Speculation on men’s hockey team begins
It isn’t official that NHL players will skate at the 2014 Winter Games that begin in a year from now in Sochi, Russia.
But all indications are that they will be there, and that will give Hockey Canada’s management team the painful job of deciding which star players make the team and which don’t.
But Canada was not in the medals on the bigger ice surfaces at Nagano, Japan (1998) and Turin, Italy (2006).
And they will need a team that can win on big ice, which does not favour the slower or older players.
Here are our picks on who should be on the 2014 team, given that much can change over the next year.
Also, there is talk of bumping rosters from 23 to 25 players, so an extra defenceman and forward have been added just in case.
That makes three goalies, eight defencemen. and 14 forwards.
The likely goalie contenders are Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks), Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), and Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh Penguins).
Some feel Canada won in 2010 despite having Luongo as the starter, but he was solid when it counted in the gold-medal game.
He’s also playing well again after some rough patches in recent years.
Price, meanwhile, has been growing into an elite goalie since he was drafted in 2005.
Fleury has struggled lately, but he was a top draft pick, was a back-up in 2010, and has a Stanley Cup ring.
Other contenders include Cam Ward (Carolina Hurricanes), a veteran who is brilliant when he gets hot.
Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes) had a great 2011-12 season.
On defence, look for Drew Doughty (L.A. Kings), Shea Weber (Nashville Predators), Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (Chicago Blackhawks), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues), Kris Letang (Pittsburgh), and Mark Staal (N.Y. Rangers), with Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks) as the extra one.
Doughty, Weber, Keith, and Pietrangelo may be unmatched in the world as a top-four. The first three of them, plus Seabrook and Boyle, were on the 2010 team.
Boyle is a question mark because he will be 37 next year. Letang, meanwhile, brings quick open-ice play to the big rinks while Staal is strong at both ends.
An oddity is that only Keith and Staal are left-hand shots, so someone would have to play on his off-side.
Another contender is Dougie Hamilton (Boston Bruins)—a rookie who has the size and skill to be a no-brainer pick by next year (he’s also a right-hand shot).
Same for Justin Shultz (Edmonton Oilers) and P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens), who both also shoot right).
Brian Campbell (Florida Panthers) could be a left-shot option.
At forward, the likel contenders are Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Rick Nash (N.Y. Rangers), Eric Staal (Carolina), Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks), Patrice Bergeron (Boston), and Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning).
Also in the pack are John Tavares (N.Y. Islanders), Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers), and Joe Thornton (San Jose), with Mike Richards (L.A.) as the extra one.
Canada is so loaded with size and skill up front that by only taking 14, you’re leaving off a potential line or two of all-stars.
Crosby, Toews, Nash, Staal, Perry, Geztlaf, Bergeron, Thornton, and Richards all won gold in Vancouver. But Getzlaf’s play has fallen off and his spot may be tenuous.
The 33-year-old Thornton also may be overlooked.
Stamkos, Tavares, Giroux, and Eberle, meanwhile, have emerged as stars since 2010. And who wouldn’t want No. 1 pick Hall blasting down left-wing?
But nine of these 14 are centres, so some will need to play wing, as Eric Staal did so well in Vancouver.
Nash and Hall are left-wingers while Eberle and Perry play the right side. Giroux can play on the wing and Richards can play anywhere.
Other contenders at forward include Jordan Staal (Carolina), who could make it as a battler and a checking centre.
Logan Couture (San Jose) is an excellent two-way player, Tyler Seguin (Boston) is another emerging star, and Milan Lucic (Boston) was considered for 2010 due to his size and scoring touch.
Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay) remains a great play-maker but will be 38 next year.
James Neal (Pittsburgh) is a left-winger who scores. Same for Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars).
Jarome Iginla (Calgary Flames) played well on right-wing at the last three Olympics, but is 35 and looks to be fading a touch.