FanPost

A Second Team Canada?

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In late December of 2009, I wrote a piece outlining the roster of an Olympic team that I’d selected based on who was still available after the initial Olympians had been selected (you can read it here) – the process to me was very interesting on how the team came to fruition, and after a ton of speculation and rumour-mongering over the past few months, it was only natural that the same thing had to happen this year.

To me, the Olympic chatter seemed relentless this fall – people seem more invested in it than ever. Certainly, I was quite surprised by a number of the selections to this year’s team – Chris Kunitz and Jeff Carter? Dan Hamhuis? These were but a few of the eyebrows raised to me over this team’s creation.

Reflecting back on the roster I assembled four years ago, it seems to me as though the quality of players available for a reserve team has gone way, way up based on that team then. Looking at this roster now, there’s some serious, serious firepower available – much more so than I think was true of the previous alternate team.

I should note – there are a few notable things that have led me to select names in the manner that I have. The first of these is the size of ice being used in the arena – Olympic ice does not lend itself well to a physical game. Trying to set up neutral zone traps in when you have an extra fifteen feet of space to defend against is often tenuous at best. As such, to me, the two most important factors in determining this roster of alternate players are speed and puck possession. Speed will always be an asset, and with time and space to work with on a large sheet of ice, this becomes quite noticeable. Puck possession, too, becomes all the more important. It’s basic logic that the other team cannot score when you have the puck on your stick.

With the preamble over, let’s take a look at this year’s selections to the alternate Team Canada.

All stats used in this piece are as of January 7th, 2014.

***

First off, I’ll deal with the matter of goalies. People still seem to make a big deal about win-loss records as a measurable of goalies these days, which in an era where advanced statistics are starting to gain huge ground (at least online, anyways), seems a bit ridiculous to me. Take, if you will, the premise of a pitcher in baseball. Even if a pitcher throws a fantastic game, if there’s no run support, his team cannot win. The same is true in hockey; while a good goalie can make a bad time better, it is not necessarily indicative of this in the team record. While it’s also true, for the most part, that better goalies win more games, it is still not always indicative of the actual quality of the player. Marc-Andre Fleury is the current league leader in wins, at 24, due largely in part to a quality Penguins offence led by Crosby, Malkin, Neal and (ugh) Kunitz. However, he’s only 24th overall in save percentage among goalies with a minimum of 10 games played, and 17th overall in save percentage in that same statistical group. Considering how we’ve seen Fleury melt down statistically in consecutive playoffs, it’s evidently clear that wins and losses are not a very good measurable of a goalie’s ability. As such, here are my picks between the pipes.

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Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks (29 GP, 17-6-5, 2.39 GAA, .922 SV%): There’s much debate raging as to whether Crawford truly has what it takes to be an elite goaltender in the NHL, but even playing behind a talented blueline in Chicago, he’s been able to keep Chicago in games quite well. Certainly, the defense here is still better than on the Blackhawks, so I can’t imagine him getting shelled. He’s playing above his career averages of 2.41 GAA and .913 SV%, but it’s certainly food for thought as to what his statistical ceiling might be. At any rate, though, he seems a safe call for this roster.

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Josh Harding, Minnesota Wild (29 GP, 18-7-3, 1.65 GAA, .933 SV%): Josh Harding has been one of the feel-good stories of the year for sure. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in late 2012, Harding has stolen the number one job from Nicklas Backstrom in Minnesota. He’s been having a Vezina-worthy season thus far – his numbers above are stellar, and he sits 1st in the league in GAA and 4th in SV% (as well as 8th overall in wins while the Wild have been a mostly mid-pack team thus far this season). There’s certainly a worry of statistical regression here – he’s performing far, far above his career averages of 2.72 GAA and .918 SV% - but in a very small sample size, like what you are bound to encounter in a short tournament such as the Olympics – there is no reason to suggest that a performance like he has given so far this season isn’t sustainable over such a short period of time. His remarkable numbers this season have me naming him the starter for this team.

