CANADIAN OLYMPIC WATCH: It’s hard to get Steve Yzerman to smile these days, given how his Tampa Bay Lightning have lost their leading scorer Steven Stamkos, indefinitely, thanks to that awful broken leg he suffered Monday afternoon. But on Tuesday, when he was asked about Canada’s Olympic hockey team and how the roster might have changed since they ran that orientation camp back in August, Yzerman said couldn’t give a definitive answer because he hadn’t actually set his 25 names down on paper yet. I interjected that he was the only person in Canada who hadn’t, which elicited a brief laugh.
The irony is that Yzerman’s list is the only one that will ultimately count. The International Ice Hockey Federation wants the preliminary rosters in by Dec. 31, but Yzerman indicated to me Canada would likely announce somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s – Dec. 28 is the likeliest date at the moment – and so that leaves a full six weeks to gather input and assess progress.
Yzerman will not answer questions about specific players for a very good reason – if you gave a progress report on one player’s status, you pretty much have to provide them for all players. But I wondered, because Canada had 25 roster spots this year as opposed to 23 in Vancouver, did that change the evaluation process in any way? The IIHF granted the extra two spots for injury reasons – if you get a player hurt, you cannot easily parachute a replacement in from North America for an Olympics being played in Sochi, Russia, nine time zones away from Eastern time, 12 from the West Coast.
In theory, therefore, you could pick a player just to play a narrow defined role. Up front, maybe you like someone for his face-off skills. On the blueline, maybe you add a player who can anchor your power play. I was thinking specifically here of the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban who, according to all the sports panels prognosticating lineups, could be on the outside looking in, even if he is the reigning Norris Trophy winner.
But Yzerman answered no. “They (the two extra spots) give you flexibility,” said Yzerman, “but I don’t think we’re going to need to bring one player specifically for face-offs, for example. If you look at the group of centremen that are there, there are strong guys on the left and the right to win face-offs. The broad group of forwards that we’re talking about, there’s going to be guys that can all play on the power play and there’ll be plenty of them that are strong enough on the defensive side of the game – and that goes for the blueline as well. So I don’t think we’ll have any specialists – power-play specialists or shootout specialists. I don’t think we’ll do that.
“We’ll simply take the 25 best players. I mean, we won’t take 14 centremen, but there won’t be any specialists.”
Yzerman went on to say, if he had put his roster together in August, there’s probably been a few changes, but ...
“Honestly, I never did my roster at that time, because you have to change it too often. There have been a few young guys, almost 20 games in, who have elevated their play, so they’re under greater consideration. The veteran players, regardless of the start they got off too, we know what to expect from them.”
This past week, my Montreal-based colleague Sean Gordon asked Subban about the perception that he was on the outside looking in for the Olympic team – and he had an interesting answer to him. Subban said that spending time working for Sportsnet during the last lockout taught him that you can basically say anything on television, so why worry about what anyone says? Touché.
Yzerman wouldn’t answer a specific question relating to Subban, but said: “In general, with our defence, we’re looking for the best possible eight defencemen. We will take into account right and left shots. I’m not saying we need four and four, but I believe and I know Mike Babcock believes in having rights and lefts together.”
Then Yzerman concluded with what could be termed his mission statement: “I want players and we’re going to put out players that we can count on in both ends of the rink because at this level, if you’re not responsible defensively – and I’m not being specific, this goes for them all – the coaches are not going to put them on the ice.”
THIS AND THAT: The Carolina Hurricanes have a couple of veteran defencemen, Mike Komisarek and Tim Gleason, sitting out a lot of nights these days. One or the other could likely be had for little of consequence in return . The Kings’ Jordan Nolan played against the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night, knowing that his father, Ted, was about to be named head coach of the team the next day. Nolan kept the intelligence to himself. The Kings sat him out Sunday night in New York to get Daniel Carcillo into the lineup . Michael Del Zotto was mentioned as a possible long-shot candidate to play for Canada’s 2014 Olympic team, but he can’t even get into the New York Rangers’ lineup these days. Del Zotto was a healthy scratch for Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens and he was out for Sunday’s date with the Kings at Madison Square Gardens. Under coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have righted the ship after a disastrous start to the season. The win over the Canadiens lifted them above .500 for the first time all year to 10-9, which includes an 8-3 mark in their last 11 games, after they started the season 2-6. New York hadn’t had a regular-season shutout in Montreal since 1967 – with Ed Giacomin in goal – and they hadn’t had a 1-0 victory there since Jan. 18, 1940, with Davey Kerr between the pipes. Don’t you just love the Elias Sports Bureau and how they come up with this sort of stuff?