Saturday, March 28, 2009

Samson's Team Canada

With less than 11 months now until the start of the 2010 Olympic Men's Hockey tournament, it won't be too long before Steve Yzerman's selections for the Canadian roster is announced, and it's at this point that I'm going to put together my own roster for the tournament. I can't decide whether or not Yzerman has an enviable position; there's certainly no shortage of talent in the pool for him to draw from, but who goes and who stays is the question.

One certainty about this roster will be experience. Canadian players have no shortage of international play time, whether it be from the Olympics, World Championships, or from their time in the World Juniors, and every player on the roster will have worn the colours at least once. Another is that among the forwards, because of Canada's enormous depth at the centre position, a few of them are going to be playing out of position on the wing. Last, Yzerman will, particularly on the blue line, be looking for players who can play a strong two-way game, and complement their offense with strong defense.

We'll start between the pipes, and two of the picks for goalie are no doubters. As the primary, I'm taking Martin Brodeur. Even though he'll be a few months shy of 38 years old by that point next year, he's said himself that he wants to be the go-to guy, and he's still playing like he can be after a long-term injury layoff this season. Second is Roberto Luongo. Arguably the most talented goalie in the world, he can stop pucks that most goalies wouldn't be able to. He's said that if he goes, he wants to be the number one goalie, and he's good enough, no doubt; it's a coin toss as to who takes the lead between those two. For the third-string keeper, I'm more keen to take someone younger; the third-stringer is more a cheerleader position than anything, and for that I'll name Cam Ward from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Now, on to the blue line. As I mentioned before, many of the names here are going to be strong two-way players; guys that can run a power play, have big shots, but can also kill penalties and shut down at the same time. So, here are my seven choices, in list form:

Roster Selections:
  • Chris Pronger (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Sheldon Souray (Edmonton Oilers)
  • Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks)
  • Dion Phaneuf (Calgary Flames)
  • Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
  • Mike Green (Washington Capitals)
All seven of these defencemen are very strong offensive players, either in a playmaking or power-play-leading scenario (Niedermayer and Boyle particularly), or as shooters (especially Souray, Pronger, and Phaneuf). All of these players, however, have strong defensive awareness; Pronger, Phaneuf, and Weber give a tremendous physical presence, and Scott Niedermayer still gets back on defense as quickly as anybody. Also a key bit to note: Mike Green is on this list because of his absurd stat line so far this season; 62 games played (13 missed so far), 28 goals, 67 points, both of which lead all defensemen in scoring, and has an outside shot at scoring 35 goals this year, a number beyond anything I can remember by a defenceman since the heady days of Orr, Bourque, and Coffey. As well, Souray and Weber each have scored 21 goals thus far this season.

Other Possibilities: Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks; Jay Bouwmeester, Florida Panthers; Dennis Wideman, Boston Bruins. All three of these players are certainly capable players, and have qualities that coaches love; Brian Campbell has terrific speed and can get back almost as well as Niedermayer, Bouwmeester is an excellent puck-mover, and Wideman plays a very hard-checking defense, as well as having had a strong offensive year this year with nearly 50 points to date. Working against Wideman, however, is his lack of international experience; he has yet to play for Canada in an IIHF tournament. This may be his year, though.

Notable Exceptions: Rob Blake, San Jose Sharks; Robyn Regehr, Calgary Flames; Wade Redden, New York Rangers. Rob Blake while still an offensive and defensive presence, will be 40 years old by the time the Olympic Tournament starts next year; there's no guarantee he'll even be playing next season, and I don't wish to use a roster spot on him when there are equally deserving players. Regehr, while a strong stay-at-home defenceman, lacks the two-way ability of the other defencemen in the roster; there are simply more offensively gifted and more physically punishing options. Redden, similarly to Regehr, doesn't have the offensive ability that he used to have, and also lacks Regehr's defensive capability.

As for the forwards, the major problem (and it's not a bad problem to have, truth be told) is that there are so many good centres available that if you take the best thirteen forwards, you'll have too many forwards, and you'll have some of those extra centres playing out of position on the wings. That being said, many of these forwards are certainly adaptable enough to do that, and Canada will be able to field one of the most dangerous offenses in the tournament, top to bottom.

Roster Selections:
  • Captain - Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames)
  • Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks)
  • Dany Heatley (Ottawa Senators)
  • Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
  • Rick Nash (Columbus Bluejackets)
  • Jason Spezza (Ottawa Senators)
  • Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning)
  • Jeff Carter (Philadelphia Flyers)
  • Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes)
  • Marc Savard (Boston Bruins)
  • Simon Gagne (Philadelphia Flyers)
So here's part of the problem: All of these thirteen forwards, and only five wingers. All of these forwards are fantastically talented, though, and make for a formidable setup. For a big-time, high-speed scoring line, expect to see a setup such as Crosby/Savard/Gagne, or a Heatley/Spezza/Carter combination. Spezza flanked by two gifted scorers, Carter, who has broken 40 goals this year, and his Ottawa teammate Heatley, a two-time 50-goal scorer. If you're more a fan of a power-forward line, you'll like an Iginla/Getzlaf/Nash line to fill that role, or alternately, Getzlaf/Thornton/Nash. No shortage of dangerous combinations for the Canadian team to put together.

Other Possibilities: Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes; Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers; Brad Richards, Dallas Stars; Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks; Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks; Mike Cammalleri, Calgary Flames; Brad Boyes, St. Louis Blues, Ryan Smyth, Colorado Avalanche.

Notable Omissions: Joe Sakic, Colorado Avalanche; Jonathan Tavares, OHL London Knights; Brendan Shanahan, New Jersey Devils. With all due respect to Sakic and Shanahan, the two will be 40 and 41 years old respectively at the time of the Olympics next year, and while Sakic, when not battling hernia problems, can play with the best of them, I don't think it's likely that he will be playing next year, nor will Shanahan. As to Tavares, as gifted a player as he is, Yzerman has said that he doesn't plan to have any teenagers on the team, and I don't expect Tavares to be named, just as I doubted that Sidney Crosby would be named to the 2006 team. Expect Tavares to be playing for Canada in 2014, if the NHL decides to go.

With a roster like this, and an opportunity to avenge an underwhelming 7th place finish in Italy back in 2006, this edition of Team Canada looks to be more versatile, more balanced, and faster than the 2006 incarnation. Explosive scoring, hard hitting, and fast moving. It should be a good tournament and a good home crowd in Vancouver for this one.

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