So obviously the biggest question on every Canadian’s mind right now is ‘did Steve Yzerman et al. pick the right players to give Canada its second men’s hockey Olympic gold medal in a row…on international ice.?’ (The international ice caveat is important because at the Olympic level Canada hasn’t won a men’s hockey gold medal in I don’t know how many decades.)
Let’s look at the roster. (All skater stats are through January 7th; all goalie stats through January 8th.)
Jamie Benn, 24, LW:
- This season: 15G (18th Canadian forward), 22A (10th Canadian F) for 37 points (16th), +4 in 42 games
- Career 82-game average: 26G, 43A for 62P
Benn is having a career year this year but, on the other hand, he is not exactly lighting it up offensively compared to the other Canadian stars. Benn is young and he is a physical player. He is probably the kind of player Canada needs on its fourth line. (I say probably because I don’t ever see Dallas play.) At least I hope that’s the case.
Best case scenario is that he is this team’s equivalent of 2010 Brenden Morrow. Worst case scenario is that he doesn’t score and coughs up the puck too much.
Patrice Bergeron, 28, C:
- This season: 10G (55th), 15A (45th) for 25P (50th), +16 in 43 games
- Career 82-game average: 21G, 39A for 61P, +11
I was one of the biggest detractors of Bergeron’s selection in 2010 but I was proved wrong when he won some major face-offs. Since that time Bergeron has established himself as perhaps the best Canadian defensive forward in the league, as well as a clutch performer. Though Bergeron is having an off-year offensively, there’s no reason to leave him off the team; we all know what he can do: he will (likely) win more face-offs than everyone else in the tournament, he will (likely) anchor the most effective checking line in the tournament (unless Toews does), and he may score a timely goal.
He absolutely belongs.
Jeff Carter, 29, C/RW:
- This season: 15G (18th), 12A (64th) for 27P (42nd), +6 in 37 games
- Career 82-game average: 33G, 26A for 60P, +6
Though I never see the Kings, I must say I’m pretty upset with this pick. Carter is performing (barely) above his career average this year but he has always struck me as a streaky player, when I have seen him, who doesn’t play a consistent game and doesn’t contribute enough when he is not scoring to warrant inclusion.
Given Canada’s depth at centre, couldn’t the team pick another winger who provides more?
Sidney Crosby, 26, C:
- This season: 24G (2nd), 41A (2nd) for 65P (1st overall), +12 in 45 games
- Career 82-game average: 42G, 75A for 116P, +19
Crosby is Canada’s undisputed #1 centre.
Matt Duchene, 22, C:
- This season: 16G (15th), 22A (10th) for 38P (14th), +6 in 39 games
- Career 82-game average: 26G, 36A for 62P, -1
Duchene is having a career year but if his offense is why he is on the team there are stronger offensive players available.
Ryan Getzlaf, 28, C:
- This season: 20G (7th), 29A (4th) for 49P (3rd), +17 in 42 games
- Career 82-game average: 24G, 55A for 78P, +13
Getzlaf is also having a career year and is getting (kind of silly) Hart buzz. Based on his career year this year and his performance in 2010 – when he was one of the few consistent performers for Canada up front – he was an absolute lock for this team.
The only question is, where to play him?
Chris Kunitz, 34, LW:
- This season: 23G (5th), 25A (7th) for 48P (4th), +23 in 45 games
- Career 82-game average: 25G, 34A for 59P, +20
Kunitz is a teeny bit off the pace of his career year last season and has great chemistry with Crosby. And that’s why he’s on the team. It’s the only reason. He is old, he wasn’t a .7PPG player before he got to Pittsburgh (at 29) and, without Crosby, he can disappear. He is on this team to play with Crosby. If he doesn’t, should he be here?
I am on the fence about chemistry: part of me thinks you need to play players together who normally play together in such a short tournament in order to get results – see success of Marleau-Thornton-Heatley and Getzlaf-Perry lines in 2010 – but I also want the top 9 forwards on Canada to be the best players they have, and Kunitz, on any other line except Crosby’s, is not one of Canada’s top 9 offensive forwards by any stretch of the imagination.
Patrick Marleau, 34, C/LW:
- This season: 20G (7th), 22A (10th) for 24P (9th), +9 in 44 games
- Career 82-game average: 29G, 33A for 62P, +2
Marleau is having his best offensive year since 2010 but we must assume that a main reason he is on the team is due to his chemistry with Thornton, the team’s likely 2nd line centre. And really that’s the only reason I can think of for including him. Marleau had a shockingly strong 2010 Olympics – along with Heatley and Thornton, surprising the hell out of a lot of us who thought they were chokers – but he is now hockey-old and, if Thornton were not on the team, it would be very hard for me to think of a reason to include him.