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James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs (19 GP, 8-5-1, 2.89 GAA, .923 SV%): Let me preface this by saying that Randy Carlyle is an absolute moron of a coach. The Leafs have been getting absolutely killed in shot differentials all year and are currently sitting at 30th in the NHL in shots against. Were it not for the stellar play of Reimer and counterpart Jonathan Bernier (who inexplicably has seemed to have stolen the starter’s job from Reimer thanks to Carlyle’s ineptitude at personnel evaluation), the Leafs would be in even worse trouble than they are already in currently. Reimer is used to facing a ton of rubber, and with the help of a far superior defense than what he is accustomed to in Toronto, then this could only benefit his excellent play. Reimer’s career numbers are 2.74 GAA and .916 SV% - and keep in mind that these have been dragged down due to some comically bad Leafs teams of years past. The fact that he’s still performing above his career averages on such a poor defensive suggests that he’s even better than we are all led to believe.

***

Next, we’re onto defence. Of late, my views on defence have been evolving a ton – the more I’ve learned about measurement of puck possession and shot attempts, the more I’ve been wary of players who have been styled as "responsible, stay-at-home, defensive defencemen" or something of the lot. True story here – there was a time when I used to think Douglas Murray was a half-decent player. I thought he was tough and delivered as hard a hit as anyone in the league – but when I started noticing his Corsi numbers from the past few seasons, particularly in his time with Montreal, it’s amazing how fast my perception of him changed.

As such, I have tried to select defencemen who I think have a game that suits well to larger ice – these are all players who are not necessarily overtly physical, but are all defensively sound in the sense that they generate more shots and shot attempts than they give up. Most are also good skaters and many have notable offensive upside to them as well.

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Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks (36 GP, 7 G, 12 A, 19 P, 16 PIM, 8.2 shooting %): I was surprised to see Dan Boyle left off the actual roster of the Olympic team, but when you consider the approach that the management group took to balance the handedness of their defencemen – four right shots and four left shots – it’s more understandable when you see the pedigree of some of the right-handed shots ranked ahead of him – Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, PK Subban, and Alex Pietrangelo are all Norris Trophy contenders. At any rate, Boyle’s an excellent skater, has great hands, and his game translates well to larger ice. I would name him one of the alternate captains for this Olympic team.

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Brian Campbell, Florida Panthers (43 GP, 5 G, 14 A, 19 P, 12 PIM, 7.1 S%): Brian Campbell has the misfortune of having to play in Sunrise, Fla., one of the worst hockey markets on the continent, in my opinion. Were it not for his ridiculous contract (and subsequent salary cap mismanagement by former Chicago and now current Florida GM Dale Tallon) I think it’d be safe to say he’d have won a second Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last year. Instead, he’s been an anchor for the Panthers blueline, and has quietly been having a fantastic season with new D partner Tom Gilbert. I’ve been a fan of Campbell’s offensive instincts since seeing him play junior hockey with the Ottawa 67s, and his possession numbers show the mark of excellent play-controlling ability. I’ll talk more about this in the next section.

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Tom Gilbert, Florida Panthers (43 GP, 2 G, 14 A, 16 P, 12 PIM, 3.7 S%): Tom Gilbert has to be one of the comeback stories of the year. After several disastrous seasons playing on weak bluelines in Edmonton, and later in Minnesota, Tom Gilbert has rebounded majorly playing on the Panthers’ top pairing with Brian Campbell. Quietly, they’ve become one of the most dominant top pairings in the entire league. When Campbell and Gilbert are together, their Corsi is north of 55% at 5 on 5 - an incredible feat. The two play incredibly well together in all situations – even strength, powerplay, and penalty kill – and their usefulness as a pairing hopefully would translate even on Olympic ice.

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Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames (24 GP, 5 G, 13 A, 26 PIM, 9.3 S%): Mark Giordano has had some tough shoes to fill in Calgary – since Jarome Iginla departed Cowtown for the fairer Eastern Conference shores, he’s been named the new captain, and has had to contend with the idiocy of both Jay Feaster (which has mercifully ended) and Brian Burke (which is still an ongoing nightmare for Flames fans, unfortunately). While the Flames are a rebuilding team (as much as their management hates to admit this fact), there are a few bright spots – Giordano’s offensive abilities being one of them. Let’s hope he can be a part of helping them turn the tide around sooner rather than later. Letang_053008_medium

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Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (25 GP, 6 G, 6 A, 12 P, 8 PIM, 8.1 S%): I’ll be the first to agree with you when you mention that Letang is having a poor year statistically. Coupled with his hideously long and large contract, the Penguins are in a bit of a tough spot with him moving forward. However, with his imminent return from injured reserve, I believe he can be a key contributor to the Penguins’ success moving forward still, and firmly believe that his playmaking abilities and vision would translate very well to a larger ice surface.

