Willes: Sochi will mark sea change for Team Canada
Key veterans from the victorious 2010 team will be off the radar in 2014.
For all the column inches devoted to the subject on newsprint and in cyberspace, the selection of the 2010 Canadian Olympic men’s hockey team was reasonably straight forward.
There were some discrepancies among the 12th and 13th forward and, maybe, the seventh defenceman and third goalie.
Mike Richards or Brad Richards up front? Marc-Andre Fleury or Carey Price as the third goalie? Those were the big discussion points.
By the time the 2010 Olympic tournament rolled around, the selections were fairly obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
The outcome? That was a different story.
For Sochi, however, we are witnessing a sea change on the men’s team. While the final selection is still a year away, about half the roster figures to turn over.
In goal, Marty Brodeur will be 41 by the time the 2014 tournament begins.
On the blueline, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger have retired, and Dan Boyle has passed his best-before date.
The forwards are a little murkier, but as of this writing, it’s hard to envision Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla or Dany Heatley on the team, and 2010 veterans Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron will be on the bubble.
So what will the team in Russia look like? Who knows? But it’s one of the enduring exercises in this country to guess, and we’ll now offer up our version, while stressing one key point.
In 2006, Canada sent a team to Turin which was ill-equipped to handle the game on the big ice. It was big and physical, but it wasn’t terribly fast or creative and it was shut out three times on the way to an ignominious seven-place finish.
This time around, the emphasis will be on players who can skate and make plays on the big ice.
GOALIES: Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo.
It’s probably the one position which will be determined by the level of play leading up to the Olympics but, right now, the slight nod goes to Price. Luongo will be around as the wise, old head. Fleury was the third goalie in 2010 and moves up a notch for Sochi.
DEFENCE: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Kris Letang Alex Pietrangelo, Marc Staal and — oh geez, we need some help here, OK? ... Dan Girardi.
The first five picks are chalk, though it’s hard to believe some pundits left Letang off their team. Keith was made for the big ice. Doughty might have been the best defenceman in Vancouver. Weber will be the veteran presence and Pietrangelo is an emerging star.
That leaves the sixth and seventh spots to Staal and Girardi, the Rangers’ shutdown pair. In 2010, GM Steve Yzerman took Keith and his Blackhawks partner Brent Seabrook; Staal and Girardi would give the coaching staff a great option in their individual matchups.
Everyone from Brian Campbell to Michael Del Zotto to Cam Fowler to Kevin Bieksa to Seabrook has been mentioned on the blueline. For our money, the Canucks’ Dan Hamhuis deserves a long look, but the familiarity between Staal and Girardi will be the deciding factor.
FORWARDS: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Logan Couture, James Neal, Tyler Seguin, Jeff Skinner, Jamie Benn, Jordan Staal.
The sound you hear is cheering from Thunder Bay because all three Staal brothers are on the team.
The one thing you can say for certain is the forward lines will have a much different look than they had in Vancouver. Morrow and Heatley have dropped off the radar. Thornton is too slow for the big ice. In 2010, Ryan Getzlaf looked like he’d be a fixture on Team Canada through 2018, but there’s something missing with the big centreman.
Crosby and Toews will form the foundation of the top two lines. That’s a given. Who they play with is the next question, and that’s where things get interesting. Stamkos and Giroux will likely move to the wings to play in the top-six. Our team has four natural wingers — Perry, Nash, Neal, Benn — and it figures Team Canada favourite Nash will play in a feature role.
The really intriguing part about this, however, is the youngsters. Seguin will likely move to the wing, where he shouldn’t have any problem with the big ice. Same with Skinner and Couture, whose skill sets are just too attractive to leave off the team. Neal goes because he’s a goal scorer and because of his partnership with Crosby. Jordan Staal gets the defensive centre spot ahead of 2010 vet Mike Richards, but we’d really like to throw Alex Burrows’ name into the mix.
Burrows can play an offensive or defensive role, he can certainly skate, he’s used to playing with good players and he doesn’t take stupid penalties any more. Yes, there are guys ahead of him, but Burrows deserves to be mentioned with them.
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