You mean to tell me Thornton isn’t on the team and Marleau is? What?
Rick Nash, 29, LW:
- This season: 9G (68th), 9A (98th) for 18P (91st), -2 in 27 games
- Career 82-game average: 35G, 32A for 66P, -6
Nash has been hurt, yes, but even by per game stats he doesn’t look good this year: he is 35th among Canadians in GPG, 68th in APG and 44th in PPG this season; he is in the middle of the second worst offensive season of his career. (The worst was his rookie year, folks.)
Nash had a good tournament in 2010 after getting demoted to the 4th line, but there are loads of Canadian forwards who are this big and who, moreover, play bigger than Nash and who score more than he does currently.
This is a reputation pick and it is flat out ridiculous.
Corey Perry, 28, RW:
- This season: 24G (2nd), 22A (10th) for 46P (6th), +17
- Career 82-game average: 32G, 35A for 68P, +8
Holy shit! A right wing! Despite Perry’s major gaffe in the first game against the States in 2010, he had a strong tournament.
He and Getzlaf have undeniable chemistry. It seems stupid not to play them together.
Patrick Sharp, 32, LW/RW:
- This season: 25G (1st), 21A (16th) for P (6th), +22
- Career 82-game average: 29G, 29A for 57P, +12
Sharp is having a career year, which is an odd thing at his age. It’s totally dependent on context, and so one has to worry, at least a little bit, whether or not he will perform. However, Toews, his centre, is also on the team, so it seams reasonable to expect Sharp to still be able to score with Toews. (Unless Hossa is the one giving him “space.”)
I am optimistic about Sharp, as I am a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of guy when it comes to the national team. So hopefully this works out, and he doesn’t slump his way through the entire thing.
Steven Stamkos, 23, C/RW:
- This season: 14G (24th), 9A (98th) for 23P (59th), +11 in 17 games
- Career 82-game average: 47G, 40A for 86P
The premiere Canadian goal scorer of his era should be on the team if he is healthy; it’s a no-brainer.
In case you need convincing: Stamkos is 1st in GPG in the league this season – ahead of Ovechkin and way, way ahead of Steen. That’s enough for me.
John Tavares, 23, C:
- This season: 20G (7th), 34A (3rd) for 54P (2nd), +2 in 44 games
- Career 82-game average: 32G, 42A for 74P, -9
Tavares is having the best year of his career – significantly better offensively than last year, when some people thought he should win the Hart. In fact he is finally scoring at the rate that many expected he would when he was labeled the next great Canadian hockey star after Crosby. (Tavares is 4th in PPG this year, and every other player above him is on Pittsburgh.)
He absolutely belongs.
Jonathan Toews, 25, C:
- This season: 15G (18th), 29A (4th) for 44P (8th), +21 in 45 games
- Career 82-game average: 33G, 43A for 75P, +25
Toews is in the middle of the second best offensive season of the year, and is, with Bergeron, a front-runner for the Selke.
Additionally, he was probably the MVP of the 2010 Olympic team. So there’s that.
Who I would have omitted from these forwards if I were GM:
Marleau and Nash for sure, Duchene and Kunitz maybe.
But I’m not GM, and we have what we have to work with. This is how I see the forwards panning out, provided all of the above are healthy:
- Kunitz – Crosby – Stamkos
- Tavares – Getzlaf – Perry
- Marleau – Toews – Sharp
- Benn – Bergeron – Carter
- Duchene Nash
- Kunitz has to play with Crosby; it doesn’t make any sense for them to be apart. I can see any of Carter, Tavares or Stamkos on Crosby’s RW, but I think Stamkos, if healthy, makes the most sense, at least in camp. If they have 0 chemistry, then they should try someone else there.
- Again, Getzlaf and Perry pretty much have to play together. It’s stupid to demote the 4th best offensive player in the NHL below the 2nd line, so at least in theory it makes sense that if Tavares is not playing with Crosby, he plays with Getzlaf.
- Yet again, Toews and Sharp have to play together. Sharp normally plays on the other side but there are just way too many left-handed shots and Sharp is a righty, so me might have to switch. We know from 2010 that Marleau can check if need be, so he makes sense here.
- It’s the 4th line that is problematic. Bergeron is obviously the focal point. Benn should play on it – either side – if he lives up to his reputation. As to who should be the last guy, that can only be decided in camp. I hate Carter here – rather see him on the wing of a star offensive player like Crosby, Getzlaf or Tavares – but I don’t know if Duchene can play this role and I have major concerns about Nash, despite his consistent checking play in 2010.
