The 2014 Olympics in Sochi will be a new turning point for Canadian professional hockey. A changing of the guards if you will. The team which represented Canada in Vancouver, while praised as one of the best Canadian national teams ever brought together for one event, was old. The captain of that team, Scott Niedermeyer, is gone, and other player's who played serious minutes for that team see their career's in decline, including Chris Pronger, Dany Heatley, and Brendan Morrow. Here's my first look at what the 2014 team will look like.
I hate to say it, but for this, I wish I were American. The American pipeline of goaltenders right now and for the next 15 years seems stacked, with Jon Quick, Corey Schneider, and Jimmy Howard. The Canadian one however has several good middle aged goaltenders, many old former greats, and one great just coming to his prime in Carey Price. All said, goaltending will be Canada's weakness at these games.
1. Carey Price
I think this selection is self explanatory, but, in short, he is the best Canadian goaltender in the world, and can handle pressure well.
2. Marc-Andre Fleury
He logs a lot of minutes for a very good team which plays the run and gun style we can expect from this team. Plus, Yzerman showed at the last games that he likes to bring in sets of team mates from teams, and everybody knows that at least Crosby is on this team. Oops, spoiler alert.
3. Cam Ward/Roberto Luongo/Martin Brodeur
This one really hinges on who is having the better season, and of course whether Marty is still going. If he is, and is having an alright season in December, expect him. Otherwise expect Ward and Luongo to come down to who's having a better season. Right now, Luongo might be the less popular choice.
Dark Horse(s): Mike Smith.
If he can put together another other worldly season like he did this year, Yzerman will have to rethink his position on the man he let leave to free agency. As it is, he's probably pushing for a top 3 position.
The Canadian blue line in Vancouver was nicely split between the young (Doughty), those in their prime (Keith, Weber, Seabrook), and those playing their final Olympics (Boyle, Niedermayer, Pronger). The three older players will not be returning for the 2014 Olympics, or that is to say, they won't make the team.
1. Duncan Keith.
Former Norris trophy winner can be a workhorse, but is better when he plays 21-23 minutes a night. He brings Olympic and Stanley Cup experience. Expect him to play big minutes against the best the opposition can offer. 2nd unit power play and 1st penalty kill.
2. Brent Seabrook
As I said before, pre made chemistry is super important to crafting an effective Olympic roster. Seabrook skates hard minutes beside Keith in Chicago. Expect them to be a pair in Sochi. 2nd unit power play and 1st penalty kill.
3. Drew Doughty
Former 2nd overall pick is one of the best power play quarterbacks in the world, and will handle much of the responsibility for special teams. Don't expect him to play the penalty kill.
4. Shea Weber - Alternate Captain
Former Norris candidate is one of the best defence men in the league and is easily the best in Nashville's history. Like Keith, he can play huge minutes, but has more physical to his game. Expect him to play either the most or second most minutes on the team. He will be the heavy shot from the blue line on the second power play unit, and will anchor the second penalty kill. Alternate captain because of his captaincy of the pred's, and his Olympic experience.
5. Kris Letang
Once again, pre made chemistry is important, and Letang already knows Crosby and Fleury. While he is not the best defensive defence man, like Doughty, he is a smooth skating offensive catalyst. Expect him to quarterback the 2nd power play unit, but otherwise skate relatively few minutes, about 18.
6. Alex Pieterangelo
Pieterangelo is an incredibly talented and hard working individual. He is all about winning, and lays out big hits sometimes. On the power play he can be the heavy shot from the blue line and he can also set up the zone. Expect him to play alongside Letang for about 18 minutes a night as well as the 2nd power play unit. As a bonus, the defensive system of Ken Hitchcock means he is smart in his own zone and on the rush. He has unexplored offensive upside.
7. Dion Phaneuf
Phaneuf, like Keith and Weber, is his team's work horse, playing upwards of 26 minutes every night in every situation. He will be put into the line up to add the toughness that Letang and Pieterangelo cannot provide. Expect him to play big minutes on the penalty kill when he is in, but few other wise, about 17.
Subban is a polarizing character, but still, he knows when to step up, and already logs long minutes for the tabs.
If any of the puck movers (Letang, Doughty, Pieterangelo) get injured or can't go, look for Seabrook and Keith's former team mate to get the call to fill in for them.
