The Summer Olympics have ended and as hockey fans we are now over two years removed from Vancouver 2010 and the “Golden Goal”. It is also less than two years away from what awaits in Russia in 2014. So while we are stuck in international limbo (with all due respect to the World Juniors and the World Championships), and NHL limbo (will they lockout again? UGH) why not speculate on what’s to come? We know all of the players, and barring some miraculous season by a rookie next year, it’s just a matter of who’s who. But for this exercise we need to set a few ground rules.
1. Lets assume the NHL will allow the players to participate. The NHL wants their new deal approved and concessions from the players, while the players want the Olympics. It seems that this can be one bone the owners throw the players at the end of the day.
2. Let’s assume Crosby is healthy, and at the top of his game… the glass is half full from where I sit on my couch. Unfortunately reports on Chris Pronger don’t look as good, so lets count him out (for now).
3. We can only pick current NHL players. I know there is some young talent floating around out there, like Nathan MacKinnon (draft eligible in 2013), or stud prospects like Jonathan Huberdeau but for now let’s stick to what we know for sure.
Now that we have a base, it’s time to build your team. Here is my list of Canada’s best players by position (in no particular order). Who would make your “Team Canada” to represent our country and defend our gold medal? Feel free to go off the board if you think I overlooked someone.
C– Crosby, Stamkos, Giroux, Tavares, Toews, Thornton, Spezza, Getzlaf, E.Staal, J. Staal, B. Richards, M. Richards, Seguin, Lecavalier, Nugent-Hopkins, P. Bergeron, Couture, Henrique, Skinner, Gagner, Duchene.
RW– St. Louis, Iginla, Perry, Nash, Eberle, Versteeg, Parenteau, Doan, Briere, Read, Horton.
LW– Marleau, Heatley, Lucic, Lupul, Neal, Hartnell, Benn, Hall, Sharp, Moulson, Whitney, Marchand, Smyth, Ladd, Morrow.
D– Campbell, Wideman, Weber, Phaneuf, Boyle, Pietrangelo, Bieksa, Del Zotto, Keith, Letang, White, Burns, Hamhuis, Doughty, Seabrook, Bouwmeester, Subban, Vlasic, Girardi, Beauchemin, Souray, Schenn, Giordano, Cowen, Brewer, Demers, Hamonic, Ellis, M. Staal, Myers, Jovanovski, Green, Gudbranson.
G– Brodeur, Luongo, Fleury, Price, Ward, Smith, Elliot, Crawford, Garon, Theodore, Giguere, Emery, Reimer, Biron.
For my selections there were a few key things I was looking for; speed, youth, puck possession, and special teams. For 2014 we are heading back overseas to Russia, so that means European-style hockey, on Olympic-sized ice. We haven’t faired well over there in over half a century, but it doesn’t mean we can’t. We need to suck up our pride and play more of a European style of hockey, which means, speed, puck movement, puck possession, and trap style defense. So first things first, no more old-boys club! We realized this in ’06 when we took our ’02 gold medal team and got destroyed. Yes our team in 2010 was great, but it’s now four years removed and there is no reserved seating! So let’s say goodbye to, Brodeur, Boyle, Niedermayer, Pronger, Heatley, Iginla, Thornton, Marleau, and Morrow. They have served us proudly over the years, but it’s now time to pass the torch.
For the forwards, I made three scoring lines and one checking/PK line. Since Canada has a plethora of talented centermen, for my scoring line centers I wanted players that are good on the draw (puck possession), and still play at a high skill level. Crosby, Giroux, and Toews fit that criteria perfectly. Toews could easily play on one of the top two lines, but I would use his strong two-way play on the PK as well.
My first line wingers were obvious choices to me. I wanted Crosby to have the two purest goal scorers available for targets, and to me it’s Stamkos and Tavares. My fourth line came easily as well. I wanted big hitters that could forecheck hard, control the puck, and kill penalties. Getzlaf and Perry give nightmares to opposing forwards with their big bodies, and they have long sticks to clog up passing lanes. They are also more than used to killing penalties in Anaheim, and their chemistry makes them an offensive threat too. I wasn’t quite sure who should complete the line with Bobby Ryan being American, but it didn’t take me long once I looked at the list of names. Originally I was thinking Nash, but Eric Staal is definitely the right fit here. He’s tall and lanky, plays the PK, and he eats a lot of minutes. He is also a left-handed shot which is the missing component on this line.
