In 2006, when Wayne Gretzky returned for his second turn as executive director of Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team, he relied heavily on some of the players that helped him win gold four years previously in Salt Lake City - and passed up the chance to add Sidney Crosby and other emerging young talents. Big mistake. Four years later, Canada was an also-ran in Turin, and looked lost at times on the big ice.
So here we are, halfway between the last Olympics in Vancouver and the next ones in Sochi (only 702 days to go until puck drop!), and Steve Yzerman has now been elected to his second term as Canada’s executive director. Looking back on the team that won in 2010, it is logical to think that a dozen will not return - assuming, of course, that the NHL permits its players to go to Sochi in the first place.
For starters, Scott Niedermayer - captain in 2010 - has retired and his former Anaheim Ducks teammate Chris Pronger will follow him into retirement by then. Martin Brodeur likely won’t be playing anymore either. So that’s three gone. Then there’s the normal attrition that occurs when four years pass between tournaments, and players fall back in class from the great to the merely good. You’d think defencemen such as Dan Boyle and Brent Seabrook and forwards like Brendan Morrow, Mike Richards, Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Patrice Bergeron will either be on the bubble, or no longer legitimate candidates.
Then there’ll be the question about what to do with Jarome Iginla, who will be 37 in 2014? Yzerman values Iginla as a player and a person and if Canada goes young, Iginla may be the grizzled face of experience on that team, the connection from one generation to the next.
For that matter, how much youth will Yzerman want to put on the team? In 2010, he went with a teenage defenceman, Drew Doughty, but passed on Steven Stamkos, who now plays for him in Tampa. Will the same fate befall Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Canada has so much young talent up front that someone is going to fall through the cracks.
Then there are the players from the draft class of 2003, such as reigning MVP of the league, Corey Perry, will only be 29 by the time Sochi rolls around. That’s right in his prime - and Yzerman understands the value of players in that category too. Then there’ll be the need for speed, since the games will be played on the larger, international ice surface.
The other quality Yzerman likes is grit, so someone such as the Boston Bruins’ Milan Lucic, who got a long hard look in 2010, will be a consideration as well, just because you need someone who’ll play with an edge.
As usual, Canada is so deep down the middle that a lot of natural centres will be asked to play out of position on the wing. Doughty and Keith could theoretically reunite as the No. 1 pair and Weber was hugely important with his slap shot. The rest of the defence will be a blend of skill and size. In goal, things change monthly in the NHL, and Canada is in a bit of fallow development period, though it’s a decent bet that Price and Fleury will do battle for the starter’s job.
I have 31 prime candidates for 23 spots on Canada’s 2014 team, and that doesn’t include John Tavares, Jason Spezza or James Neal, three Canadians currently in the top 30 in the NHL scoring race. So let the conversations begin; Yzerman has a lot of work ahead of him:
C: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Getzlaf, Jordan Staal.
LW: Corey Perry, Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Matt Duchene, Taylor Hall, Logan Couture.
RW: Rick Nash, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, Jarome Iginla.
D: Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Kris Letang, Tyler Myers, Alex Pietrangelo, Marc Staal, P.K. Subban, Brent Burns.
G: Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, Roberto Luongo.