Thanks to the over-the-top coverage by Canadian sports media, I'm sure you're all well aware that Team Canada is currently holding a summer orientation camp in Calgary over the course of this week. The camp, which includes 47 players from a wide variety of teams across the NHL, aims to introduce these players to the coaching system Mike Babcock intends to implement at the Olympics, provide a team building experience, and help the management team evaluate the players in order to determine who should eventually make the team.
Selecting Team Canada is a daunting task for Steve Yzerman and the rest of Team Canada's upper management. Canadian hockey fans will accept nothing less than a gold medal finish at the Olympics; ending up anywhere below 1st place, whether it is a silver medal finish, or in 7th place (as in Turin, 2006...ugh), is regarded as a complete and utter failure. Before a single game is played, all the way up until the tournament has concluded, every hockey fan in the country is going to scrutinize the selection of the team. If gold is eventually won, Stevie Y looks like a genius. If not, he's the ultimate scapegoat for not selecting a certain player over another!
As a professional armchair general manager, I've developed an initial opinion of who should be selected to the team given the 47 players invited to the orientation camp. While Silver Seven is a Sens blog, not a Team Canada blog, I'm going to go ahead and justify posting this article here because Sens defenseman Marc Methot is one of the 47 invitees to the camp. Actually, who am I kidding. The media hype has rubbed off on me, the most interesting Sens news of the offseason has likely concluded until the preseason begins, and I want to see what you all think :)
One of the first things I'd like to state is my belief in selecting players based on chemistry, experience, and attitude, and not purely on talent. The Olympics thrust players into intense, high-level competition with little time to develop chemistry, to adapt to playing a position they may not be used to, or to adapt to playing within a different coaching system compared to what their own NHL team uses. While this week's orientation camp aims to address some of these issues, it is brief, and due to insurance issues surrounding the players, not as intense or extensive as it could be. Simply loading a team with talented players is no guarantee of success (at the NHL level, ask Glen Sather and Paul Holmgren how many times it's worked out for the Rangers and Flyers in recent years). I believe that Team Canada's chances for success are greatly increased when choosing players who are NHL linemates, playing in their natural position, or even better, a combination of these factors.
Canada has a ridiculous amount of talent available at all positions. We likely have enough talent to ice three different Olympic teams simultaneously that would each be capable of winning a gold medal. However, one thing that is interesting is that of the 25 forwards invited to the orientation camp, 14 are centres, 8 are left wingers...and only 3 are right wingers (Martin St. Louis, Jordan Eberle, and Corey Perry). This abundance of centres and lack of right wingers is the key issue for me- it means that the you have to seriously examine which centres are best served or "worthy" of keeping their natural position, and who has shown the ability in the past to play effectively on the wing. This being said, I've come up with two different sets of forward lineups I believe would be most effective.
Note: I'm lazy and didn't feel like typing out full player names....however I'm assuming those reading this know them all already. For those who don't, the full list of player names be found here: http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/story/2013/08/21/sp-nhl-canada-olympic-orientation-camp-roster.html.
Forward Lineup 1 (LW/C/RW)
Each line has two players who are both teammates and playing at their natural positions. The only three players out of position, but who have shown success playing on the wing in the past, are Bergeron, Richards and Couture.
Forward Lineup 2
E. Staal/Stamkos/St. Louis
This lineup focuses less on NHL line chemistry, and more on the centre position. By moving Bergeron back to his natural centre position, this ensures that either the best player in the game, the best goal scorer in the game, or an annual Selke candidate is on the ice at all times. This time four players are out of position- Giroux, Couture, Staal, and Richards.
As you can see for the most part, the players selected are the same, but Kunitz/Getzlaf and Staal/Giroux are substituted and shuffled around. Since Stamkos and St. Louis have consistently comprised one of the top three scoring lines in the league in recent years, and St. Louis is one of only three right wingers invited to camp, I see no reason to break up this line, or for Stamkos to play wing like some people have suggested. Also, the Sharp/Toews/Richards line is in both lineups because I feel this is a potent two-way line that can both score and check. All three players have won a cup in recent years, and two won gold with Canada in 2010.
Now I know in both cases, according to expert analysts, there are some so-called "locks" missing. However, I feel that due to having one too many centres available, this is both inevitable and necessary. In the first lineup, Giroux is left off, while in the second lineup Getzlaf is left off- I'm sure this would cause certain people to think I'm crazy, not to mention that I ended up leaving off players like John Tavares, Taylor Hall and Jeff Carter. However, despite the fact that guys like Kunitz and Sharp are perhaps less talented than these big names, I stand by my (initial) choices due to their already developed chemistry!
Now, on to the defensive core. I've come up with two sets of lines:
Defensive Pairings 1
Defensive Pairings 2
The defensive pairings were slightly easier for me than the forwards, as four of the six players seemed like no-brainers (Keith, Seabrook, Weber and Doughty all won gold in 2010), but still tricky due to one main issue: of the 17 defensemen at camp, most of the "more elite" players were right handed shots. In my first set of pairings, only Keith is a left handed shot. This is why in my second pairing includes Dan Hamhuis playing with Weber, as Hamhuis is a left handed shot, fairly well rounded as a player and used to play on Nashville with Weber.
I'm sure some people would wonder why I left P.K. Subban off the list, when he won the Norris trophy this year. Simple: he takes stupid penalties. While his age and point-per-game stats are comparable to someone like Pietrangelo (0.56 PPG vs 0.54 PPG), he has four times as many penalty minutes (302 vs 73)! When you're facing elite talent at the international level, you cannot afford to put your team shorthanded. This and the fact that Letang probably would have won the Norris if he hadn't gotten injured this year led me to pencil Subban in as the #7 D-man. As this is a Sens blog, I don't really need to say the name of another injured defenseman who may have kept Subban from winning this year had he been healthy, but I digress.
Lastly, when it came to picking defensemen based on linemates, only two other possible combinations aside from Keith and Seabrook were possible: Alzner/Green and Boyle/Vlasic. However, the Capitals and Sharks have both repeatedly failed to live up to NHL playoff expectations in recent years, so I felt that chemistry was less valuable in this case.
To finish things off, I felt that the goalie pecking order went like this:
Luongo won gold the last time he was in net, and after the goalie gong-show that happened in Vancouver last year, will likely be out to prove himself this season. I expect that he will play at a high level this year, so in my opinion the ball is his to drop. However, the minute he should falter, Crawford should be the next in line after winning this year's Stanley Cup. Price gets the press box seat because he's both the next logical choice, and he passed on his honeymoon to come to camp- now that's dedication!
It took a while to write this all up, so a similar TSN thread has recently just popped up predicting the Sochi roster: http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=430639
I'd be curious to hear what everyone here at Silver Seven thinks of my reasoning and who they feel should make the Team Canada roster and why. I'll be posting an updated version of this thread just prior to the final roster selection, as certain players may change my perspective after the season starts. Until then, happy prognosticating!