A: Right and, at this point, the temptation may be just to not overthink things. Crosby is the best player in the world, but it isn’t always easy for linemates to adapt quickly to his game because he goes so hard to the net – which, by the way, will be critical on the big ice in Sochi. His Pittsburgh Penguins teammate Chris Kunitz does have good chemistry with Crosby, and so would be a natural selection. Similarly, Patrick Sharp is the hottest scorer in the NHL this season and he has spent most of the year playing left wing with Toews in Chicago. Why mess with a good thing? From there, they’ll likely look to Patrick Marleau of the Sharks, who usually plays the left wing with either Joe Thornton or Couture. Marleau is attractive because his game is so well-rounded. He is exceptionally fast for a big man, adept at killing penalties, and can shift to the middle in a pinch. That would leave one spot open and it will likely go to Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn.
Q: So you’re picking Benn, ahead of Couture, Eric Staal, Matt Duchene, Claude Giroux, James Neal, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Thornton and others? Wow. That’s interesting, if only because Benn wasn’t invited to the orientation camp in Calgary last summer and the rest of these players were.
A: Yes, but there’s an explanation for that. Last NHL season, which is what the orientation camp invitations were based on, Benn played centre for the Stars, not his natural position and a position where Canada was/is stacked. This year, with Seguin in the lineup, Benn switched back to left wing and looks way more comfortable over there. In the above scenario, the opening on the left side would be on Getzlaf’s line. But the beauty of having Kunitz on the roster is that in his Anaheim days, he also played with Getzlaf and Perry. So if Babcock is of a mind to experiment – and the lesson of Vancouver is that, oh, yes, Babcock will tinker with his lines – he can try Benn up with Crosby and switch Kunitz down to play with Getzlaf. There’s some versatility here and of course, a lot ultimately depends upon Stamkos’s status and the pace of his recovery from a broken leg. Once the 25-man roster is named, a handful of the players who come up short will be put on standby as an unofficial taxi squad, available in case of an injury in the month between Jan. 7 and Feb. 8, or the last day of NHL action before play is suspended for the Sochi Olympics.
Q: Looking through this list, you’d have to think Canada will a “Bobby Ryan moment” or six of its own come Tuesday – the inevitable backlash/outcry that will occur because somebody’s favourite player is left off the team.
A: About the only difference is there won’t be anybody badmouthing players that didn’t make the final cut. Until the IOC decides hockey should be like bobsleigh and Canada can enter two teams, this is the way it’s going to be. And let’s face it, it’s a good thing. Wouldn’t you be in Yzerman’s shoes than those of Matjaz Kopitar, who gets to pick his son, Anze, and 24 other just-happy-to-be there Slovenian Olympians for their team? Either way, there will be no conclusive answer until the Feb. 26 gold-medal game. The proof will be in the result. The postmortems can wait until then.
CANADA’S PROJECTED OLYMPIC ROSTER:
G: Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith.
D: Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, Jay Bouwmeester, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, PK Subban, Brent Seabrook.
F: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares, Corey Perry, Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Sharp, Chris Kunitz, Jamie Benn, Patrick Marleau, Patrice Bergeron.
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