Let me preface this post by saying welcome back! After an extended sabbatical, hiatus, or whatever you want to call it, I have decided to resurrect this little project of mine. As always I appreciate the read and open to any and all criticism you might have, so don't be shy! Hope everyone had a great holiday season and best wishes for 2014. Now let's talk some hockey.
2014 Canadian Olympic TeamThe 2014 Canadian Olympic Team roster is set to be announced on January 7th, and everyone I have talked to on the subject has a different opinion of who should represent our country at Sochi. This means that we know one thing for certain: Yzerman & Company had difficult decisions to make. The roster was finalized on December 27th, and CBC aired a special behind the scenes look at the decision process before the Winter Classic on Wednesday, January 1st (if you missed it, here you go). It seems to me that this year more than ever there are more bubble players than locks on the team, leading to very different lineups depending on who you ask. This is why I feel it necessary to outline what factors I used in my selection process:
- Chemistry - In a short, single elimination tournament the importance of chemistry between players cannot be understated; especially on defense. Look for that trend throughout my lineup, and also notice forward pairings with a third plugged in to add a missing element to the line.
- Versatility - This is especially true when concerning bottom 6 forwards, and will ultimately be the deciding factor when determining the bubble players. Can Player X play on the penalty kill, or is he only effective in a top 6 role? If his natural position is center, can he be as effective on the wing? Etc. are all questions that must be asked when slotting a player into a role.
- Experience - Canada boasts a wealth of young and exciting talent, so I can understand why people can get caught up in point totals and want the Hall's and Seguin's to get a fair shot. To me, when deciding between 2 players one question pops into my head: Do I trust this player on the ice in the last ten minutes of a one goal game? After that the decision becomes much clearer. Things like playoff and international performance weighed heavily in my mind.
- Skating Ability - Canada has not earned a medal at an Olympics played outside of North America since NHL players started participating at Nagano in 1998. It's not a coincidence we've won gold in the two others. The Canadian styled game thrives on physicality and controlling the play down low at both ends of the ice. I tried to find a nice blend of size and speed in an attempt to duplicate this strength on a larger ice surface.
Based on this criteria, here is my 2014 Team Canada:
Duchene - Crosby - Stamkos*
Two thirds of this line are fairly obvious, as they are two of the best players in the game. Duchene has played his way onto the team this year, putting up 37 points in 37 games. His play is one of the main reasons the Avalanche have shot up the standings this season. Crosby is the best player in the game, but mainly a play maker. With Duchene's game breaking speed and Stamkos' pure finishing ability, look for this line to lead the charge offensively for Canada. In addition to his skill set, I put Duchene with Crosby because of the chemistry they displayed while training in the offseason.
*If Stamkos is unable to start, insert Rick Nash in his place.
Tavares - Toews - Giroux
This line is the one I am most curious about. I believe it would either click immediately and be one of our best all tournament, or not work at all. Like the first line, all three forwards play center as their natural position. All of them also possess an extremely high hockey IQ and are dominant at both ends of the ice. Giroux's play-making ability combined with Tavares' scoring touch and Toews' gritty all around game just seemed like a perfect match. If this line falters, it will be because of their lack of physicality. Again, I would swap Nash with Giroux if this was the case.
Staal - Getzlaf - Perry
The third line is made up of all returning players. Getzlaf and Perry have been working wonders in Anaheim this season, leading the Ducks to first overall in the NHL. Although Eric Staal has not been the player he was last season when he finished 6th overall in points, he has picked up his game lately with 26 points in his last 23 games. The fact that he boasts such an international resume and is comfortable playing the wing push him over the other bubble players for me. The size and skill of this line will be a nightmare for the opposition to handle down low. The only concern with this line might be the trade-off with speed for size. If it becomes an issue, I would swap Duchene and Staal as Eric's 2-way play would be a great compliment to the top line.
Couture - Bergeron - Nash
Couture might be one of the most versatile players on the roster, which is why he makes my team over other bubble players like Hall or Benn. He will be in a Mike Richards type of role, and can contribute on the penalty kill with Bergeron. This fourth line will be defensively responsible and no slouch offensively on the cycle. Rick Nash is a lot like Eric Staal in that he is not having his best year, but is always a top player for Canada at the international stage and that cannot be ignored. You know what you get with Bergeron in the faceoff circle and on the defensive side of the puck; just a safe and steady player.
Extras: Sharp, St. Louis
Sharp and St. Louis are able to be inserted on any line and will be effective, something important in a bench player. They also have tremendous chemistry with Toews and Stamkos respectively, and have a great blend of defensive and offensive ability. Both can play on special teams, and although they are new to the Olympics, they have seen it all in the NHL.
Doughty - Weber
These two are locks to make the team, and also the two odd men out when considering my other pairings. With that said, I think Doughty and Weber would make a great pairing whose skill sets compliment each other nicely. I have Doughty playing on his off wing because he is the better skater and believe he would feel more comfortable there.
Keith - Seabrook
Duncan Keith is having a Norris caliber season for the Blackhawks, and also a lock to make Team Canada. Some people don't have Seabrook on their lists, but I think this pairing is too good to pass up. Seabrook himself is having a great year and the chemistry between these two is no secret. It worked in Vancouver, so why not Sochi?
Bouwmeester - Pietrangelo
The third pairing has yet another lock in Alex Pietrangelo. St. Louis has the best defensive core in the league and this is their top pairing. Bouwmeester has really flourished under Hitchcock, and his big frame and skating ability will be a huge asset on international ice. Again, chemistry is paramount in such a short tournament, and that's why this pair gets the nod.
Extras: Subban, Vlasic
P.K. Subban is probably the most discussed and debated about player when it comes to making this team. Yes, he is a Norris trophy winner. Yes, he is currently 3rd when it comes to points among defensman in the NHL. So why isn't he in my starting lineup? First of all, with players like Doughty, Weber, Keith and Pietrangelo, offense from the back end should not be an issue. Secondly, Subban is a high-risk high-reward player that is prone to brain lapses at the wrong time. I have him as an extra defenseman to inject a spark if things aren't going to plan, or if the powerplay needs a boost. Vlasic is a quiet, stay at home defenseman having a career year with the Sharks. If Subban is all flash, Vlasic is his polar opposite. Whereas Subban can boost the PP, Vlasic can be a steady force throughout the lineup and contribute on the PK. This dynamic is important when considering bench players.
The first two are no surprise. With Price having the banner year he has had up until this point, I have to give him the nod as the starter in Sochi. Mike Smith is the best puck handling goaltender in the league, and adds another dimension that someone like Fleury or Crawford doesn't have. Although he probably won't see any ice time, it is still an important factor to consider because of the no "restricted zone" on international ice.