Team Canada Celebrates After Winning the 2010 Olympic Gold Medal
On February 28, 2010, Team Canada won the Olympic Gold Medal with a dramatic overtime victory over the United States. Sidney Crosby was the hero of that game, scoring the winning goal (and one of the most significant goals in Canadian hockey history) 7:40 into overtime.
Two years have passed since that monumental game, and although Steve Yzerman will once again run the team, much else has changed. Sidney Crosby, who most would have assumed would be best player on the 2014 Olympic roster, is fighting to salvage his career.
Uncertainty about the 2014 Olympic team does not end with Crosby's status. For starters, NHL players may or may not be allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. In addition, like any Canadian national team, the country's tremendous depth of talent makes choosing the 2014 team a challenge. With that in mind, here is my projected 2014 Olympic Team.
Luongo's experience as the starter for the 2010 Olympic team makes him the favorite to once again be the team's number one goalie in Sochi. Apart from his status as a veteran, Luongo's current play warrants selection by Team Canada. His 2.48 goals-against average and .916 save percentage this season are indicative of his status as an elite NHL goalie.
Luongo is currently 32 years old and there is a chance that his play could decline by the time 2014 rolls around, but I doubt that will be the case, given Team Canada's penchant for selecting experienced goalies. From 2002 to 2010, the Canadians selected veteran goalies such as Curtis Joseph (age 34 in 2002), Ed Belfour (age 36 in 2002) and Martin Brodeur (age 37 in 2010), Luongo's spot in 2014 appears safe.
As the third goalie on the 2010 Olympic team, Marc-Andre Fleury was looked at as the goaltender of the future. Four years later, he very well may be the team's starter if Luongo falters. At the very least, Fleury looks poised to take on a bigger role in 2014.
Fleury's experience in the last Olympics, coupled with his Stanley Cup Finals experience in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, prove that Fleury is fully capable of taking on the pressure-packed role as Canada's backstop.
The last goaltending spot on Team Canada boils down to Carey Price and Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes. For my money, there is little to choose between the two goalies; both have experience playing for Team Canada (Price, who led Team Canada to gold in the 2007 World Juniors and Ward, who led Canada to gold in the 2007 World Hockey Championships) and both have significant playoff experience.
Ward has the advantage of having won not only a Stanley Cup, but also a Conn Smythe Trophy. Price, on the other hand, has had a rockier professional career, but in my mind, is the more talented goalie. Price's 2.43 goals against average and .916 save percentage on an awful Montreal Canadiens team indicate his raw ability and give him the slight edge over Ward.
Shea Weber's spot on the 2014 team is as close to guaranteed as anyone's. He has one of the hardest shots in the league, his defensive play is stellar, and his physical play is intimidating. He is a complete defenceman that brings leadership to the team, in addition to his remarkable physical gifts.
Keith was arguably Canada's best defenceman in the 2010 Olympics. He won the Norris trophy as the NHL's best defenceman that same year.
Keith is a solid offensive contributor and a consistent defender. His offence has slowed marginally since his Norris-trophy season, but not to the point that it should jeopardize his chances of playing for the 2014 Olympic team.
If it weren't for a number of games missed this season due to concussions, Letang might very well be this season's Norris trophy winner. He has 31 points in just 40 games this year, and is an elite puck-moving defenceman.
Letang is a major reason for the Penguins' continued success this season despite the absence of Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal for large parts of the year. He should not only make the 2014 Olympic Team, but also quarterback its powerplay.
At just 20 years old, Doughty's selection to the 2010 Olympic Team was a surprise to some. But Doughty's play during the Olympic tournament proved that he belonged at the international level.
His numbers have declined from 59 points in 2009-10 to 40 in 2010-11 to just 27 points in 60 games this season. Despite his numbers, Doughty is a gifted offensive defenceman and he should thrive when playing with the rest of the supremely talented Team Canada roster.
If Team Canada were being picked today, Pietrangelo might be considered too inexperienced to be selected, but factoring in another two seasons of development, the St. Louis Blues defenceman looks poised to make the 2014 team.
Pietrangelo has succeeded at every level of play and is a huge part of the Blues' success this season. He has 38 points in 65 games this year playing in a very defensive-minded system. If given better talent around him, Pietrangelo's offensive skills will shine that much more. He also displays the requisite defensive poise needed to play at the international level.
