Q: Okay, so now we get down to the hardest choices: about 25 qualified forwards that need to be shoehorned into 14 spots. The line between so many of these players – Logan Couture or Matt Duchesne, Claude Giroux or Martin St. Louis – is so fine you almost wonder if they’ll need to use a Ouija board or a Magic 8 Ball to break the ties.
A: It will be a little more scientific than that. The key is to pay close attention to what Yzerman and head coach Mike Babcock have consistently said about the selection process. Canada has about 10 qualified centres under consideration, but Yzerman has repeatedly said he doesn’t want too many players playing out of position. So there’ll likely be more natural left and right wingers on the team than you may think. Babcock says he wants players to play a 200-foot game, equally comfortable in the defensive and offensive zones, so they’ll look for forwards with speed, skill and high hockey IQs – because the lessons about systems and tactics will have to be absorbed in a hurry, on the fly.
Most importantly, since the goal is to win an Olympic gold medal, they’ll be preparing for third-period contingencies with the championship on the line. Do you have the right players on your bench that you can trust to defend a one-goal lead? Do you have right players on your bench to go out and score the tying goal if you’re down one? Yzerman’s challenge is to give Babcock as many good options as possible for every scenario that the team might face.
Q: That’s an interesting point because there were some players stapled to the bench in 2010, when crunch time came. So start with the centres.
A: Crosby, Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron. Canada can dress 13 of 14 forwards for every game. Crosby and Toews were 1-2 going into the season and nothing has changed there. Getzlaf and Tavares are both in the middle of exceptional seasons and are really natural centres, harder to shift to the wing that some others might be. And while Bergeron has just been okay with Boston in the first half, his pedigree – of playing so well in championship moments for the Bruins, his ability to win faceoffs, his penalty killing – should give him the edge for the fifth spot.
Q: Shifting over to the right side, who do you like?
A: This gets a little trickier. Corey Perry for sure joins Getzlaf’s line, the two Anaheim Ducks playing together, just as they did in 2010. Rick Nash finished the 2010 tournament playing on the same line as Toews. Nash’s familiarity with big-ice hockey, plus the ability to get behind defences, and that big wingspan in tight, makes him a logical choice in that spot again, even though his NHL season hasn’t gone exceptionally well. They probably would like to play Steven Stamkos on Crosby’s right side, but if he’s not ready to go, his Tampa Bay teammate St. Louis – who is so adaptable and such a respected leader – could slide in there nicely. And for the other spot, an off-the-board choice: Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings, a sniper pure and simple, who could benefit from Tavares’s playmaking.
Q: If it goes that way, then just four spots remain open on the left side.