Steve Yzerman wants speed and skill for Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Canada’s general manager figures that was lacking during the 2006 failure in Turin.
Back on the bigger, international ice surface after winning gold in Vancouver on an NHL-sized rink, the Sochi roster could have a slightly different composition.
“I believe there is a priority and importance in being able to get around the ice to skate,” Yzerman said this week in naming the roster for next month’s pre-Olympic camp. “That will weigh into our final decisions on putting this team together. There will be more of a premium price on skating.”
Ultimately, though, Yzerman emphasized that he and his staff will “simply pick the best players available.”
“We’re not putting together a team for an NHL all-star game, we’re putting together the best possible team we can to compete against the best players in the world and try and win a gold medal,” Yzerman said. “Part of that comes with having players that can do specific things for us.”
The pool is even deeper than the 48 players invited to the Aug. 25-29 Olympic orientation camp in Calgary, but here’s a look at what the roster could look like:
Canada’s goaltending may be the biggest question mark heading into the Olympic tournament. More than five months before the final roster is due, there’s no definite No. 1, but Yzerman isn’t worried.
“We’ll worry about the starter after naming the final three that we’ll take to Sochi,” he said. “I think some of that will work itself out over the first part of the season.”
Roberto Luongo won gold in 2010, but Yzerman suggested on a conference call with reporters Monday that his playing more games for the Vancouver Canucks after the Cory Schneider trade should “bode well” for his chances of making the team. Corey Crawford is obviously a hot name after helping the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.
Before his late-season struggles, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens was considered a front-runner to be the starter. A knee injury is part of his baggage.
It would take a sterling start next season for Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins to make it, but consider him a long shot along with Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals.
“In goal there’s a whole bunch of guys vying for that job,” coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s not a locked-down position like it’s been in the past, so the first three months of the season are going to be very important in making that decision there.”
Invited to camp: Luongo, Crawford, Price, Holtby, Smith
Projected goaltenders: Luongo, Crawford, Price
Yzerman wants puck-movers who can get up and down the ice with ease. That’s not to say there isn’t room for size and physicality, but the international game on bigger ice makes speed essential.
Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Norris Trophy-winner P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks seem to be locks (barring injury) and make for an imposing top four. All but Keith are right-handed shots, but Yzerman said lefty-righty balance isn’t the “end-all.”
Nor should it be — Canada has a plethora of strong right-handed defencemen who would be able to play their off-side without any issue. Yzerman expects to take eight defencemen to Sochi, so there will be extras in case Babcock doesn’t like what he sees.
There’s no shortage of offensive power available, including Subban, Kris Letang of the Penguins, Mike Green of the Capitals and even Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Babcock was sure to point out that among the defensive defencemen invited to camp in August, all are “still real good skaters.”
Invited to camp: Weber, Subban, Doughty, Keith, Letang, Green, Phaneuf, Karl Alzner, Jay Bouwmeester, Dan Boyle, Dan Hamhuis, Travis Hamonic, Marc Methot, Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, Marc Staal, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Projected defencemen: Weber, Subban, Doughty, Keith, Letang, Pietrangelo, Seabrook, Hamhuis
No shocker here. Canada is deepest down the middle. Sidney Crosby of the Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers lead the crop.
Too many good centres is a good problem to have.
“We’ve had success with it in the past of moving centres to the wing if necessary, and the reality is we’ll be forced in that situation to move a couple centremen to the wing just because we’re very deep down the middle,” Yzerman said. “We are comfortable moving a few guys. Some centremen have had experience playing on the wing.”
Wanting to fill specific roles shouldn’t be hard for Team Canada up front. Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Jordan Staal of the Hurricanes and Mike Richards of the Los Angeles Kings could be shutdown centres, freeing up players like Crosby and Giroux to concentrate at the offensive end.
But Babcock wants a little bit of everything, counting on players to be “200-footers.”
“I really like our group up front,” he said. “We have a whole bunch of guys that can skate, move the puck, are really dangerous offensively but understand how the game’s supposed to be played with and without the puck.”
Fourteen forwards are expected to be on the roster of 25, which leaves room for the management team to select players based on how they fit into a lineup, instead of just the most talented or most prolific scorers. Milan Lucic of the Bruins and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers are power forwards, Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks and Jeff Carter of the Kings are snipers and Marty St. Louis of the Lightning and Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers are speedsters.
Scoring is a priority, as Yzerman called a lack of goals the “downfall” of Team Canada in Turin in 2006. Canada was shut out by Russia in the quarter-finals.
There’s plenty of talent there. Of course, the top offensive players “have to be responsible defensively,” Yzerman said.
How Canada’s management staff manages to wade through its seemingly never-ending forward pool, the major question is youth vs. experience. Will a 39-year-old St. Louis or a 34-year-old Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks be passed over in favour of 22-year-old Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche or 24-year-old Logan Couture?
Yzerman said age isn’t a huge factor, but he recalled Stanley Cup playoff runs in which veterans were relied on heavily in times of crisis.
“You can debate whether you want the young legs or whether you want the veteran experience,” said Yzerman, who won Olympic goldat the age of 36. “There is great value in having that veteran leadership. … (But) we’ve got to make room for some of these young players coming in.”
No matter the final 14, at least a couple of deserving forwards will be left off. Choosing the final few for this group could be the most difficult challenge leading up to the Dec. 31 roster deadline.
Invited to camp: Crosby, Toews, Stamkos, Eric Staal, Tavares, Giroux, Bergeron, Richards, Jordan Staal, Lucic, Nash, Perry, Carter, St. Louis, Hall, Thornton, Duchene, Couture, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Andrew Ladd, Brad Marchand, James Neal, Patrick Sharp
Projected forwards: Crosby, Toews, Stamkos, Eric Staal, Tavares, Giroux, Bergeron, Richards, Lucic, Perry, Carter, St. Louis, Hall, Sharp