Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Team Canada in 2011

2011 Team Canada
How much difference does a year makes?
When Team Canada’s roster for the Men’s 2010 Winter Olympic team was announced in some abandoned airplane hanger prior to puck-drop at the only international hockey event that holds a candle to the Olympics, the World Juniors, there were few surprises. This was perhaps the most anticipated announcement in the history of this country, and had it occurred this year as opposed to last it may have been vastly different. As we approach the time of year that Steve Yzerman and Co. were making the final difficult decisions to shape the greatest hockey roster in the history of the game let’s examine how things could’ve been in 2011.
On defense it could be argued that Drew Doughty’s play this season may have swayed Team Canada General Manager Steve Yzerman and staff to select Mike Green in his place, or perhaps a rejuvenated Ed Jovanovski for more experience. Despite lower than anticipated points totals Doughty remains one of the best players in the league, a threat in all zones, he had to be selected. The only difference on defense would be the obvious omission of the now retired Scott Neidermyer, who likely would not have retired if the Olympics were in 2011. Retirement notwithstanding, Kris Letang, the current leader in points by Canadian defenseman would have to be the logical replacement. With Neidermyer out its likely his old blue-line partner from the Stanley Cup winning Anaheim Ducks, Chris Pronger, would where the Captain’s ‘C’. With Pronger assuming the ‘C’ it’s likely Duncan Keith or Shea Weber would take a roll as assistant, as both forwards with ‘A’s, Sidney Crosby and Jerome Iginla are can’t miss selections.
Although Jerome Iginla’s play is quickly fading his experience and role of pure power-forward, goal-scoring winger would have to make him a lock, but it wouldn’t be unforeseeable for Chris Stewart to fill that role. Stewart has led his Avalance to the top of the Northwestern Conference standings, ahead of Cup favourites the Vancouver Canucks, and at the NHL season quarter-pole he sits fifth in league scoring. Last year Eric Staal was selected despite a poor start to the season, which included injury problems. This year his play has steadied, making him, along with Cory Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Sidney Crosby, Martin St.Louis, the aforementioned Iginla and Mike Richards, the only clear-cut choices to make the team had the Games been this year.
Look at the top 30 scorers in the NHL and you won’t find any of the Sharks big name forwards: Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Heatley is Canada’s all-time international leading goal scorer, so he makes the grade, but with an abundance of centres, all with better two-way games, this makes Thornton expendable, and by extension, Marleau. These three were taken last year as a package deal based on the great chemistry they had developed with the Sharks, but if one is missing then only Heatley is in. Jonathan Toews has had a slow start, but he is third amongst NHL forwards in time on ice, and his stellar shoot-out skills and international experience, as well as formidable play in all zones makes him a lock.
Toews’ teammate Patrick Sharp is off to an electric start, sitting 11th in league scoring. A true winger, and the prototypical all-around Canadian player, Sharp makes the Olympic team in 2011. Just ahead of Sharp in league scoring, Derek Roy of Buffalo, is a small, speedy forward that can play in all situations. Hard to keep him off the roster but Sharp would edge Roy and replace Patrice Bergeron as the 13th forward. Steve Stamkos who is making a serious push to join the 50-50 club (50 goals in 50 games) this season wouldn’t just have a role on the team, he’d likely battle Crosby for most minutes, in fact, he could’ve been the “Golden Goal” scorer.
Team Canada selection isn’t just about picking the top 23 Canadian players and saying, “Go win Gold.” Team chemistry is the crux of the selection process, and Brenden Morrow of the Dallas Stars barely held on to his part on the team because of his great forecheck and physical presence on an energy line. He played a huge part on the Gold Medal winning team in 2010 but based on performance this season his checking role could have fallen on the versatile Jeff Carter, the Kings Jarret Stoll, who can play both wing and centre and has a cannon for a shot, or likely to a pair of Bruins noted for their ability to bang-bodies and crash the net, Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton. Since Lucic was invited to camp from the beginning, and is the player most like Morrow, he likely gets the nod in what was Morrow’s role.
That leaves Rick Nash, who has led Columbus to a franchise record start to this NHL season. He makes the team, but barely, since this year’s crop of high performing Canadian forwards has some new, unexpected names, and much more depth. Andrew Ladd is a point-per-game player thus far this season, and the newly minted Captain of the Atlanta Thrashers. His physical two-way game makes him hard to cut, along with the resurgent Brad Richards who sits fourth overall in league scoring. Phillie’s Claude Grioux has finally made the leap to NHL stardom after an extended AHL career. There are twenty other forwards not mentioned with a legitimate claim to a roster spot.
Goaltender could’ve been the area with the most turn-over, perhaps even a whole-sale change. Roberto Luongo usurped Martin Brodeur’s crown-thrown of starting goaltender part way through last years tournament after a disappointing start by Brodeur against team U.S.A. They are ranked 26th and 30th respectively in NHL Save Percentage. Marc-Andre Fleury was a good emergency option, coming off a cup win and with an impressive body of international hockey experience himself, but he is ranked 34th.
If you were picking team Canada’s goalies today you would have to take the league leader in wins, games played, save percentage and shut outs, Carey Price, and the man considered Canada’s fourth goalie last year, Cam Ward, who has an impressive .914 save percentage on a non-playoff bound Carolina Hurricanes team. Steve Mason has found his game again with an upstart Blue Jacket team, but Brodeur’s experience would probably win him the job as stop-gap should Price or Ward fall to injury during the tournament.
So the 2011 Team Canada is:
Stamkos    Crosby     St.Louis
Heatley     Getzlaf     Nash
Staal         Toews       Perry
Lucic    M. Richards  Sharp
Pronger  Letang
Keith       Seabrook
Weber    Doughty


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