In 2010, Team Canada picked a number of NHL teammates to play with each other on the national team (Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley).
Seabrook arguably deserves to make the 2014 team on his own merits, but the fact that he plays with Duncan Keith 82 games every year makes his selection that much easier. There is little time to practice and prepare for the Olympic tournament; a defensive pairing that is already comfortable playing with each other is therefore very important.
Seabrook is a solid defensive defenceman who complements Keith well. He can also pinch in offensively if needed.
I'm assuming a lot by adding Marc Staal to this roster. I'm assuming he'll overcome the concussion problems that kept him out of the New York Rangers roster for a significant portion of this season and I'm also assuming that he'll regain his form as an elite shut-down defenceman who is more than competent in the offensive end of the rink.
Staal's numbers this year (two goals, two assists and a minus-three rating on a very good Rangers team) show that he is not yet back to his pre-injury form, but I'm betting he will be by the time the selections for the Olympic squad are made.
The other candidates for this last spot on defence are P.K. Subban, Dion Phaneuf, Michael Del Zotto, and Dan Hamhuis. I think Hamhuis would be a very smart pick, but I've never heard his name mentioned when discussing Team Canada and I'd be very surprised if he were selected. Of the guys named above, only Staal has two brothers also on the 2014 team (at least according to my projections) and that can't do anything but help his chances.
If Sidney Crosby is healthy, he'll be on the Canadian Olympic Team in 2014. If he even says that he might be healthy, he'll be on the team.
Crosby is the best hockey player in the world and he's a lock for this team so long as he can recover from injuries to his head, neck and back. Crosby has been fighting those injuries (initially thought to be simply a concussion and now thought to be a back injury as well) since the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day, 2011.
Like most hockey fans, I'm worried that Crosby will never be able to play hockey again. Although I'm not a doctor and don't profess to be one, everything I've seen and heard since Crosby's concussion problems began leads me to believe that he'll never play symptom-free hockey again.
For the good of the Canadian Olympic Team, and for the good of the game as a whole, hopefully Crosby will prove me wrong.
If you watched coverage of the NHL's Trade Deadline Day, you would have heard endless talk of Rick Nash. For good reason, Nash is an elite-level talent, and the opportunity to acquire him is not one that arises frequently.
Despite playing with mediocre teammates throughout his tenure in Columbus, Nash has always been able to score goals at a prolific pace. Nash' average of 33 goals per season since 2003-04 is amongst the best in the league over that span.
And when playing with more skilled players, Nash's game improves to its full potential. He was one of the top forwards on the 2010 Olympic team, where he played alongside Joe Thornton. Nash and Thornton also played together in the Swiss League during the NHL lockout and formed a dominant forward-pairing.
Jarome Iginla is currently 34 years old and will be 36 by the time the 2014 Olympics roll around. His best years are undoubtedly behind him.
But Iginla can still play the game at an extremely high level (as evidenced by his 29 goals and 59 points in 69 games this season), and more importantly, he can provide incredible leadership to what will be a youthful Team Canada.
Iginla is one of the best leaders in the game and a figure that commands immediate respect. If he is still playing in 2014, and if he is playing at close to his current level, I expect him to be named captain of the Olympic team.
Steven Stamkos is the most dynamic goal-scorer in the NHL, and his inclusion on Team Canada is close to automatic. He's scored 51 and 45 goals over the past two seasons, respectively. With 50 goals through 70 games this year, Stamkos is virtually guaranteed to have his highest goal total ever. He also figures to be the league's Rocket Richard trophy winner again this year.
Stamkos wasn't chosen for the 2010 roster due largely to his youth and inexperience, but after continuing to put up amazing offensive numbers, Stamkos won't be overlooked come 2014.
Over the past four seasons, Giroux's point totals have climbed from 27 in 2008-09 to 47 in 2009-10 to 76 in 2010-11 all the way to 84 in just 68 games so far this season. He is now one of the elite offensive players in the game.
If Giroux can maintain his current point-production, he should be a lock for the 2014 Olympic team. If he continues to improve offensively, then he'll not only make the team, but also be a first-line forward and a key to Canada's power play.
Although he is currently out of the Chicago Blackhawks lineup with a concussion, Toews epitomizes what a Team Canada player should be. He is offensively skilled, cool under pressure (as he proved during the 2007 World Junior Championships when he scored three times in a shootout against the US in the semi-finals) and a natural leader.
