Breaking down Canada's Olympic hockey team

Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman has lots of options

Photo of the scoreboard at the 2010 winter Olympics. Photo:  Winston Wong (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Photo of the scoreboard at the 2010 winter Olympics. Photo: Winston Wong (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Cameron Lewis
The Gateway

EDMONTON (CUP) — When building Team Canada’s Olympic hockey team, there are a lot of things that come into consideration. First of all, you have to take a look not at a player’s history, but at how they’re performing so far this season — who’s hot and who’s not.

Then you have to almost entirely contradict the first step by taking a look at how certain players play, or have played, on the larger European ice surface in a more open-skating system.

In all honesty, Canada could probably ice three teams at the Olympics and have all of them be competitive, but top players can and will be left off the team for a variety of reasons, with big names such as Rick Nash and Carey Price just scratching the surface of players potentially not getting the call from Hockey Canada general manager Steve Yzerman.

Forwards

So let’s get to building Team Canada’s offensive core. First, we have the locks: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos. The first two, Crosby and Toews, are two of the top four best natural centres in the NHL — guys who have the best game on both sides of the puck and who are best on the dot — and who will help head coach Mike Babcock anchor two of his four lines. In terms of placement, Crosby is slotted into the top line centre position — no discussion there — and Toews will anchor the third line tasked with the job of shutting down other top teams’ best forwards.

After that, and because there are going to be a handful of centres forced to the wing, we’ll need to choose two of the best remaining natural centres to fill the spots on the second and fourth lines. I’d choose John Tavares — a Hart Trophy finalist from last season who willed the New York Islanders to a playoff spot and a near upset of the Pittsburgh Penguins — and Ryan Getzlaf, one of the best two-way centres in the game. These two guys are interchangeable, because they’re both going to centre a secondary scoring line to Team Canada’s first and third lines.

After the centres are set, we’ll build the wingers around them. There are only so many natural left-wingers available, as most of Canada’s forward depth are centres. In my opinion, Taylor Hall is the best offensive threat Canada has to offer as a left-winger, and his explosive speed is definitely suited to the big ice.

After Hall, both Andrew Ladd and Jamie Benn play solid two-way games, and can provide both wheels and a physical tone to a shutdown line. There’s no doubt in my mind that Stamkos and St. Louis should be on a line together based on their unbelievable chemistry in Tampa Bay. I love the idea of St. Louis darting around the large ice surface and setting up Stamkos for one-timers all tournament long, so I’d put them on the top line with Crosby.

After putting together the top line, the next job is building a shutdown line. Canada’s shutdown line in Vancouver of Mike Richards, Toews and Rick Nash was one of the main reasons why the Canadians were able to capture gold. Two guys jump to mind right off the bat for next year’s tournament: Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd. These guys were teammates in Carolina back when they won the Cup in 2006 and have played in tons of big games before, and both guys are studs in the defensive zone. Also, Ladd is a natural left winger, so you have to take them where they fit.

With Getzlaf on the team, it only makes sense to bring his linemate from Anaheim and former Hart Trophy winner, Corey Perry, along for the ride. Now, these guys aren’t the fastest guys around, so I put Hall with them so they can get some more speed on their line.

That leaves us with our second line, centered by John Tavares. Despite his ugly start, you just can’t leave Claude Giroux off Team Canada. He played right wing back in Philly’s 2009 playoff run with Mike Richards, so it’s a good fit. This is a pretty ugly line defensively, so that leaves us with Jamie Benn, who’s having a break out season in Dallas and may be Canada’s best overall natural left winger.

Just as they did in 2010, they should bring Patrice Bergeron along as the extra forward and face-off specialist, which always comes in handy.

Defencemen

While you might have thought Canada was deep down the middle, their depth on the blue line is borderline obnoxious. There’s a handful of guys who I wish I could have found room for, but when going with the hot hand, chemistry and natural playing sides, some guys are inevitably going to be left out. To me, there were only two locks for Team Canada’s defence: Shea Weber and Duncan Keith. Unfortunately, they both play on the right side, but both guys are good enough that one can play their off side.

The most obvious pair for me was the duo from arguably the best team in the NHL right now, the St. Louis Blues: Alex Pieterangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. This is a gorgeous pair and they’re perfectly suited to the big ice. Both guys are fluid skaters who can cover a lot of ice, play a responsible game and can make a tape-to-tape first pass across a big surface.

Now, for the third and final pairing, it’s down to who’s the best right-handed and left-handed D available, respectively. Drew Doughty edged out Brent Seabrook by a hair for me, and it was a coin flip between Dan Hamhuis and Marc Vlasic. Honestly, any of those four guys could easily be on the team, but I chose Doughty and Hamhuis for their superior passing and offensive games.

Where does reigning Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban fit into all of this? Of course, he’s a bit of a wild card, but he should edge out Kris Letang for power play specialist and seventh defenceman.

Goalies

Finally, we get to Canada’s weakness: goaltending. While other countries boast players like Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Quick, Canada doesn’t have anybody that really jumps out as a dominating ace type that can steal games. So for my goalie, I’m going to go with the least enigmatic, most consistent guy who just manages to win: Corey Crawford. Hear me out. I know he probably isn’t the best goalie available, but he’s consistent. He may win because of the strength of the rest of his team, but he’ll have the same benefit playing for Canada, and they need a no-nonsense guy who can just stop pucks. They don’t need a guy who can steal one game and flop the next, they just need someone to play a simple game. I also think the pattern will continue, where one goalie passes on the torch to the next one. Luongo will start because he was the starter last time, but just like Martin Brodeur did in 2010 and Curtis Joseph did in 2002, he’ll flop and pass the torch to a new guy: Crawford. As for the third string free vacation guy, I went with James Reimer. The guy is going to be on the bench the whole tournament, so he needs to have a positive attitude, and that’s one thing Reimer has.

Hopefully Yzerman can pull something together that resembles this roster by the IIHF deadline of Jan. 6, 2014.

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Breaking down Canada's Olympic hockey team