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Marc Methot, Ottawa Senators (39 GP, 3 G, 10 A, 13 P, 14 PIM, 4.8 S%): Methot was invited to the initial Olympic orientation camp in the summertime, but it’s definitely arguable that his play slipped a bit over the course of the first half of this season. I think this is explainable though – a bit of this is statistical regression, and some to do with the fact that Paul MacLean has chosen to use a revolving door of defensemen on the Senators’ blueline instead of trying to stick a tried and true pairing of Methot and the world’s best defenceman, Erik Karlsson. Without that pairing stability, I think it can be explained why Methot has occasionally struggled to find his rhythm at times, but regardless, he has shown himself to consistently be on the positive side of shot attempt differentials thus far in his time as a Senator.

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Dion Phaneuf, Toronto Maple Leafs (41 GP, 4 G, 13 A, 17 P, 59 PIM, 5.4 S%): I’ll admit I’m not currently enamoured of Phaneuf’s play as a Maple Leaf, but when you consider the factors that A) their defence is mostly garbage, B) they play a system under Randy Carlyle that sees them consistently outshot night in and night out, and C) he is constantly matched up against the opposition’s top players, I think his level of play becomes a bit more understandable. While I’m not entirely sold on his game being a perfect fit for Olympic-sized ice, I still think he holds good value as a depth defenceman and would be useful in much more sheltered minutes than what he sees as a Leaf.

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Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks (45 GP, 5 G, 26 A, 31 P, 45 PIM, 5.6 S%): Of all the defencemen I selected to this team, it really surprises me that Seabrook wasn’t named to the actual Olympic team. It seems likely that this slot came down to him and P.K. Subban, seeing as they’re both right shots – I have always considered Seabrook to be a more multidimensional player than Subban. Seabrook has only two points less than Subban, plays tougher minutes against better competition, and has years of experience of playing alongside Duncan Keith, creating a pairing with an immediate understanding of each other on the ice. Norris Trophy or not, I’d still take Seabrook over Subban on the Olympic roster every single time.

***

Finally, we come to the most-contested of the roster – the forwards. It’s almost silly how much people ended up arguing about the potential selections that team management could have made. We have such an embarrassment of riches at forward that this group here could be a gold-medal contender on their own, quite frankly. I believe them to be just as good, if not better than the current American, Russian, and Finnish rosters. Despite all this, I did my best to be discriminating, and tried to select the most viable players whom I thought were worthy of a selection.

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Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks (43 GP, 14 G, 21 A, 35 P, 8 PIM, 8.9 S%): it’s a real shame Couture got hurt just before the roster selection, because I’d been banking on him to make it for sure. He’s such a versatile player, being adept at both centre and wing, and with such creative playmaking that I figured he’d be a fantastic fit. It’s not the first time that fate’s transpired against him, either – he was injured just before the selection to the mens under-18 team while in junior, and was also oddly snubbed from the selection team to the under-20 world juniors as well. One can only hope that Couture can manage to make a full recovery before the Olympic break.

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Jordan Eberle, Edmonton Oilers (14 G, 21 A, 35 P, 8 PIM, 11.9 S%): I have always loved Jordan Eberle. My memory of that clutch goal in the 2009 World Juniors is one of my favourite hockey memories ever. Eberle’s been a vital part of Edmonton’s offence ever since he arrived in the NHL and he’s shown the ability to play with a variety of linemates, spending time with a mixture of Hall, Perron, Gagner, Yakupov, and RNH on the top two lines in Edmonton. You’ll note that his shooting percentage is higher than a good number of forwards on this team, and yet it remains well under his career average of 13.9% - Eberle is an efficient and accurate shooter and would be a strong asset to this team.

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Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers (43 GP, 13 G, 26 A, 39 P, 24 PIM, 10.9 S%): An offseason hand injury and a sixteen-game goalless drought didn’t do much to enhance his stock early in the season for the Olympic team, but despite a strong recovery since then, it wasn’t enough to counter any early misgivings about his play, which is a real shame. Giroux has the potential to be the top centre for this team I have assembled here, and I believe his play this season has warranted it.

