Monday, July 22, 2013
The decision on who makes the team, as always, will be difficult, as Canada is loaded at all positions. But as the Olympics are in Sochi, Russia this year, the international ice will be a huge factor, so skating ability will be a major selection criterion.
"Ultimately, we'll pick the best players available to us," Yzerman said on a conference call. "But playing on a bigger ice surface, I believe there is a priority on being able to skate."
Olympic camp will give the Team Canada brass a closer look at the Olympic hopefuls. There is a chance for a player snubbed from orientation camp to nab a roster spot, like Patrice Bergeron in 2010 and Bryan McCabe in 2006, but it isn't likely.
Here's a look at the camp invitees and how good of a chance they have at making the 25-man Russia-invading squad.
The question with Roberto Luongo isn't whether or not he's going to Sochi, it's whether or not he's starting. His .907 save percentage in 2013 was the lowest of his career since breaking into the league at 20 with the Islanders way back in 1999. But Canada has no clear starter and even if Luongo doesn't get the nod initially, it will be comforting to have a guy who's been there before ready in case someone falters.
Coming off a Stanley Cup win, and a sparkling .926 save percentage, Corey Crawford should have the inside track at a job, but he's also only one year removed from a terrible year with a .903 save percentage that ended with many blaming him for a first-round playoff exit. And over the last three years his .913 save percentage is worse than seven other Canadian goalies, including Cam Ward, James Reimer, Devan Dubnyk, and Marc-Andre Fleury.
There is a concern that Mike Smith's numbers are at least somewhat inflated by Dave Tippet's system, and he really only has two seasons of above-average play over the last five years. But his 2011-12 season was outer-worldly, so the ceiling is there.
It was an up-and-down season for Carey Price in 2013, starting the season like a Vezina Trophy candidate, and then finishing the year by equaling the worst save percentage of his career. Plus, according to his former goalie coach, Price hasn't stopped deteriorating since 2009.
The most inexperienced among the invitees, Braden Holtby has posted solid numbers in both the NHL and AHL, and also has a stonewalling of the defending Cup champion Bruins on his resume.
He hasn't come close to duplicating his 59-point sophomore season (the same year he played for Canada in Vancouver), but Drew Doughty has arguably become a superior defenceman since then.
Super skater Duncan Keith was such a calming force on the backend for Canada in 2010, the Scott Niedermayer comparisons came easy. Don't expect much to change.
Shea Weber experienced a bit of a drop in play after Ryan Suter left for Minnesota, but he's still one of the five best defencemen in the league and turned Roman Josi into a top-pairing defenceman.
Criminally underrated, Alex Pietrangelo is the anchor of the St. Louis defence, and gets extra points for being nominated for a Norris Trophy last season while dragging around Carlo Colaiacovo.
After winning the Norris Trophy P.K. Subban should really be considered a lock, but the abundance of right-handed shots in camp who play in No. 1 shutdown roles drop his stock ever so slightly. Still, Subban has a history as a shutdown defenceman (while Andre Markov was out), and is a huge power play threat.
Nothing more than a spare part in 2010, the versatile Brent Seabrook deserves a bigger role on the 2014 Olympic team, especially since he and Duncan Keith would come as a ready-made pair.
Need a strong start to 2013
Dan Boyle is getting older and wasn't nearly as good last season as he was when he last made Team Canada. A strong start to the season would alleviate fears he's past his expiry date, and his experience would certainly help.
If you're looking at someone who could potentially be this year's version of Wade Redden or Bryan McCabe—two players who with the benefit of hindsight were overmatched at the Olympics—it's Kris Letang. He's certainly good, and Canada could use him on the power play, but he doesn't play against the opposition's best players and that should always be a red flag in tournaments against the world's best.
Might take an injury or two
The lack of left-handed shots really helps Jay Bouwmeester, and even though he's older he's still a great skater. Offensively trumped by almost everyone else in camp, but capable of playing huge minutes in a purely defensive role.
Once upon a time Dan Hamhuis was buried in obscurity in Nashville behind Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. He's now blossomed for all to see with the Canucks and plays a quietly solid shutdown game.
I'm probably one of the biggest Dion Phaneuf defenders there is, but his game is a little too erratic for the Olympics, although seeing how he plays with legitimate top-pairing defencemen would be interesting.
The days of Mike Green's elite offensive production are over, and he couldn't even make the 2010 team in the midst of a second straight 70-point campaign.
Marc Staal has to prove he's healthy first before warranting serious consideration for a spot. That said, as one of the few left-handed shots, he'll get a long look.
