With the announcement that Steve Yzerman was once again stepping into the role of executive director for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, I was interested when TSN had posted their projected line-up for the team. I will first state that it is very difficult to project a line-up for this team for two very simple reasons.
The first is that it is still up in the air if the NHL will allow it’s players to commit to their countries to play. Secondly, there are always potential issues with health and players potentially working their way on to the team that was not originally considered ,as well as those who could be cut from the team for poor perfromance.
Here is the line-up that TSN posted on Sportscentre:
This Rant will look at the players that they have suggested and will chime in where I think there could, and maybe should, be a change made. Let’s look at the group of forwards first. The group of players presented is an incredibly strong and deep group.
If Sidney Crosby is healthy and is playing at a level that he feels is high enough to be there, he will be. Case closed. This is not just based on my feelings as a Penguins fan or what he did during the last Olympics in Vancouver. This is based purely on the fact that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world and is a proud Canadian.
I am lukewarm on the idea of Logan Couture, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins being on the list. Couture by far is San Jose’s best forward and brings a strong 2 way game to the line up that is needed for this type of tournament. Nugent-Hopkins is a very young player who would still be making his name in the NHL at the time of this tournament but I think he would bring instant energy to the team so I would keep him as well. What about Hall?
This is one of the times that I would actually swap out a player for someone else. I think that dropping Hall off of the list and adding Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a needed switch. Staal is one of the best penalty killers in the NHL, is developing into a offensive player and can shut down the other team’s best stars. It would also allow him to play on a team with his brothers Eric and Marc.
The addition of having Jordan Eberle as a member of the team would be a fantastic move. he has displayed not just an unreal offensive flair but also has had many huge goals for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. He handles the pressure well and could bust out in Sochi, especially playing along side the talent in this list.
Ryan Getzlaf is a player I am not a huge fan of but I do understand why he would be on the list. He is a proven point per game player but that is about it. I will leave him alone, for now, as I do feel itis important to have that “ready made” chemistry with Corey Perry to fall back on if things get rough in the tournament.
How incredible would it be to see Stamkos liniung up on the wing of Sidney Crosby? These two could run up scores just on their own, as Stamkos is a natural goal scorer and Crosby is one of the best playmakers in the game. What is even scarier is Crosby has added goal scoring to his repertoire and it would be very scary for a goalie trying to figure out which of the two would be doing the shooting. I will openly admit I have never been a Stamkos fan but he has grown on me and actually is the only decent thing the Lightning have going for them.
Now the defense have an incredible mix of skill, toughness and ability to play in their own end. There are some players who play with a combination of all three skills themselves but I am overly content with the players that TSN has placed in their potential team.
Seeing Kris Letang’s name there makes me happy, as I feel that he doesn’t always get the respect that he deserves. Not only is he a good defender but he is one of the best shot out players in the NHL and at the Olympics the Gold medal could be decided in that format. His ability to snap off a break out pass is second to none in the NHL and he has developed into one of the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL.
Team Canada will need a player like Marc Staal in it’s line up, as he is very responsible in his own zone and while not super flashy with the puck, he knows the right way to play the game. He is also a big body that will drive opposing players into the boards with a bone crunching body check. There is enough skill int he defensive group, so the need for a stay at zone defenseman is needed.
Another defenseman who fits in that mould is Tyler Myers, who is a big and strong defenseman who plays a solid game with flashes of offense. The other side of that coin is the scoring and puck moving ability of Alex Pietrangelo. If Myers and Staal are cut from the same cloth, so is Pietrangelo and Letang. Even though he puts up goals and points, Pietrangelo has had a very good plus/minus that shows he is also capable of playing without the puck as well.
The goaltending is a strange situation but I feel it really has one way to go. The starter should be Marc-Andre Fleury, bar none. He has won a Stanley Cup, has been the 3rd goalie on the 2010 team which means he has been the circus of the Olympics before and has the ability to put bad goals and bad games behind him. His mental preparation and lack of carrying bad goals/games forward is an amazing in tangible that Carey Price lacks.
In fact, Price is the exact opposite of Fleury. He gets rattled, high strung and volatile if things are not going his way and that could cause the end of a team’s Gold medal dream easily. The best set up would be to start Fleury, give the role of veteran back up to Roberto Luongo and have Price be the odd man out. now easy Montreal fans, I think Price is a good goalie but he has some work to do on the mental part of the game and he hasn’t taken the step to do that which holds him back.
The NHL should really see the opportunity that the Olympics presents to them, as it is on a world level. Yes, there are those who feel that the games interrupt he season, take the place of the All-Star game and there is a chance that players can get hurt. However, Gary Bettman has made it known that growing the game is a huge priority, why not take advantage of the millions watching your stars.
International hockey fans know who the players of the NHL are and there are fans all over the world. This gives the actual game of hockey a chance to not just be put on the world’s biggest stage but also be given the spotlight it deserves, and it is one of the few times that the actual game of hockey is more important than the NHL. This is why Bettman has issues with it, as he can not market it in a way that makes it a cash cow for his league.
There is something special about playing for your country and the pride of putting on that jersey and representing millions of people is a feeling that I can only imagine. The Olympic Games mean something to the world and the athletes, and produces some of the best games of hockey we will ever see. Yes, there is no corny skills competition, no lackluster game that no one wants to play hard in and that is why I love them.
Passion and pride drive the athletes and they are there because they want to be there, not because they will be suspended if they do not want to go. I hope the NHL does the right thing and not just allows it’s players to go, but encourages it.