olympics in Sochi has been present since, well, most likely the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Sure, Sidney Crosby is a lock, Jonathan Toews is key, and Duncan Keith belongs on the team, but other than that there’s little consensus on who deserves to wear the red and white. Since there is a bounty of great hockey players from Canada, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together not one, not two, but THREE different teams. Below are the teams that I’ve created, along with blurbs explaining some calls I’ve made that could be seen as questionable.

TEAM 1

Book these guys some tickets.

Book these guys some tickets.

Forwards

Here’s to hoping Stammer is back in the mix just in time for Sochi (he’s got an eye on it). Crosby is the best player in the league (though this Russian is close) and I think there may be more of a consensus now then there was in 2010. Putting him with two of Canada’s purest goal-scorers just makes sense to me.

Rick Nash is a little bit of a question mark for some, coming off concussion problems, but the guy is still one of the best power-forwards in the game. Couple that with his experience, and he has to be there.

Here comes the first major disagreement: Taylor Hall. A lot of my friends (Oiler fans) would agree with me, but many regard his defensive play as mediocre at best. Though that may be true, his game-breaking speed is what puts him on this team. He’s without a doubt one of the best skaters in the league, and when he gets going, he’s blowing by your defense before you can even blink. Lots of players can skate, but when you combine that with this wicked wrister, there’s not really much you can do to stop him.

DISCLAIMER: I have Jon Toews on the fourth line not because he’s the fourth best centre, but because I believe he can play the defensive role usually associated with the 4th line.

Lucic is probably another one that many don’t think deserve to be there. I get that, I mean the bigger ice surface isn’t too friendly to big guys like Lucic, but both him and Bergeron are keys to the team. Lucic can score, but more importantly he can hit. Plus, I’ve watched a few B’s games and I’ve seen him skate. He should have no problem elevating his game to the next level.

As for Duchene and St. Louis, both deserve to be on the team. St. Louis’ downfall most likely his size and his age, though I believe those factors would help his case rather than harm it. I wouldn’t be upset if they left Lucic off the team in place of him, but the team needs some big bodies too.

Duchene is fast, skilled, and apparently offside rules don’t apply to him. However, the unfortunate part of his game is that he’s a centre. Canada is unbelievably deep at centre, which, unfortunately for him, means that he is on the bubble for my team.

Defense

Keith and Seabrook have to be together. Some put Weber and Keith together, but it’s imperative to keep teammates (and defensive partners on said team) together.

Putting Doughty on with Weber comes with this obvious criticism:

OH THEY ARE BOTH RIGHT-HANDED SHOTS THAT AUTOMATICALLY MEANS THAT WE ARE GOING TO LOSE THE GOLD MEDAL”

I’ve taken the liberty of looking at the last 10 Stanley Cup-winning teams’ defensive pairings:

Another piece of evidence that you can never have too many lefties.

Another piece of evidence that you can never have too many lefties.

Now, I understand the concern; having two of the same shot paired together could be capitalized on by opposing Olympic teams. However, by taking a look at the last 10 Stanley Cup winners, it seemed to have shown that yes, it’s indeed possible to win it all without a balance on who plays left or right-handed. Don’t leave someone off of the team because of the way they shoot. If the players play well enough to be one of Canada’s top six, they should be on the team.

Lastly, we have Subban and Bouwmeester. Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, has a booming slapshot to accompany that offensive flare. Pair that with the defensive gem Bouwmeester, who is a +18, and you have a great third pairing that would be the top two on (almost) any team in the NHL.

Extras include Alex Pietrangelo and Brian Campbell, who are the next best additions. Pietrangelo is just slightly worse than his teammate Bouwmeester in terms of his stats this year for the Blues. He deserves to be on the team as well, but Subban is more necessary on the back end. As for Brian Campbell, it is completely unknown to me why this man hasn’t been considered to be on the team (as far as I know). He plays on one of the worst teams in the league in Florida, plays the second most minutes per game in the entire NHL, and is still a +1. He’s shown that he has the skills to be the complete package, so outside of his age, I have no reason in mind as to why he wasn’t considered to be wearing the red and white this year.