Jay Bouwmeester, 30:
- This season: 24:19 ATOI (14th in TOI among Canadian D); 3G (26th), 24A (5th) for 27P (6th), +20 in 42 games; 3.3 DPS (4th)
- Career 82-game average: 25:13; 7G, 26A for 34P, -4; 4 DPS
Bouwmeester is having a career year…offensively. You can count me in the “Bouwmeester is underrated as a minutes-eater” camp but I’m not sure if membership in that camp means I have to support him for the national team.
Frankly this is a real surprise, despite his lack of embarrassing play, on European ice, in 2006. I just think there are better guys. Obviously the goal is to have him and Pietrangelo play together, and that’s pretty much the only justification I can think of: yes it makes sense to have the top defensive pair of the 3rd best defensive team in the NHL together at the Olympics – but only if you can’t get the top pairs on the first two (and Canada cannot, as those teams as the Kings and Bruins).
Drew Doughty, 24:
- This season: 25:38 ATOI (4th in TOI); 6G (6th), 17A (11th) for 23P (9th), +13 in 44 games; 3.9 DPS (2nd)
- Career 82-game average: 25:06; 11G, 30A for 42P, +6; 5.9 DPS
I was not a fan of Doughty’s highly risky play in 2010, though virtually every media commentator appeared to be. I was actually petrified half the time he was on the ice.
I know he can’t be left off the team, as he is too talented, but I think he should be used sparingly. I hope his judgment has improved. (Again, I never see west coast hockey teams, especially this year.)
Dan Hamhuis, 31:
- This season: 24:17 ATOI (8th in TOI); 4G (15th), 10A (31st) for 14P (25th), +10 in 45 games; 3.4 DPS (3rd)
- Career 82-game average: 22:33 ATOI; 6G, 24A for 30A, +9; 4.8 DPS
Full disclosure: I am a huge Hamhuis fan. I’m glad his coaches have finally realized how good he is, as he’s playing a career-high in minutes-per-game.
Glad to see him on the team.
Duncan Keith, 30:
- This season: 24:27 ATOI (6th in TOI); 3G (26th), 39A (1st) for 42P (1st), +18 in 45 games, 2.6 DPS (15th)
- Career 82-game average: 25:19 ATOI; 8G, 36A for 44P, +15; 5.2 DPS
Just because Keith isn’t playing his old monster minutes doesn’t mean he’s lost a step; I suspect Chicago is just managing their D better.
Keith remains one of the top few D in the league, when he’s on, and it would be ridiculous not to include him.
Alex Pietrangelo, 23:
- This season: 25:29 ATOI (10th in TOI); 5G (7th), 25A (4th) for 30P (4th), +15 in 42 games; 2.9 DPS (9th)
- Career 82-game average: 11G, 36A for 47P, +12; 5.3 DPS
For my money, Pietrangelo is probably the best (Canadian) D under 25 in the entire league (though I rarely see him play). He’s the reason Bouwmeester is on this team. He makes me less worried than Doughty or Subban.
P.K. Subban, 24:
- This season: 25:17 ATOI (5th in TOI); 7G, 26A (3rd) for 33P (2nd), +14 in 44 games; 4.2 DPS (1st)Career 82-game average: 23:38 ATOI; 13G, 36A for 49P, +11; 5.4 DPS
If DPS is anything to go by – and it probably isn’t – Subban should win the Norris this year.
Since I am not watching enough hockey, I am indeed susceptible to the dumb sports media bias against Subban. And I swear it has nothing to do with their latent prejudice and everything to do with me not watching enough Habs games.
That being said, the fact that there was a controversy around him being included is kind of hysterical.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, 26:
- This season: 21:00 ATOI (22nd in TOI); 4G (15th), 12A (20th) for 16P (18th), +12 in 44 games; 2.7 DPS (13th)
- Career 82-game average: 22:05 ATOI; 4G, 19A for 23P, +12; 5.3 DPS
Vlasic has to be the biggest shocker on here; he doesn’t even play on the top 2 pair on his own team.
Now, I have always though Vlasic was underrated, but just like with Bouwmeester, thinking that doesn’t mean I support his candidacy necessarily.
Now, I have seen SJ for all of about half a period this year, but I am wondering what he did to convince the Brain Trust that he should be included over, say, Seabrook, or one of the surprising young D this year or, on the other hand, a dependable shutdown veteran.
Since I have never minded Vlasic, I’m not particularly worried he’ll make anyone regret this, but it is a little surprising.
Shea Weber, 28:
- This season: 26:44 ATOI (7th in TOI); 10G (1st), 19A (8th) for 29P (5th), -12 in 41 games; 1.9 DPS (28th)
- Career 82-game average: 23:19 ATOI; 17G, 30A for 46P, +4; 4.7 DPS
If that stat line belonged to anyone but Weber, I would have my concerns. But I thought Weber was far and away the best Canadian D in 2010 and the best skater on the team after Toews.