Even though he is only 23 years old, Toews has already won five goal medals in a Team Canada uniform (one Under-17 Championship, two World Juniors, one World Championship and one Olympics). He was named the best forward of the 2010 Olympic tournament, an honor that was well deserved.
Like a number of Anaheim Ducks this season, Corey Perry hasn't played nearly as well as he did last season. Perry has still managed to put up 34 goals to date though, and could reach 40 by the end of the year.
Aside from Steven Stamkos, Perry is the best pure sniper eligible for Team Canada and for that reason alone, he should make the 2014 squad.
Eric Staal had his best offensive season in 2005-06 with 45 goals and 100 points. His numbers since then have declined, and his minus-16 rating so far this season is disconcerting.
But Staal is undeniably a great two-way hockey player and it's clear that he's not exactly surrounded by great talent in Carolina. He can play center or wing if need be and he was one of the better forwards on Canada's 2010 Gold medal winning team.
For my money, Jordan Staal should be the third Staal brother to make the 2014 Olympic team, and not simply because of his last name, but because of his outstanding defensive play.
The Canadian brass often like to pick defensive-minded players to complement the amazing offensive skill of any version of Team Canada. After picking the likes of Rob Zamuner in 1998 and Kris Draper in 2006, it was clear that Canada's "checking centres" needed to be more than strictly defensive.
In addition to killing penalties and matching up against other teams' top lines, Staal is more than capable of contributing offensively. He'll fit in on the 2014 team for that reason.
Patrice Bergeron was a borderline choice for the 2010 Olympic Team but he proved he belonged on that team in a number of key situations.
Bergeron was essentially given the task of killing penalties and winning important face-offs in 2010 and there is no reason why he wouldn't take on the same role again in 2014. As a right-handed center, Bergeron fills a niche on Team Canada.
As a side note, I think Steve Yzerman and the rest of the Team Canada management consciously pick a team that represents the whole of Canada. In other words, they're aware that people in Quebec will criticize them if there aren't enough Quebecois picked.
As much as it shouldn't matter, being from Quebec doesn't hurt Bergeron.
At only 20 years old, Tyler Seguin's numbers this season are incredibly impressive. He's scored 25 goals and has 58 points thus far this season. Most impressive is the fact that he is second in the entire league in plus/minus, with a plus-28 (behind only Patrice Bergeron with a plus-31 rating).
Seguin's numbers are comparable to those of Edmonton's big three: Jordan Eberle (31 goals, 69 points in 67 games), Taylor Hall (27 goals, 53 points in 61 games) or even Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (18 goals, 45 points in 51 games).
Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins put up their points on a terrible Oilers team, while Seguin is just one of many talented forwards on the Bruins. I expect that all four of these young stars will continue to progress and continue to put up impressive numbers, but in my opinion, Seguin is the best of the bunch and the most likely one to make the 2014 Olympic team.
I realize that playing on a team with Evgeni Malkin will lead to some free points every now and then, and I realize that James Neal has benefited from Malkin's Hart-Trophy-calibre play this season.
But Neal's goal-scoring can't simply be attributed to Malkin's talent. Neal has scored at least 20 goals in every season he's played in the NHL and at 24 years old, I'm betting that he continues to improve.
Neal adds an element that other forwards vying for this spot can't: he's a physical presence. Even on the international ice surface in Sochi, I suspect that Steve Yzerman and company will prefer a power forward such as Neal to others that aren't as willing to mix it up in the tough areas.
If you haven't noticed already, I've projected a number of young and inexperienced players to make the 2014 Olympic Team. By adding veteran Joe Thornton, the Canada management could counteract this inexperience.
Thornton wouldn't simply bring experience to the 2014 team, he'd also bring his tremendous offensive talent. He is one of the best passers in the game, and his stats this season (16 goals and 67 points in 70 games) are not far off his career averages.
There is no doubt that Thornton is no longer the Art Ross trophy threat he once was, and there will always be questions about his play in the biggest games, but Thornton will still have a lot to offer the Canadian team in 2014.
This pick is easy. Mike Babcock won gold in 2010 and he deserves to be behind the bench again in 2014. I'm guessing that Steve Yzerman will bring back the same coaching staff and try to replicate the atmosphere that was successful the last time around.