Goalies

Starting in net by a hair is Carey Price, closely followed by Luongo. For this one, I’d want to play this one by ear, watching each netminder perform until the last possible moment. I pick Price right now simply because his numbers so far this year are stellar. At the same token, Luongo provides experience, having played in the gold medal game in Vancouver last time. It’s basically a toss-up. Martin Brodeur rounds out the goaltenders, strictly from experience, and the fact that he’s still able to do stuff like this. Or this.

TEAM 2

If only we could have a second team...

If only we could have a second team…

Forwards

Seguin and Benn together would be absolute dynamite. Staal, unfortunately, does not make my first team, so he’s on the top line on the second one. Besides his points total, his stats are somewhat dismal (especially this year), and he just cannot compete with the amount of skill on the previous team. That being said, I would not be surprised or mad to see him represent Canada on the national stage once again.

Couture centres Marleau in San Jose, so I have no problem keeping them together on the second line. If they send Couture to Sochi, let’s hope this type of thing doesn’t happens again. At least Couture was light about having to buy a new jock strap.

Oh yeah, and Jarome Iginla would chip in with some offense too.

On the third line, Spezza centres Real-Deal James Neal and Jets forward Andrew Ladd. Both wingers add a bit of chippiness onto the team, along with the scoring touch that both of these forwards possess. It’s a shame Spezza drops this low on the depth chart for Team Canada, but our apparent love for taking faceoffs joins our love beer and poutine.

On the fourth line, Big Joe centres super pests Brad Marchand and David Perron. Thornton is probably a better playmaker than Spezza or even Couture, but he centres the fourth line for both his defensive play and my reluctance to separate linemates.

Extras include Jets forward Bryan Little and Penguins forward Chris Kunitz. Bryan Little for more obvious reasons, as he still has yet to showcase the elite skill necessary to represent the nation on the world stage. He does, however, have the points lead on Winnipeg, and is one of the few players on a mediocre Jets team with a positive plus-minus.

Kunitz, who is suggested to be on the bubble for Team Canada in 2014, doesn’t even make my second team.

There’s no doubt he has impressive stats, with 42 points in 41 games. He’s tied for the best plus-minus in the league at +21, and he’s shooting at a well-above-average 17.6 per cent this year, but that still doesn’t get him on the team.

Why? My answer is this. He’s never put up more than 60 points in a season (even though he’s well on his way to destroying that stat this year). His entire career has consisted of playing with highly skilled players (Getzlaf, Perry and Crosby, all three of which are locks on the Canadian team this year). He has only represented Canada once on the international level, and that was the 2008 World Hockey Championship, a tournament that players from non-playoff teams attend. The only way he makes either of the first two teams is if he plays with Getzlaf and Perry or Crosby, and there’s no way I could place him over Sharp or Nash.

Defense

Phaneuf and Letang take the lead for the top defensive pairing on Team 2. These two were somewhat on the bubble for Team 1, but Letang’s injury/dismal play set him back and let others step forward. Phaneuf, on the other hand, hasn’t really done much this year to hurt his case. The Maple Leafs are a middle-of-the-pack team, and he is a team-leading +13. He also plays an average of 24 minutes per game, and his below-average 5.6 shooting percentage is sure to improve sooner rather than later. He plays against the best of the league, and does well.

However, as Cam Charron of TheLeafsNation shows, Phaneuf’s Corsi numbers aren’t too great. He plays better when his team is down, which could be viewed as a positive attribute. As far as I’m concerned, though, I’d rather keep a lead instead of coming back from one. He’s a great defenseman, though, and he deserved the hard look that he received from Steve Yzerman and the Team Canada management.

Dan Boyle has experience and the well-rounded Marc Vlasic make up the second pairing. They don’t play together in San Jose much, but they would be familiar enough to be effective.

Bieksa and Hamhuis of the Canucks round up the defensive pairings. Again, they don’t play much together, but these two could be a great way to conclude this team’s defense. Hamhuis and Bieksa are +11 and 10 respectively, and Bieksa’s feistiness would be a huge asset to this team.

I’ve even made sure that there were three of each shots on the blue line (three left-handed shooters, and three right-handed), and it totally wasn’t by accident.

Extras are Jason Garrison and Mike Green. Garrison is merely an extra because his best attribute, the bomb he has from the point, is most likely bested by Phaneuf’s. If not, Phaneuf’s all-around game makes him a better choice anyway. Both Letang and Boyle were better choices for puck-movers, which is why Green ends up in the stands.