Michael Del Zotto/Luke Schenn
Third extra option. Schenn provides character and leadership. Del Zotto playmaking and skill.
While Canada's goalie pipeline is running dry, offence is where Canada has always been successful and don't expect any less this time around. With no retirements, don't look for many new faces although several of the older players will most likely not be returning (Heately, Morrow, Marleau) which leaves three spots definitely open for new players, as well as some who will play themselves onto the team.
1. Sidney Crosby - Alternate (his time will come)
Best player in the world, best centre since Lemieux called it a career. Golden Goal scorer. Captain of the Penguins. Nobody can contain this guy. Look for him on the first power play unit, and the top line. Likely line mate: Iginla
2. Jarome Iginla - Captain
Dwindling returns mean little when your as good as Iggy. Can turn a game over with one play. Power forward has the respect of the nation, and is one of the classiest men in sports. Crosby loves him, and his power game means he can clear space for more skilled line mates. Most likely won't play on any special teams. Likely line mate: Crosby
Character guy with tons of skill has already got gold (Olympics) and silver (Stanley Cup) to his name. Will anchor 2nd penalty kill unit, and will see time on the top power play unit. On a stacked team Canada, he will probably see time on the third line, shutting down the opponents top lines.
4. Joe Thornton
Declining power forward still can control a game with his passing and power drives. Look for him on the fourth line alongside smaller, more skilled team mates. Won't play either special team. Likely line mates: Eberle or Tavares.
5. Eric Stall
The best Stall provides strength and skill all mixed up in one package. He is very similar to Rick Nash in that way, although Nash is more of a sniper. He will likely be used on the third line on the wing, hitting the crap out of opponents top lines. Won't see time on special teams. Likely line mates: Toews, Nash
6. Rick Nash
This years hottest trade bait uses his size and hands to score goals often at will. When he puts his head down, he is nearly impossible to stop. He will be used in his natural position, but on the third line, hitting the opponents top lines, in which role he was used in 2010. He may see time on the 2nd penalty kill and the 2nd power play. Alternatively, if the opposition has a huge shut down pairing (Zdeno Chara and Slovakia comes to mind) he could be move to the top line to make space for Crosby. Likely line mates: Toews, Stall, Crosby.
7. Corey Perry
This power forward won the Hart Trophy for good reason. He will see lots of time on both special teams, especially blocking up the front of the net and deflecting, redirecting, and banging home rebounds. Will likely play second line.
8. Steven Stamkos
Arguably the third best centre in the world (Crosby, Malkin) Stamkos is the best pure goal scorer in the world. He will be the left winger of the second line which will allow Getzlaf to do what he does best (clear space up the middle), and will be the shooting winger on the first power play unit. No penalty kill, however. Likely line mates: Getzlaf, Perry.
9. Ryan Getzlaf
Huge, hulking center man will clear space on the second line, while also firing shots at the net for Perry to tap in. Ultra passer will also be able to feed Stamkos for one timers. He will see time on the 2nd power play, but not much. Likely line mates: Perry, Stamkos.
10. Patrice Bergeron
Every team needs one: a defensive specialist who is a master in his own end. Bergeron will anchor the 1st penalty kill, and will take many, many defensive zone face offs. He will play on the fourth line however, and won't see much ice time.
11. Claude Giroux
Hyper skilled Giroux will occupy the right wing space on the top line and will be counted on to feed on Crosby's slick passing. Will play top power play, no penalty kill. He will be move off the top line if it is deemed that that line needs more space or hitting strength.
12. Jordan Eberle
Quiet leader will fight to the death for a victory. Very good scorer, one of the fastest players in the world when he's exploding off the wing. Will play on the fourth line, 2nd penalty kill. With Big Joe Thornton clearing space for him, he could dominate a game easily.
13. John Tavares
Former first overall pick is an excellent playmaker and scorer who is hyper creative. Whether he cracks the line up will stem from his performance in the seasons play leading up to the Olympics. With the right line mates he is a top 6 centre in the league.
Fast, Scoring winger will be a menace when the games roll around, but he may not be old enough or strong enough to handle the competition.
Can clear space at ease. Loves to hit. Scores often. Lower pedigree than most Canadian Olympians.
Chemistry with Crosby is important, but without Crosby or Malkin feeding him pucks, is he really a great player?
Great power forward, loves to hit, unfocus opponents, but his game may not transfer to the dignified Olympics.