As always, most of the immediate questions about Canada’s men’s Olympic hockey team – unveiled during a glitzy press conference in Toronto Tuesday morning and broadcast live on two sports networks – centered not on who made the club, but who didn’t.
The usual predictable suspects were all there when they raised the curtain on the 2014 team that will try to defend the Olympic gold medal won in Vancouver in 2010: The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews lead a strong contingent down the middle that also included the Anaheim Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf, the New York Islanders’ John Tavares and the Boston Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron.
The defence will rely heavily on a trio of holdovers who played so well for the 2010 gold-medal team – Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber – along with the St. Louis Blues’ duo of Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo and stay-at-home defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks.
After much debate throughout the fall, the Montreal Canadiens’ P.K. Subban did make the team after all, his ability to be a game changer on offence overcoming any concerns they might have had about his tendency to make defensive errors in his own zone.
As expected, the goaltending will be in the hands of the Canadiens’ Carey Price and the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo, while the nod for the No. 3 job went to Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Among the most prominent absentees up front was a trio of centres – the San Jose Sharks’ centre Joe Thornton, the Los Angeles Kings’ Mike Richards and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Eric Staal – all of whom played for the Canadian team that won the gold medal in 2010.
From a purely personal point of view, the most difficult choice for Steve Yzerman, the team’s executive director, was leaving Martin St. Louis off the roster. St. Louis plays for Yzerman with the Tampa Bay Lightning and is the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, who is in the midst of another fine season, even after his regular linemate, Steven Stamkos got injured.
Yzerman acknowledged that leaving St. Louis off the team was "personally, a very difficult decision. Honestly, regardless of whether I'm with the Tampa organization or not, he's a tremendous hockey player whose played outstanding hockey for us this year."
Stamkos, who was leading the NHL in scoring when he broke his leg back in November, is on the team, but his participation in Sochi will be determined largely by the speed of his recovery this month. If Stamkos isn’t physically cleared to play, Canada has the option of substituting him out up to 24 hours before its first game against Norway on Feb. 13.
Also failing to make the final roster were some of the NHL’s highest-scoring players: the Philadelphia Flyers’ Claude Giroux, the Sharks’ Logan Couture, the Dallas Stars’ Tyler Seguin, plus the Edmonton Oilers’ young scoring stars, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Thornton is tied for fourth overall in the NHL scoring race and leads the league in assists, while Seguin and Hall are tied for 15th and Duchene and Giroux are both among the 16 Canadian-born players currently residing in the top 30.
Other forwards who attended the summer’s orientation camp in Calgary this summer, but failed to qualify for the final roster included Andrew Ladd (Winnipeg), Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (Boston), James Neal (Pittsburgh) and Jordan Staal (Carolina). The Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn didn’t get an invitation to the camp, but against long odds, fought his way onto the roster as one of its four left wingers.
For some, the two most surprising selections might have been Los Angeles Kings’ right winger Jeff Carter, who was mentioned on only a handful of shadow rosters, but made it because of his scoring ability; and Sharks’ left winger Patrick Marleau, who had a quiet performance for Canada in 2010, but is prized for his speed, versatility and penalty-killing ability.
Overall, there is a depth to Canada’s talent pool that will always create controversies when these teams are named, something that Yzerman knows and understands only too well.
Yzerman, who made the final decisions in consultation with fellow NHL GMs Doug Armstrong, Peter Chiarelli, Ken Holland and the Oilers’ VP of hockey operations, Kevin Lowe, knows that the second-guessing will last until the gold medal is awarded – and at that point, they either made the correct decisions because they won or they left themselves open to second-guessing because they didn’t.
It can be an awkward, difficult, challenging process – with no real bad options, only too many good ones.
Yzerman seemed nervous for a moment when he stepped to the podium and briefly lost his train of thought when discussing how close it was for Canada to win in 2010 - an overtime game against the U.S. - and how the competition has become even more formidable ever since.