Goalies

I’ve given Marc-Andre Fleury a second chance here as the starter of this team. He’s never been great in high-pressure situations, but I am holding out high hope that speaking with a psychologist did wonders for him. He leads the league this year in wins with 22. Mike Smith is the backup, simply because he hadn’t done enough for me to even believe he should be on Team 1. Except maybe this, but definitely not this. Corey Crawford rounds out the goalies in the number three hole.

TEAM 3

I'd even feel slightly comfortable sending this team.

I’d even feel slightly comfortable sending this team.

Forwards

I really feel bad for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Edmonton Oilers centre is on the verge of becoming elite, but he runs into some of the greatest centres in Canada’s history ahead of him. It’ll be tough on him to make the team in the future. By his side are teammate Eberle and Evander Kane from the Jets. This line, when visible, could potentially be deadly.

Both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, unfortunately, make the third team. The only reason Richards doesn’t make the second team is pretty much because of Joe Thornton. Richards is skilled, and is a great 2-way player, but Thornton is just slightly better. Besides, sliding down to the third team means he can play with teammate Carter, who have always been a great 1-2 punch. An injury-plagued Nathan Horton sits on that line alongside the two.

Ryan O’Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche centres Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul and Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds. Lupul adds scoring touch, Simmonds adds his defensive game, and O’Reilly brings both, making this a great line.

Lastly, Jordan Staal of the Hurricanes centres Brent Burns of the Sharks and Clarke MacArthur of the Senators. Staal is a great two-way forward, Burns is a forward/defenseman hybrid caveman, and MacArthur has been great for the Sens this year.

Extras include Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher, whose speed would excel on the huge ice (and is quite chippy), and Columbus Blue Jackets centre Ryan Johansen. He’s been doing extremely well this year, but he only has one productive year under his belt.

Defense

Flames defensemen Dennis Wideman and Mark Giordano, the two that eat up the most minutes on a dismal Calgary team, make up the top defensive pairing for Team 3. Wideman is the most trusted on the Flames blue line, with Giordano close behind.

Next up, we have offensive defenseman Cody Franson of the Leafs paired up with Ducks veteran Francois Beauchemin. Franson has been great offensively the past season-length of games, whereas the not-so-flashy Beauchemin does his job as a defensemen and excels at it. Beauchemin even has a great slapshot, which is a bonus.

Johnny Boychuk from the Bruins and Andrew MacDonald of the Islanders make up the very last pair. Boychuk has a Stanley Cup ring, plays over 20 minutes each game and is a +14 this season. Plus, he can do this. MacDonald, though his Corsi numbers aren’t great, plays practically 26 minutes a game for the New York Islanders this year. He’s got 15 points this season as well.

Extras include Braydon Coburn, a big puck-mover who can skate extremely well, and a 40-year-old retired Scott Niedermayer, arguably one of the best national players ever. I’d bank, that if called on, Niedermayer would come out of retirement to help this team to a goal medal. At least, I would hope so. Look at this great photo.

Goalies

Canada’s question mark, Braden Holtby, starts on the third team. He’s shown flashes of brilliance with the Capitals, but not enough to win him a spot on the first two teams. Backing him up is the struggling Cam Ward, who I’m sure will find his game right after the Olympics. He just hasn’t been good enough to receive a serious look. Jonathan Bernier rounds out the goaltenders, playing exceptionally well for Toronto this year. Unfortunately, he spent most of his career so far as a backup, thus making it difficult to put much faith into him as a number one goaltender.

Well, that’s the end of the teams and explanations as to why these players deserve to be where they are. Honestly, we could send all three of these teams and I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least two of them to medal. We have a lot of depth here in Canada, as I discovered by putting these teams together.

If there are any quibbles with any of the picks, please feel free to let me know and I will address them in the piece. Until then, hope you enjoyed this novel.

Kyle Muzyka is an aspiring journalist, co-hosting the weekly radio show The Timeout on CJSR FM in Edmonton, Alberta. You can find his personal Twitter here or his radio program’s Twitter here.

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One thought on “Canada’s Olympic team(s): Nation’s depth large enough for three teams

  1. Pingback: This week in hockey: Too much injuries | THE TIMEOUT

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