As a Vancouverite, thinking back on the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament fills me with pride for several reasons. It happened 45 minutes from my house, for one thing, and for another, it was nice to see the home team actually win something. As a Canucks fan, you might understand why I don't get a lot of opportunities to gloat. So bear with me.
Canada won gold because Canada is the best. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
This time around will be much the same. The Canadian team is mere shades from perfect. While every other team will be plugging in the stars and then filling their roster out with serviceable players, Canada's problem is they have just have too many superstars. Maybe one day you'll understand, America.
Here are my picks for the 2014 Canadian men's Olympic team.
There are a lot of good Canadian forwards. You probably knew that, but I say it because, until I started putting this team together, I didn't realize how tall Steve Yzerman's task will truly be. Unless Canada wins gold, thereby validating every single one of his roster decisions, he's going to be criticized for the guys he left off.
For this reason, I'm glad I'm just doing this for fun. Still, I think this team is excellent.
Jonathan Toews - Sidney Crosby - Steven Stamkos
John Tavares - Claude Giroux - Martin St. Louis
Jamie Benn - Patrice Bergeron - Corey Perry
Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Rick Nash
Jarome Iginla, Eric Staal
For what I assume are obvious reasons, Sidney Crosby is the first line centre of this squad. He's the best player in the world, and I've stacked his line with two of the other best players in the world in Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos. I'm sure some will take exception to moving Toews to the wing, but considering the depth chart at centre, somehow I think this team will manage. Plus, if Crosby gets waved out of the circle and Toews comes in, well, you're winning that faceoff. And the fact that Stamkos, the world's best finisher is with them? This line is lights out. It's my favourite line ever. As lines go, it's up there with "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
Claude Giroux lines up on line two alongside John Tavares and Martin St. Louis. This line isn't huge, but they should be able to kill the opposition with their ability to cover ground on international ice and finishing ability.
Line three gives us Patrice Bergeron, the game's best defensive centre, in between Jamie Benn and Corey Perry. I think Bergeron will be incredibly useful at this tournament, not so much as a shutdown guy -- why would you need a shutdown guy when practically everyone is a star? -- but as someone who can start Canada with the puck and win his shifts. Canada could use this line as a checking line, or they can simply put it on the ice whenever they want to have the puck for 45 seconds.
Finally, I think it's wise to take advantage of all preexisting chemistry possible, which is why Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau come as a package deal. Rick Nash has shown excellent chemistry with Thornton on international ice too, plus he's good, so he gets the final wing spot.
Eric Staal and Jarome Iginla round out the group. Iginla is slowing down a little, and just enough that I don't think he's a lock to play game one, but I'm sure he'll get some icetime. He's always great at these tournaments, I suspect because getting to play with a top-flight centre invigorates him. Imagine if he was able to do that more often.
Where I worry most about Canada is on the blueline, which sounds somewhat ridiculous when said aloud if you consider the names that are on it. There simply isn't another team in this tournament that will be able to fly over the caliber of defender that Canada will.
That said, Canada is really going to feel the losses of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, two of the best defenceman ever, both of whom were left-side defencemen. Thus, Canada is as heavy on right-siders this time around as they are on centres.
It's not the end of the world, and most of the Olympic projections are just sort of shrugging it off -- after all, these guys are the best -- but I don't take moving an elite defender to his off-side lightly, especially when the best players in the world are rushing towards him.
Drew Doughty - Shea Weber
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Doughty and Weber is your inevitable two-righty pairing, but I think Doughty, whose game is more about being fleet of foot than about punishing people that try to go wide on him -- can manage it. He's a smart, savvy defender who should be able to ably make that transition. If he can, then Canada has a top pairing that is both punishing and offensively gifted, and the rest of their defence falls in line.
Canada also has the luxury of bringing a fully-fleshed pairing to the tournament in Keith and Seabrook. There will be little room for error in Sochi, so it's important to make like Walter White and take advantage of chemistry.
That said, Doughy and Keith played together in 2010, and we might see that again. If we do, these pairings will go in a blender. But nevermind that for now.
The third pairing sees Alex Pietrangelo, who has become one of the world's best defencemen, paired with Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester's selection might raise some eyebrows, but I think he gets a bad rap because his contract too often juxtaposed with his production. Truth is, he's still one of the game's elite shutdown defenders, plus he's huge and he's fleet of foot. Against the American team, who will crash and bang all day, I'd far rather have a mobile, big, sturdy, comfortable guy like Bouwmeester than, say, Kris Letang or Dan Boyle playing on his off-side.
It's for that same reason that Marc Staal gets the nod as my extra defender. He's already going to be in the mix, since he's big and strong and crazy skilled, but the fact that he's a lefty gives him the edge.
Every few months, some Canadian pundit laments the slowly dwindling pool of great Canadian goaltenders, but the truth is that you really only need three in this tournament, and Canada has them. You might remember two of them from 2010.
In what can only be seen as a baffling decision, Roberto Luongo was left off Ray Ferraro's Olympic roster entirely. This is an error Team Canada won't make. Neither will I.
There's always going to be this undercurrent of folks that thinks Luongo's not clutch, based largely on his play in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, but let's deal with that right up front: it's crap. Luongo's gold medal from the last Olympics should be enough of a rebuttal, but it's also important to note that in front of Luongo will be six of the world's most elite defencemen. That's a far cry from a Canucks' corps that noticeably felt the absence of a suspended Aaron Rome.
But if Luongo struggles early on, that's when you turn to Carey Price, the heir apparent to Canada's goaltending throne. Behind him, 40-year-old Martin Brodeur comes along for what will undoubtedly be his final Olympics.
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