He doesn't make many mistakes in the defensive zone, and he is a strong skater, but with so many defencemen with elite abilities at both ends of the ice, the non-existent offensive game hurts Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Enjoy the camp, maybe see you at the Worlds
The safe, steady, and reliable style Karl Alzner plays will keep him underrated, and although he's effective defensively, he doesn't have the offensive ability to leap frog more accomplished invitees.
Unfortunately, Travis Hamonic is a little too young and a little too New York Islanders-y.
Unless Erik Karlsson applied for Canadian citizenship over the summer and is going to be playing alongside Marc Methot in Sochi, no.
It's an embarrassment of riches for Canada at centre, with the world's greatest player, Sidney Crosby, leading the way.
But the depth is so strong at centre that Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and maybe Claude Giroux will be shifted to the wing. A Crosby-Stamkos pairing in particular has shades of Gretzky and Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup.
Jonathan Toews seems like a grizzled veteran after two Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold medal, but he's still only 25.
Martin St. Louis
He's big, fast and he can score. Although Rick Nash still leaves onlookers wanting a little more, the 2002 first overall pick is probably Canada's best natural winger.
In 2010 team Canada's brass decided to go with pre-set chemistry to off-set the learning curve that happens when players who have never played together are expected to immediately play like the Sedins. The same thinking that sent Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau to Vancouver could send James Neal to Sochi as Sidney Crosby's trigger man.
No longer will Patrice Bergeron be considered a part-time centre called on strictly for faceoffs. He's emerged as the game's premier two-way centre and should take on the checking centre role.
No Canadian winger has scored more than Corey Perry's 161 goals over the last five years, and he was a force in the last Olympics, but his lack of speed has to be seriously considered.
Another natural centre destined for the wing should he make the team, Eric Staal is one of only ten players to score more than 590 points since the 2005-06.
Ryan Getzlaf erased a couple of injury-plagued seasons with a strong 2013, leading the Ducks back to the playoffs. Like Perry, his skating needs to be considered and the depth at centre doesn't help.
I'm pretty sure Martin St. Louis and Teemu Selanne made the same deal with the Devil to extend their elite abilities until the end of time, because both are still racking up points. Since 2005-06, only Joe Thornton, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin have more points than St. Louis, who also has built-in chemistry with Steven Stamkos.
Need a strong start to 2013
Speed is paramount on international ice, and Taylor Hall can flat out fly. He's a beast on the puck and could use the international stage to announce his elite status to the world, like Jonathan Toews did in 2010 and Jarome Iginla did in 2002.
Logan Couture has been dubbed the next face of the San Jose Sharks, and if he wants a spot on Team Canada he'll have to make everyone forget Joe Thornton exists.
The ability to seamlessly transition to the wing makes Jeff Carter an intriguing option for Canada, especially after re-discovering his goal-scoring talents in LA.
Might take an injury or two
The big ice might be too much for the older, slower Joe Thornton.
A strong two-way player, Patrick Sharp could get extra points for having already established chemistry with Jonathan Toews, who figures to play a more prominent role on this year's version of Team Canada.
While Mike Richards is still an excellent two-way centre, the checking duties are better taken by more effective players like Bergeron and Toews. Further, Richards' offensive game has dried up over the past few years.
Canada lacks enough natural wingers that Jordan Eberle has a shot at the squad, especially if he rediscovers the power-up that gave him +100 shooting in 2011-12. His international hockey magic is also a delicious intangible.
There is just way too much depth at centre for poor Matt Duchene, who probably has another couple years of apprenticing at the World Championship before making a more serious run at Team Canada in 2018.
The whole Jordan-Staal-is-a-number-one-centre-in-waiting narrative didn't exactly come true in his first season in Carolina. His path to Sochi lies as a checking centre, and at this point there are too many better options ahead of him.
Enjoy the camp, maybe see you at the Worlds
The same thinking that will give James Neal a serious shot at the Olympics likely played a role in Chris Kunitz's camp invite, but unlike Neal, the soon-to-be 34-year-old winger hasn't scored 61 goals over the past two seasons.
A quality player, but Andrew Ladd screams this generation's version of Ryan Smyth. Maybe captaining the World Championship team enough will get Ladd a pity spot someday.
The embodiment of the big, bad Bruins, Milan Lucic is too slow and too much of a penalty liability on the big international ice.
If the point of the Olympics was to repeatedly punch a Sedin in the face there might be a spot for Brad Marchard, but at this point Sedin Punching hasn't gained traction in the mainstream.