The "list" has been released, and save for a few surprise (and glaring!) omissions, most of the list is what any Canadian hockey fan expected to see. Sidney Crosby, Vinny Lecavalier, Chris Pronger, Roberto Luongo - just to name a few of the expected "locks" for the team. How will the rest of the team shape up after a disappointing 7th place showing in Turin, Italy?
Here is how I think Stevie Y, Mike Babcock and company will go about selecting the team, and for every incorrect prediction, I'll give myself the out: "It's only July!"
I believe this is the easiest position to guage. No disrespect to Steve Mason or Marc-Andre Fleury, but these three goaltenders represent the past, current and future of Canadian hockey.
I can't see Marty Brodeur being left off of this team considering how much he has done for Team Canada, the NHL and the New Jersey Devils. Yes, he had a poor playoff performance this year (by his standards) against the Hurricanes, but let's not forget that he had returned from a serious bicep injury which had held him out for months. This very easily may have affected his conditioning and mental focus. He played great when he returned in the regular season, but slowly showed signs of not being the same Martin Brodeur we all know. With a full off-season to recover and refocus, Brodeur should be back playing at a high level. Unless he completely forgets how to play the position come December, Brodeur will be in Vancouver, and not for a New Jersey road game.
With all of the accolades Brodeur has received, my starter for Team Canada is Roberto Luongo, or "Lou" as he's affectionately known in B.C. Sure, there will be those who point to his performance in the key playoff elimination game against the Blackhawks. I just can't see how this would affect his status as a Team Canada member, and it's ridiculous to think otherwise. Luongo may not have the big game experience of a Brodeur, but he is the incumbent star Canadian goalie, and I believe he will push Brodeur aside for the #1 spot. That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if Game 1 is anything but a decisive Team Canada victory, we'll see Brodeur reclaim the starting role. Luongo will be backed by the home crowd in Vancouver.
Finally, the 3rd slot will go to Carolina's Cam Ward. Playing in somewhat anonymity in the Southeast, Ward has big game experience and success. He obviously was the Stanley Cup winning goaltender in 2006 with the Hurricanes, and after a few years of Carolina playing mediocre hockey, Cam bounced back this year with a marvelous playoffs. He no doubt was the main reason for Carolina's strong playoff success.
Steve Mason will have to have a lights out opening to the NHL season if he stands a chance to make the cut. As for Fleury, he has 2 Stanely Cup Finals' appearances, 1 Cup victory and World Junior experience. I just don't see him being selected, as many will point to the Penguins' marvelous offense as the team's reason for success.
Crosby - Iginla - Doan
Lecavalier - St. Louis - Heatley
Richards - J. Staal - Gagne
Getzlaf - Nash - E. Staal
At centre, I can guarantee we'll see Sidney Crosby, Vincent Lecavalier and Mike Richards. Crosby is a no-brainer, and this will be his first taste of Olympic hockey. Lecavalier is a mainstay on Team Canada, and barring an injury, we'll see this Bolt (for now) in Vancouver. Mike Richards will be the defensive centreman, one that has excelled in international competition. He can also provide offense when called upon. The fourth spot is up for grabs, and I'm going to have to give it to Ryan Getzlaf. He's definitely not underrated, but playing in Anaheim, he probably doesn't get the headlines he deserves throughout the NHL season. By the way, where is Marc Savard on the list of invitees? A very curious omission, and I'm not sure if there's more to it or not, but from all accounts that I've heard, his attitude has vastly improved since his days as a Flame.
On the wing, there is no doubt about a couple of the players who we'll see. Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan. These guys scream Canada and we will see them come February. Providing goal scoring for Team Canada, I expect to see Dany Heatley, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne. The big question of the day is how will the soap opera in Ottawa affect Heatley's chances of a return to Team Canada...or will it even play a factor? As much as I am not impressed by Heatley and agent J.P. Barry's actions, the fact is this is a 50-goal scorer who has answered the call for Team Canada when called upon.
Rounding out the forward position, we should see the Staal brothers - Eric & Jordan - and Ryan Smyth. Jordan Staal to me would be a perfect compliment to Mike Richards' checking line. He proved to be very effective in this year's playoffs, with average linemates (no offence to Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke!). And we are all aware of his prowess when killing penalties. I had to find room for Eric Staal on this team as well, and although he's a natural centreman, he can play some wing. Ryan Smyth may seem an odd selection, but Captain Canada will be the 13th forward. Many, including myself, will find it first nature to point at his age and declining offensice stats. Take a closer look at the numbers though, and this is a guy who plays with as much heart (and hair) as anyone, and he also managed a very impressive 59 points with the mediocre Avalanche.
Like any position for Team Canada, two teams can be made from the list of invitees, and both should challenge for a medal. This was the toughest to predict, as their are several worthy names.
Pronger - Niedermayer
Boyle - Bouwmeester
Regehr - Weber
Chris Pronger & Scott Niedermayer will be reunited, albeit briefly, in Vancouver. This will be Niedermayer's swan song in front of the fans of his home province. Pronger and Niedermayer will not be left off of this year's collection of Olympians.
Every solid team needs a shutdown Dman, and Team Canada will go with Robyn Regehr. He is nasty, and will be selected over the underperforming Dion Phaneuf. Something tells me Team Canada will go for his quiet effectiveness over the flair of a Pheanuf hit. Jay Bouwmeester, the new Flame, will also be a return invitee. His smooth skating and outlet passes will be key to a Canadian medal showing. Rounding out the D, I see Dan Boyle, Shea Weber and Duncan Keith being selected as Olympians. Boyle brings that solid all-around skill, Duncan Keith brings more smooth skating and solid defence, and Shea Weber brings a booming point shot to the powerplay.
I've compared my selections to those of ESPN.com bloggers Pierre LeBrun & Scott Burnside. Here are the differences (my pick/theirs):
Ward - Fleury (LeBrun admits to this being a total toss-up between the 2, giving the nod to the Cup Champ)
Boyle - Green (he admits to having a really tough time leaving Boyle off, but hard to ignore a 30-goal dman)
J. Staal/Heatley/Gagne - Thornton/Toews/Lucic
Ward - Fleury
Regehr - Seabrook
Gagne/Heatley/Smyth - Toews/Morrow/Perry
Who do you think does not deserve to be on this team from my selections? Any glaring omissions? Joe Thornton, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Toews...do any of these guys deserve nods over my picks?