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Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers (38 GP, 16 G, 25 A, 41 P, 14 PIM, 12.5 S%): I believe that Taylor Hall is the most talented natural left-winger in Canada. His play has grown leaps and bounds since he started in the NHL, and he’s been a productive and responsible player thus far this season and definitely has been one of the bright spots in yet another dreary season in Edmonton.

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Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins (42 GP, 12 G, 18 A, 30 P, 53 PIM, 16.2 S%): While I have some questions about Lucic’s style of game when it is played on Olympic ice, what struck me most was his shooting percentage from this season – 16.2 % is a high number above an already high career average of 13.3 % - this does seem to me as though his efficiency could most certainly translate into some productivity. I have him as one of the depth forwards on this roster.

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Clarke MacArthur, Ottawa Senators (43 GP, 14 G, 17 A, 31 P, 42 PIM, 15.4 S%) – I would argue that Clarke MacArthur’s contract is one of the best in the whole NHL. It still boggles my mind that both Dave Nonis and Randy Carlyle wanted to rid themselves of MacArthur, despite his continued showing of offensive ability, not to mention his impressive possession statistics as well. In the 2013/14 season, MacArthur is currently running a 53.6 % Corsi For at even-strength and has consistently been one of the team leaders in this stat in every roster he’s played on. At any rate, he has been a steal for the Sens this season, and I believe has a ton of value as a depth forward on this Olympic team.

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James Neal, Pittsburgh Penguins (24 GP, 16 G, 18 A, 34 P, 27 PIM, 16.7 S%): I’m confused as to why James Neal didn’t get more consideration for the Olympic team. He has the highest points-per-game of any player on this roster, and is third on this roster in shooting percentage. One might argue that his success this season might have come primarily from playing with such a gifted centreman in Evgeni Malkin, but I believe that his even-strength Corsi For, at 52.7%, shows that he is a skilled player in his own right, as he’s spent the largest chunk of time this season with Jussi Jokinen as his centre due to injuries all over the Penguins’ roster.

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Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (43 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 32 P, 8 PIM, 12.0 S%): RNH is younger than I am and has ten times the ability that I will ever hope to have as a hockey player. I love his playmaking ability and vision of the ice, and I think a large surface suits his game. It would be difficult for him to get a larger role on this team when you see the players ahead of him, but in limited minutes against sheltered competition (or against like a Latvian team or whatever) then his line has some serious offensive potential.

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David Perron, Edmonton Oilers (41 GP, 17 G, 16 A, 33 P, 10 PIM, 13.5 S%): I really, really liked this trade for the Oilers this summer. As much as it was the Blues shedding salary as it was them banking on the future potential of Magnus Paajarvi, I still believe that history will show that Edmonton won this trade. Perron is a guy who has a ton of skill and has shown persistence and an ability to overcome adversity – a concussion sidelined him for a considerable period in the 2011-12 season – but also has been a consistent offensive force. He’s shown chemistry this season with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and I’d like to think that some larger ice might allow their creativity to flourish.

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Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars (40 GP, 21 G, 20 A, 41 P, 4 PIM, 17.1 S%): The Boston Bruins should be thanking God Almighty they got Reilly Smith as well when they traded Seguin for Loui Eriksson, because otherwise they would have been absolutely fleeced in that deal. Seguin’s been thriving in Dallas, playing with such up-and-coming stars like Alex Chiasson, Val Nichushkin, and Brendan Dillon, not to mention their captain and current Olympic representative Jamie Benn. I think Seguin’s incredibly exciting to watch, and I would’ve taken him on the original team in a heartbeat.

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Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes (32 GP, 20 G, 13 A, 33 P, 10 PIM, 17.2 S%): I first saw Jeff Skinner play when he was ten years old at the Bell Capital Cup atom tournament in Ottawa, when he was playing for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens major atom AAA team. Even then, I thought he was an absolutely magical player, and despite his size, he’s thrived in the NHL. He leads this roster in shooting percentage, and has put up some very good numbers despite being sidelined with a concussion for part of this season. I firmly believe his creativity would shine through on large ice, even in a projected limited role.

