Vancouver, 2010. We've been hearing about it since the Turin Olympics ended, and with a year to go Canadians from coast to coast are preparing themselves for either one of the country's greatest sporting spectacles, or a disaster for our own Olympians who, sometimes, crack under the pressure at home.
Canada has yet to win a gold medal on its own, and with the nation's appetite for hockey glory, there is more pressure than ever on Steve Yzerman and his selection committee. Hopefully Yzerman has learned from the success he experienced at Salt Lake in 2002 and the mistakes made by the selection committee in 2006.
Although Canada might have sent one of its most talented teams ever to the 2006 Turin Games, the team lacked many of the qualities that both the Finnish and Swedish teams had—a balanced scoring attack, a gritty energy line, and puck-moving defensemen. Perhaps Yzerman may take these few suggestions to form a well-rounded team.
Looking toward 2010, Canada has at its disposal a plethora of talented, offensively gifted, puck-moving defensemen, something it was sorely lacking at the 2006 games, with only possibly two members from that 2006 squad returning—Chris Pronger and Jay Bouwmeester.
Pronger's size will be a major factor at the 2010 games, and his leadership and winning attitude will be valuable for any Canadian defense. Bouwmeester's skating and puck-moving abilities (really the only one in 2006 who could move the puck out of his own end) are assets that this team needs this go around.
In addition to Bouwmeester and Pronger, Dan Boyle, who was foolishly left on the previous reserve roster in lieu of Bryan McCabe, will finally get to showcase his puck-moving talents. Brian Campbell, Shea Weber, and Dion Phaneuf should round out the other defensive spots, with perhaps Mike Green playing in a power-play-based role.
This means that Adam Foote, Rob Blake, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, and Bryan McCabe will not be invited back by Steve Yzerman.
Canada's lack of scoring and chemistry at the 2006 games were a deep concern then, and questionable moves made by Quinn and Gretzky hurt the team. Was it really the right thing to bring the Tampa trio of Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, and Martin St. Louis?
Was it right to keep Jason Spezza on the reserve squad when his talents best suit him for the bigger ice surface, especially with his teammate and friend Dany Heatley on the team?
Was it the right idea to bring a "shut down" unit of Draper and Maltby instead of an energy line? Would you rather have guys that would run around the ice hitting everything that moves like Nieminen and Ruutu did for the Fins or Holmstrom and Pahlsson for the Swedes or "defensive specialists" assigned to stop the other team's best unit instead of creating energy and opportunity?
Up front, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan, Lecavalier, Rick Nash, Heatley, and Joe Thornton should be automatics to return to the Olympics. Iginla, who would make an ideal captain for this unit, brings the leadership and gold medal standards that this team should aspire to.
Lecavalier and Thornton are two of the NHL's premier talents, and their skill set, along with the new "Captain Canada" Shane Doan should all play significant roles for the team. The presence of Nash and Heatley along the left wing stabilizes potentially their top two scoring units, Heatley being the defensive liability out of the two.
In addition to the six returning forwards, Canadian hockey will be ready for its youth movement, with a few alumni from the 2005 World junior Champion Canadian team becoming significant players for the team.
Sidney Crosby, of course, will be one of the go-to players for team Canada, as well as its top offensive talent. A potential unit of Crosby centering Iginla and Nash could be that top scoring unit that the country lacked in 2006.
Ryan Getzlaf also figures to be a prominent figure on one of the top lines, with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter both potentially playing a role on any potential energy line. Richards has established himself as a top two-way centreman in the NHL, and both he and Carter play a prominent role on the Flyers' penalty kill. In addition, they both have deadly accurate shots and a knack for scoring around the net.
Outside of the four alumni from the 2005 World Juniors, Dallas captain Brenden Morrow should be given a role on the team. His style is much the same as Ryan Smyth, who played an important role on many Canadian international teams in the early 90s, and played a prominent role on the Salt Lake team. Team Canada would needs someone who can take abuse in front of the other team's net, a la Holmstrom, and doesn't mind getting dirty in the corners.
With two forward spots remaining, Yzerman should take a long hard look at both Marc Savard and Patrick Marleau as roster fillers. Savard has been a revelation this year in Boston, demonstrating for once a capability to play in both ends of the rink, and being one of the NHL's premier setup men.
Savard has played with Iginla, but could potentially be a setup man for guys like Heatley, Morrow, and Doan. Marleau's usefulness is much the same as Mike Richards. Marleau plays a solid game in both ends of the rink and is a constant short handed goal leader every year. Marleau has speed and intelligence and a chemistry with Joe Thornton that is almost unmatched anywhere in the league.
In goal, the decision should be pretty simple, with Roberto Luongo taking the reigns from Martin Brodeur as Olympic goalie. If Brodeur does accept a secondary role with the squad, he could get playing time in the opening round against potential hockey powerhouses such as France, Kazahkstan, or Latvia. Luongo should get the bulk of the playing time however.
As for the third goalie, Canada should gear toward 2014 and invite Carey Price or Steve Mason to gain valuable experience from two of the world's greatest.
Yzerman has many tough decisions to make, yet the focus should be on the team aspect of this club and not on the potential star power available.
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