Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Team Canada Roster - Thoughts on the players that did not make the list...

After Steve Yzerman announced the roster for Canada's men's hockey team at the Vancouver Olympic Games, the debate quickly began as to who was left off the squad. While it is a valuable part of the discussion, one thing that was very clear from watching the management team make their decision and speaking with Kevin Lowe in December for Main Street, many, many hours of scouting, travelling and conversations led to the team that we have before us today.

In announcing their choices for Team Canada, one thing is clear, there is a tremendous group of talented hockey players in our country and the argument could be made for two Team Canada’s at the Games. It will never happen but it is an interesting thought nonetheless...

For example, look at some of the eligible players not on this year’s Canadian roster for the World Junior Championship because they are already in the NHL:

Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay, 48 points), Matt Duchene (Colorado, 33 points), John Tavares (N.Y. Islanders, 31 points), Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 24 points), Evander Kane (Atlanta, 17 points).

Some remarkable Canadian players, all under twenty years of age and they are already making an impact in the NHL this season. When we look at some of the players left off Team Canada for the Olympics, there are several reasons for the decisions in my opinion.

The first item that stands out is the fact that unlike other Olympic Games, this year’s tournament will happen on a NHL ice surface. The miles of open ice on the International rinks is not a factor in 2010. In the past, Canada has brought in some hard checking forwards that could not do their job because when they lined up an opposing player for a hit, the boards were still ten feet away.

Another factor to consider is the amount of ice time allotted to these players in the tournament. A player may be a super star in the NHL, averaging 23 minutes per game, but what happens when he becomes a fourth line checker, limited to only six or seven minutes on the ice? Tampa Bay’s Steve Stamkos is a good example here... While he has racked up the points in his sophomore season with the Lightning, how would he fare in the Olympics as a fourth line checker? After a slow start in his rookie campaign, he finished the season with 46 points, -13 in the plus/minus category and he averaged 14:56 minutes of ice time after being used sparingly at the start of the year. This season, he has already surpassed his point totals, scoring 25 goals and adding 23 assists in 49 games. He is still a minus player at -6 but his ice time is now averaging 19:43 minutes per game. A small increase in ice time, some valuable experience in his rookie year and were are seeing what this young man is capable of; there is no doubt he will join Team Canada at future tournaments but who would he replace from the 2010 squad?

A key to Canada’s chances in Vancouver will be the third and fourth lines and Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews will be a major factor in the tournament. Both have experience in International competitions and their prowess in the face-off circle is essential. Besides having 40 points this season with Chicago, Toews has a 58.6 winning percentage in the face-off circle. Bergeron has accumulated 31 points on a low scoring Bruins team and he has won 57.9% of his face-offs. As I mentioned on Team Sports with Cesco Lepanto (Hardcore Sports Radio), when Canada is on the penalty kill in the tournament, especially against a high-powered Russian power play, Bergeron, Toews, Crosby and Marleau are among the best in the league on the draw; puck possession will be an integral factor in pursuit of a gold medal.

Two notable veterans left off Team Canada are Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lecavalier’s face-off percentage is 53.5% and St. Louis’ is 45.4%. To be included on the team and be effective, they would require first or second line ice time. With that in mind, who comes off the team? Crosby, Getzlaf, Heatley, Thornton, Nash or Marleau? Not an easy choice to make is it...

Going into the NHL season, many analysts expected as many as three Calgary Flames defencemen to be included on the Olympic roster. Jay Bouwmeester, Robyn Regehr and Dion Phaneuf were all considered for the squad but were not selected for the final roster. As Calgary struggles for consistency this season, many experts are looking at these three as a factor. The highly sought-after Bouwmeester has only 18 points in his first season with the Flames, Regehr has 13 points and is a minus two, and Phaneuf has 19 points but appears to have taken a step back from his impressive rookie year a few seasons ago. Some could argue that Calgary’s best defenceman this season is Mark Giordano.

The one name that is noticeably absent from Team Canada is Washington Capitals D-man Mike Green. He leads the NHL’s defencemen in scoring with 50 points but he is considered a defensive liability by some analysts. Keep in mind, there are many NHL games to be played between now and the Olympics, so I would imagine Green is at the top of the list for injury replacements.

To add a player like Green or one of the Flames D-men, who comes off the team? Here is a look at the players on the team right now and their NHL totals:

Dan Boyle - San Jose: 10 goals, 43 points, 90 blocked shots
Drew Doughty - Los Angeles: 9 goals, 36 points
Duncan Keith - Chicago: 10 goals, 45 points, 92 blocked shots
Scott Neidermayer - Anaheim: 4 goals, 28 points - the key here: Stanley Cup and Olympic experience
Chris Pronger - Philadelphia: 7 goals, 27 points, third among Canadian D-men with 112 blocked shots
Brent Seabrook - Chicago: 3 goals, 21 points, third among Canadian D-men with 130 hits and he has 100 blocked shots
Shea Weber - Nashville: 9 goals, 29 points

As for goaltending on Team Canada, this is the one area with no debate coming from the fans or the media. Brodeur, Luongo and Fleury are three of the top goaltenders in the league and in Brodeur’s case, perhaps the best goaltender ever. Carolina’s Cam Ward certainly warranted some consideration, but he seems to excel one year, only to take a step back the next. Steve Mason and Carey Price, two other names in the mix during the summer, played themselves out of contention.

While it is fun to think about who would make your Team Canada, Steve Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Kevin Lowe and Ken Holland brought an abundance of experience to the job and clearly focused on a team concept, as opposed to taking the best statistical players. We would all like to see our favourites make the squad and it is easy to say this player should be included or that player should be included but that leaves us with the question - who comes off the roster? Not as easy is it?

To borrow from Stephen Colbert, I for one give a “tip of the hat” to Yzerman and his staff. Difficult decisions were necessary in reaching a final roster and it is always a tremendous undertaking when assembling a Canadian team. It is certainly nice though to have too many good players to choose from... Have a great sports day everyone.

A special thank you to Sandy, a regular TVOS reader that asked the question - What about the guys left off Team Canada's roster... Have a question for The Voice of Sport? Send me a note on Twitter...

Photo by tyfn on Flickr

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