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Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning (43 GP, 19 G, 21 A, 40 P, 4 PIM, 16.4 S%): Poor Marty. Left off two straight Olympic rosters despite his fantastic offensive production. That has to sting even more when the executive director for both his teams has been Steve Yzerman, also St. Louis’ GM in Tampa Bay. I can’t even begin to guess at what the nature of their relationship must be like. Despite being the elder statesman on this team though at age 38, St. Louis has had a ton of experience at all levels, and thus I would name him the captain of this team.

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Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes (42 GP, 10 G, 25 A, 35 P, 48 PIM, 8.7 S%): Eric Staal is having a bit of a down year statistically (his shooting percentage this season is well under his career average of 11.1%) but he remains a versatile player who is responsible in all zones as well as strong on faceoffs. Hard to believe this is his 10th season in the NHL already.

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Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks (44 GP, 5 G, 43 A, 48 P, 10, 8.5 S%): Joe Thornton is the best playmaker on this team, by far. 43 assists not only ranks him number one in the NHL, but also puts him 17 ahead of Giroux and Seabrook, tied for second on this roster with 26. Jumbo Joe has an incredible ability to drive possession – he’s currently sitting at 58.1% (!) Corsi For ES – and his numbers reflect it. A real shame he didn’t make this year’s Olympic team – he would have been a huge asset for finishers like Nash, Perry or Sharp.

***

Finally, I looked at coaching for this team – we’re fortunate to have a number of good options here, but I decided to go with Joel Quenneville as the head coach. He’s won two Stanley Cups in the past four years, which is of course a humongous plus, but also has the Blackhawks playing fantastic possession hockey, which I’m of course trying to emphasize for this team. Some likely assistant coaches would be Ken Hitchcock, Darryl Sutter, and Alain Vigneault – all of whom have had some very good results as NHL coaches. Indeed, I believe all of them understand the values of possession and playing a skill game – all of their teams mostly follow this line of thinking anyways.

Upon completion, I must say that this is an extremely good-looking roster right here – there’s massive amounts of forward depth, and the defence have the ability to move the puck extremely well on every pairing. I think if you couple this strong puck play with some hot goaltending (of which I believe Josh Harding and James Reimer, in particular, are more than capable of), then this team actually has a very legitimate shot at a medal in Sochi. I certainly think this is a more versatile roster than the Americans, who, in my opinion, seem to have forgotten the factors of the game on larger ice, and almost certainly more deep than most European countries as well, save for perhaps Sweden.

The last thing I wanted to look at was a comparison of my picks for an alternate roster this year than what I had selected from four years ago. The chart below is how I believe the depth charts stack up against each other, year by year (and do remember that the 2010 depth chart is based on their performances from that season alone).

2014 Roster

2010 Roster

Forwards

Forwards

Hall-Giroux-Seguin

Carter-Lecavalier-Stamkos

Couture-Thornton-St. Louis

Savard-Fisher-St. Louis

Neal-E. Staal-Eberle

Roy-J. Staal-Sharp

Perron-RNH-Skinner

Smyth-Doan-Penner

MacArthur, Lucic

Wolski

Defence

Defence

Boyle-Seabrook

Campbell-Phaneuf

Campbell-Gilbert

Bouwmeester-Regehr

Methot-Letang

Myers-Green

Phaneuf, Giordano

Beauchemin

Goalies

Goalies

Harding

Roloson

Reimer

Mason

Crawford

Leclaire

Coaches

Coaches

Quenneville

Quinn

Hitchcock, Vigneault, Darryl Sutter

Hitchcock, Martin

All I have to say about my 2010 picks? AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I know hindsight is always 20/20, but WOW. This is why people need to stop picking rosters based on past experiences and their inherent "worthiness" and start on actual measurable statistics.

2009 Pat Quinn as the head coach of an Olympic team?

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Woof.

At any rate, it’s been a very interesting few months for all of us as the Olympic roster has been decided, and I’m certainly looking forward to the start of the tournament in February. No matter who’s on the team, I still believe that Team Canada has an excellent shot of bringing home another gold medal, so let’s hope all the months of evaluation and planning are effective in the end. Thanks for reading!

This FanPost was written by a member of the Silver Seven community, and does not necessarily reflect the beliefs or opinions of the site managers, editors, or Sports Blogs Nation, Inc.

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