As far as we knew, by the final discussion Monday, no media outlet had been granted the same access to Hockey Canada’s Olympic men’s team deliberations as USA Hockey allowed USA Today and ESPN.com.
But rest assured, the same kind of frank remarks about American forward Bobby Ryan that inflamed even some media types when they were reported by ESPN.com were made about some candidates for the Canadian hockey team during the final selection meeting in Toronto.
And why not?
Just how productive would it be if executive director Steve Yzerman and his associates sat around discussing just how wonderful Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are? The object, once the team is announced Tuesday morning, is to win the gold medal next month at the Sochi Winter Olympics, not worry about wounding the egos of a few professional athletes.
Picking the right 25 players for the team requires what lawyers like to call a “full and frank discussion,” especially when it comes to the really difficult decisions, those eight to 10 roster spots where the selection is not cut and dried.
So, yes, a good bet is remarks will be made about, say, P.K. Subban’s brash personality, although it is unlikely they will be as colourful as Calgary Flames president Brian Burke saying Ryan “can’t spell intense.”
But the millions of general managers that make up Canadian hockey fans and the media are a funny bunch. We lust after inside information and interesting characters but, when we get them, we’re usually horrified and a backlash ensues, amplified a thousand-fold by manufactured outrage on social media. Hence, Burke is now castigated far and wide even though he also noted what makes Ryan a special player, and he didn’t say anything much different than what others in the room noted as well.
These kinds of discussions are necessary, though. When it comes to separating players at the Olympic level, there is so little difference between most of them that the qualities secondary to their hockey talents take on added importance.
For many, the Olympics will be the first time they play a lesser role on a team. So the coaches and managers need to know if the player is okay with this or if he is going to sulk and be a negative presence on a team that, in Canada’s case, is guaranteed to be the subject of a media spit-storm at some point.
However, the discussions Monday concerned speed rather than whether or not certain players can spell. Since the Games will be played on the bigger international ice surface, players who can fly will rate consideration over others who can score but need a little time to get there. (This is especially so after the Canadian junior team’s recent awful showing at the world championship, when its players looked a step or two slower than everyone else.)
Also figuring prominently in the meeting was what Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos’s doctors are telling Yzerman about the chances of the forward being fully recovered from a broken right tibia in time for the Games. Expect to see his name called Tuesday.
On defence, the bubble players are Subban, Dan Boyle, Brent Seabrook, Mark Giordano, Marc-Édouard Vlasic and Dan Hamhuis. Naturally, it can be argued Subban, as the defending James Norris Memorial Trophy winner, and perhaps Seabrook are more deserving than Jay Bouwmeester, who is a lock on the left side. But Canada head coach Mike Babcock wants four right-hand shots and four left-handers, so Bouwmeester is in and maybe fellow lefty Vlasic, too. That leaves three righties in a scramble for the last two spots: Subban, Boyle and Seabrook, with one of them moving to the left.
Up front, the discussions will involve players such as Matt Duchene, Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron, Martin St. Louis, Claude Giroux, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, James Neal, Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau and Chris Kunitz.
If Yzerman and Babcock are true to their words, they will probably carry five centres, which should bring the debate for the fifth centre to Giroux and Bergeron ahead of Staal and Thornton. Both are good two-way players, both play special teams and both have good hands. Bergeron is a proven Olympic performer, but Giroux’s legs are just a bit younger.
Finally, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo seem to have locked up the first two goaltender jobs. The third goalie has yet to steal the show in the Olympics, but if that ever happens, I agree with my Globe and Mail colleague Eric Duhatschek: The best insurance policy is Mike Smith.