Nashville is a brutal defensive team this year, but the team save percentage is at least partially to blame. Weber is leading the team in both minutes and points, so it’s entirely possible that he is having an off year – if indeed he is, as +/- and DPS, two unreliable metrics, indicate – because he is being asked to do too much, which won’t be the case on Team Canada.
But I personally cannot imagine a Team Canada without him, after the last tournament.
- Keith Weber
- Hamhuis Subban
- Bouwmeester Pietrangelo
- Vlasic Doughty
So, uh, what to do? I really have no idea. But let’s try to work this out a bit:
- Keith is the team’s #1 D unless someone else proves themselves worthy in camp. (I know I’d prefer Weber to play that role, but I am thinking of 2010 Weber and don’t know if 2014 Weber is up for it.) We do know that Weber can play stay-at-home when he needs to and we know Keith needs someone to do that for him.
- So does Subban, and I think Hamhuis is a good fit there. (I hope he is.)
- Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo should be played together unless Bouwmeester doesn’t play. In that case I could see Pietrangelo playing with Doughty (or with Subban, or frankly even with Keith).
- And I couldn’t fit Doughty and Vlasic anywhere else in my mind, unless Doughty takes Subban’s place.
This is a Cadillac problem, as my boss likes to say. I just hope they sort it out in camp, and not in games that matter.
Roberto Luongo, 34:
- This season: 894 shots against, (6th Canadian with at least 15 games played), .922 save percentage (7th), 2.23 GAA (5th), 3 shutouts (1st), 6.4 GPS (5th) in 33 games (4th)
- Career: .919 save percentage, 2.51 GAA
Luongo may have seemed a long-shot going into the season, but now he has made a case to at least be the backup.
What is that case? Well, he playing above his career numbers this year, and of the Canadian goalies above him in the crucial stats, only one, Price, has played more games this season. (It seems reasonable to believe that goalies such as Elliott and Scrivens will see their numbers regress with more starts.)
But perhaps the most important thing is that, despite his reputation as a playoff choker, Luongo has lots of international experience: 1 Olympic gold (2010), 1 World Cup gold (2004), 2 World Championship golds (2003, 2004) and one silver (2005), and 1 WJC silver (1999). Yes, that’s all in the distant past, but given that he is hot right now and he is such a large amount of international experience, it seems silly to select anyone else (say, Brodeur) as the insurance policy.
Luongo is on this team, at least prior to camp, to make sure the team has an experienced, calm goalie in case Price doesn’t show up. And I think that’s a safe plan.
Carey Price, 26:
- This season: 1065 shots against (2nd), .928 save percentage (3rd), 2.22 GAA (4th), 2 shutouts (6th), 8.3 GPS (2nd) in 35 games (1st)
- Career: .916 save percentage, 2.53 GAA
Price is having a career year. The fear is regarding his lack of consistency, throughout his career, and his rather notorious playoff performances. (With the exception of 2010-11, when he was fantastic, he has always managed lower save percentages in the playoffs.)
The hope is that he is on, because the last thing this team needs is a meltdown in net.
Mike Smith, 31:
- This season: 1100 shots against (1st), .911 save percentage (11th), 2.89 GAA (13th), 0 shutouts, 6.4 GPS (5th) in 35 games (2nd)
- Career: .933 save percentage, 2.61 GAA
This is the one that confuses me. I would have preferred a lot of other goalies. I figure Smith is on the team because he is one of the best puck-handling goalies in the league right now – if not the best – and that is especially important on the bigger ice. And that’s something to have, for sure. But I worry that he just isn’t “big game” enough for such a short tournament.
I think the order these guys are ranked in, pre-camp, is pretty obvious:
I think the brain-trust got the forwards mostly right, but made some major mistakes, which I hope don’t cost the team (in terms of lack of scoring, or mental gaffes).
I like the D a lot; it’s mobile, talented and there isn’t one guy on it who you would call “slow.”
Goal is my biggest concern, but that has more to do with the decrease in Canadian goalie dominance – only slightly more than 1/3 of NHL goalies are Canadian at the moment, compared to well over 50% of all players – than anything else, and that’s hardly the fault of the goalies selected. I must say, I would prefer a goalie who is currently standing on his head right now – Bernier, Elliott, Harding, Scrivens, despite their low shots against – as insurance instead of Smith, but I get why he’s there.
On the whole I think there are really only a couple decisions that are highly questionable – Nash! – and this team is a lot stronger than the team iced in 2006, so I remain cautiously optimistic about our medal hopes. But I think our goaltending is too much of a weakness to expect a gold. (That being said, we do have the greatest forward and defensive depth in the tournament, and we have stocked this team to win, not to “not lose” like the Americans did. But whether or not the talent gels is all a matter of chemistry.)
Go Canada Go.