With the announcement of the one-year countdown to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics yesterday, everyone who has an opinion weighed in on who should represent Team Canada for men's hockey in Vancouver. While there are definitely some locks in terms of players who will be there, the last six or eight players always generate a ton of conversation. Do you need a dedicated checking line? Is there a need for a someone who throw crushing bodychecks? Do you opt for speed or for power? Do you look at players who have been there before, or do you go with a team of younger players? All of these questions came up yesterday while I was out watching hockey, and there was some spirited debate.
So, I turn the question to you, readers. Who would you select right now if you had Steve Yzerman's position with Team Canada? Things can change between now and next February, so this is all academic. Well, I'm going to hammer away academically at this one right here, right now.
This will be the one area that should generate the most conversation. There are just so many good forwards to choose from, and there are only 13 spots available. Here are my Top 13, with some explanations.
Corry Perry - Anaheim Ducks: youngster plays a big game.
Ryan Getzlaf - Anaheim Ducks: always a threat on the ice.
Jarome Iginla - Calgary Flames: he would captain this squad.
Eric Staal - Carolina Hurricanes: big, gifted player.
Jonathan Toews - Chicago Blackhawks: phenomenal talent.
Rick Nash - Columbus Blue Jackets: big-game player for Canada.
Dany Heatley - Ottawa Senators: pure scoring ability.
Jeff Carter - Philadelphia Flyers: beast on the penalty-kill.
Sidney Crosby - Pittsburgh Penguins: this one is a no-brainer.
Joe Thornton - San Jose Sharks: the best setup man in the NHL.
Patrick Marleau - San Jose Sharks: found his game with Thornton.
Vincent Lecavalier - Tampa Bay Lightning: still a dynamic player.
John Tavares - not drafted: how good would he be next to Thornton?
Now, you may notice that there is no Joe Sakic, Shane Doan, Patrick Marleau, Marc Savard, or Martin St. Louis. The only player I was torn over was Marc Savard, but the rest will simply be too old for my liking next season. Despite the 2002 team winning the gold medal with a pile of experience, I want a team built on speed and determination. Tavares on the taxi squad was a serious wild card pick, but I could easily swap him out with Savard.
Seven spots, and another area where Canada is deep. This one really comes down to one or two players who may or may not be on the team.
Scott Niedermayer - Anaheim Ducks: savvy veteran on the blueline.
Dion Phaneuf - Calgary Flames: big, mean, and hates to lose.
Jay Bouwmeester - Florida Panthers: plays well in both ends.
Brent Burns - Minnesota Wild: one of the best defensive defencemen.
Shea Weber - Nashville Predators: cannon for a shot.
Dan Boyle - San Jose Sharks: impressive at both ends of the ice.
Mike Green - Washington Capitals: offensive catalyst.
Again, the absence of guys like Chris Pronger, Brian Campbell, and Dennis Wideman may be surprising, but the Olympics is a short tournament where speed kills. Aside from Pronger's slapshot, Green is better offensively than both Wideman and Campbell. Duncan Keith was a player I seriously considered, but I can't swap him out over any of those seven men.
I'm almost guaranteed to take heat for my third pick on here. Really, the taxi squad position for goaltenders is the guy who gets a great seat to watch the game, and never has to worry about pulling the equipment on.
Martin Brodeur - New Jersey Devils: one of the best all-time.
Roberto Luongo - Vancouver Canucks: challenger to the throne.
Steve Mason - Columbus Blue Jackets: battles hard every night.
I get that there will be a lot of people who are questioning Steve Mason's inclusion over other players such as Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, or Marty Turco, but Mason shows up to play every night no matter what the odds are. He has had success internationally, and knows how to win the big game. Turco, Price, Fleury, and Ward are streaky, and Giguere hasn't been the same since winning a Stanley Cup. Honestly, whoever the third goalie is should just go and appreciate the free tickets he gets. Unless Brodeur or Luongo gets hurt, there will be no chance of him dressing.
Head Coach? Mike Babcock - Detroit Red Wings.
Assistant Coach? Todd McLellan - San Jose Sharks.
Assistant Coach? Claude Julien - Boston Bruins.
Assistant Coach? Brent Sutter - New Jersey Devils.
Babcock's reign of excellence as a coach is unquestionable. He would lead this talented group of individuals on the bench. McLellan would be my special teams' coach as the Red Wings thrived on his system last year, and the Sharks are eating everyone up this season. Claude Julien would be in charge of the defencemen. No team has played better in their own zone than the Bruins this season, recent games versus the Sharks aside, so he would be in charge of the blueline. And Sutter's knowledge and expertise would be a valuable addition to the bench. With this team, I'd be confident going into GM Place in Vancouver.
Look, this is merely an academic exercise. There's no guarantee any of these players or coaches will be there next year. Injuries always haunt teams in late January and early February, so these 23 players won't all be there. Sure, some will be in Vancouver, but that's what makes a debate like this so interesting - some selections are objective, while some are purely subjective.
Who do you like? How badly did I choose? Let me know.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!