The 2nd and 3rd line wingers were a little more difficult. With so much talent left out there it’s hard to choose, but I really like the young trio in Edmonton. I see big things coming in the future for these guys, including a trip to Russia. The only problem is I am locked in at the center position so I only have room for two of them on a line, and the third will have to be my 13th forward. Right now I have Eberle and Hall playing the wings with Giroux while Nugent-Hopkins sits on the bench. The Nuge will no doubt be a great hockey player, but so far we’ve only seen one season from the rookie, and he has had some injury problems, so for now he’s the odd man out. He is, however, my solution if Crosby doesn’t play, because I can easily put him in at center on the second line and move Giroux up to Crosby’s spot on the first.
For the last two wingers I took a rising star in Seguin, and a gritty power forward in Benn. Both are young, fast, and should fit in nicely on the Toews line pulling double duties on the PK.
Forward Line 1- Tavares (LW), Crosby (C), Stamkos (RW)
Forward Line 2- Hall (LW), Giroux (C), Eberle (RW)
Forward Line 3- Benn (LW), Toews (C), Seguin (RW)
Forward Line 4- E. Staal (LW), Getzlaf (C), Perry (RW)
13th Forward- Nugent-Hopkins
One of the biggest roster mistakes by Team Canada was in ’06 when we tried to add extra offense from the backend. We brought Brian McCabe as a “Power play specialist” and he just ended up being a defensive liability. It was probably our biggest mistake, besides Gretzky not shooting in ’98, and Crosby not making the team in ’06. Anyways, we’re looking for defensive defenseman, with some speed and puck-moving skills to handle the big ice. I also don’t mind a bit of age on the backend to provide calm nerves and veteran leadership, but obviously not at the cost of game play.
Four names screamed out at me; Weber, Letang, Doughty, and Keith. I like Weber and Letang together on line one because I think they complement each other nicely. On line two I have Doughty, and the young stud from St. Louis, Pietrangelo, who is no stranger to playing for Canada, and should be a stalwart on this team for years to come. For line three I reunited Keith and Seabrook. I know they haven’t been playing as well as they were a few years ago, but I like their familiarity, and compatibility. There is never a lot of practice time before the Olympics, and it’s nice to have a veteran duo that is completely comfortable with each other. The 7th D-man was tough. Do you take a tougher defenseman like Phaneuf? A bigger guy like Myers? Or do you bet on a rookie sensation like Ellis or Gudbranson? In the end I had to give New York it’s props. They have three Canadian defenseman that have been shutting the door all year for the Rangers; Girardi, M. Staal, and Del Zotto. Of these three, I like the young, speedy, Del Zotto. He can move the puck, jump into the rush, and in another two years time should be fully developed.
Defense Line 1- Letang, Weber
Defense Line 2- Doughty, Pietrangelo
Defense Line 3- Keith, Seabrook
7th Defenseman- Del Zotto
It’s funny, this is the category people like to argue about the most, but for me it’s the easiest one to pick. Broduer is too old now, which in my mind leaves four possible replacements; Luongo, Fleury, Price, and Ward. Maybe it’s all of those years in Carolina, but I think Ward is the worst one of the group, so he’s out. Luongo has been more than shaky lately, but he’s our veteran, and I’d like him there as a third string. Now it’s between Fleury and Price. Again, for me, this isn’t a hard decision. Fleury has a Stanley Cup ring, and Price doesn’t. I know it seems like a childish remark, and it has a lot to do with the difference in the teams they play for, but bottom line, a ring equals confidence. That confidence goes a long way when playing for your country in front of the whole world. Anyway, to me it’s good enough for the game one start.
Goaltenders- Fluery (starter), Price (back-up)
3rd Goalie- Luongo
My captain, and I’m sure it’s no surprise, would be Crosby. He was almost captain four years ago, which would have been a little premature, but he does deserve it now. My assistants would be Weber, and Toews. I love the presence Weber brings, and hopefully he is sporting an early beard in Russia, because he can look pretty intimidating. And Toews, or “Captain Serious” as his teammates call him, is Sakic-like with his quiet leadership. He has captained a Stanley Cup winning team, and was by far the best player on the ice for us four years ago.
Assistants- Weber, Toews
So there you have it. This is what my team would look like if I had to pick it now. What do you think? Would you tweak a few things? Overhaul the whole lineup? Or leave it the same?
What would your 2014 Team Canada look like? Please leave your lines in comment space below.