The Answerman returns after a long, self-imposed exile to ponder the choices for the Canadian 2014 men’s Olympic hockey team, set to be unveiled Tuesday…
Q: It looks as if you couldn’t resist joining the army of armchair quarterbacks, helpfully offering their assistance to executive director Steve Yzerman and his management team in choosing the men’s team for the Sochi Winter Games. They’ve endlessly scouted, dissected, analyzed and otherwise pondered all their options, but presumably, they’re always ready to accept additional input.
A: By now, the roster, minus a few final tweaks around the edges, is pretty much set, which is one of the great ironies of the selection process. Ultimately, how Canada will fare will largely depend upon Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Carey Price and the performance of its core players. It’s the oldest hockey cliché in the book – you win because your best players are your best players, right? But it doesn’t change the fact the Olympic dreams of many deserving players will either be realized or crushed in the next day or so, and everybody’s got an idea of how to fill out the bottom one-third of the roster.
Q: There are two ways of going about this exercise: Do you either select your own Olympic team or do you try to nose your way into the war room and anticipate the direction Yzerman and his team are going in?
A: Let’s make it the latter, because ultimately that’s what really matters – who they pick, not what anyone else thinks. There’ll be all kinds of time after the fact to debate and discuss all the worthy candidates that came up short. Remember, with a talent pool as deep as Canada’s, there are really no bad choices, only too many good ones.
Q: Start with goaltender, the position everyone always frets about. How will that play out?
A: Price’s play this year with the Montreal Canadiens has solidified his place as the tentative starter, and Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks) is going to make it, too, because he was the goaltender of record when Canada won Olympic gold in 2010 and has had a decent season. The third spot could go to any number of qualified candidates, but they will ultimately settle on Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes. Every four years, you hear people say the same thing: Why not add a young goaltender to give him the Olympic experience? (This time, in case the NHL actually goes to South Korea in 2018.) The answer is the same: If you’re down to your third goaltender and you’re still alive in the competition, something has gone horribly wrong with your top two guys – and you’ll need someone prepared to go in cold and win one or perhaps two games, likely with medals on the line. Smith, an exceptionally competitive goalie with superior puck-handling skills, gets the nod for that reason alone.
Q: There’ll be a fair bit of turnover from 2010 on this squad, but arguably the two players they’ll miss the most are defencemen Chris Pronger (long-term injury) and Scott Niedermayer (retired) – reliable, experienced, steadying presences on the blueline.
A: Yes, you’d feel a lot better if you had healthy, in-their-prime versions of both Pronger and Niedermayer to draw on. Still, it’s not a bad mix on defence anyway. They’ll return the top pair from the Vancouver Games: Keith and Doughty. Shea Weber is also back and he’ll be paired with a left-shooting, stay-at-home defenceman – either Marc-Édouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks or Dan Hamhuis of the Canucks (likely Vlasic). The third pair will be the St. Louis Blues duo of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Even though he’s a high-risk option, Habs star P.K. Subban’s undeniable offensive skills will likely get him the seventh spot. So that’s four right-handed shots and three lefties. The eighth choice will go to one of Dan Boyle (Sharks), Brent Seabrook or a long shot, Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames). Seabrook is having an exceptional season and plays regularly in Chicago with Keith. That was a deciding factor in 2010. It likely will be again this time around.