Building the best line combinations and defense pairings for a team of NHL stars from Canada is no easy task.
Despite the abundance of word-class talent on the roster, determining which players will have the best chemistry and be most productive is a difficult goal for a head coach.
This is the challenge Mike Babcock is facing as he prepares his team for a gold medal defense that Canadians hope is much more successful than its 2006 run when the country didn't even make the medal stand.
Babcock pushed the right buttons and found the lines and defensive pairings that would lead to gold medal success in 2010, but he will have several new faces to fit into the lineup in Sochi.
Let's look at the best possible line combinations and pairings for Team Canada to consider before the ice hockey competition at next year's Olympics begins.
Note: To view this year's Olympic camp roster for Canada, click here.
|1||Rick Nash (NYR)||Sidney Crosby (PIT)||Steven Stamkos (TBL)|
The top priority for Babcock when building the top line is finding the goal scorer who will make the most of Crosby's amazing playmaking skills. The perfect player for this role is Stamkos, who since the start of the 2009-10 season, has scored a league-leading 185 goals.
Nash would compliment these two players with his goal-scoring skill and power-forward style of hockey. The Rangers star played with Crosby on the first line in 2010 and the two combined for 12 points in seven games. His impressive size, strength and ability to drive hard to the net would open up space for Crosby and allow the Penguins star to create high-quality scoring chances.
Even though Nash won't dominate players with his speed, he does have the puck-handling and skating ability needed to be productive offensively on the larger Olympic-sized ice that will be used in Sochi.
|2||Patrick Sharp (CHI)||Jonathan Toews (CHI)||Claude Giroux (PHI)|
Giroux is one of the forwards too talented to be left off the roster but not strong enough at both ends of the ice to earn a spot at center over two-way stars like Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron. With that said, his smooth skating and ability to elevate the performance of his teammates make the Flyers captain worthy of a top-six role.
Toews is the most well-rounded center on the team given his ability to score at a point-per-game rate and play Selke Trophy-caliber defense versus the opponents' top scorers.
Even though Sharp isn't the second-best left winger on the team, putting him next to Toews, who he has strong chemistry with, is the best option for Babcock. The Blackhawks winger is a reliable playoff performer at the NHL level and can be trusted to score important goals at the Olympics, especially when two of the world's best playmakers are alongside him.
|3||John Tavares (NYI)||Ryan Getzlaf (ANA)||Corey Perry (ANA)|
Getzlaf and Perry will play together regardless of which line Babcock puts them on. These two superstars have earned so much success together in Anaheim with a Stanley Cup title in 2006-07 and a combined 986 points in 1,130 career games. They also connected on Team Canada's second goal in the gold medal game in Vancouver for a 2-0 lead.
Tavares is an ideal fit on this line because of his elite playmaking skill, high hockey IQ and ability to be productive on the wing because of his powerful and accurate left-handed shot.
This would be a difficult line to defend because of these players' size, skill and experience in NHL playoff and Olympic competition.
|4||Taylor Hall (EDM)||Patrice Bergeron (BOS)||Martin St. Louis (TBL)|
The fourth line is going to provide many different skills for Babcock.
Bergeron is the best defensive forward in the NHL and led the league in faceoff percentage during the regular season and playoffs. He will take the majority of the important faceoffs, especially the ones in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. The Bruins center is a clutch playoff performer and should also be on the ice when Canada is protecting a lead late in the game.
Hall and St. Louis would give Bergeron two wingers who are responsible defensively and provide impressive goal-scoring ability. They also have the speed and quickness required to take advantage of the Olympic-sized ice that is larger than what the NHL uses.
|1||Shea Weber (NSH)||Drew Doughty (LAK)|
|2||Duncan Keith (CHI)||Brent Seabrook (CHI)|
|3||Alex Pietrangelo (STL)||P.K. Subban (MTL)|
The defense pairings shouldn't be too difficult for Mike Babcock to figure out. Putting his best shutdown defenseman in Weber with an elite two-way player in Doughty makes the most sense as the top pairing. The Los Angeles Kings star made a name for himself and played the best hockey of his career at the 2010 Olympics for Canada.
The Keith and Seabrook combo will be reunited after these two Blackhawks stars played an important role in the team's gold-medal triumph three years ago in Vancouver. Keith is arguably the league's best defenseman, and his chemistry with Seabrook after playing together for so many years in Chicago is quite impressive.
The final pairing will be able to take advantage of the Olympic-sized sheet of ice, which requires speed to be successful. No defenseman in the NHL skates better than Subban, who would be a good fit alongside Pietrangelo because both are elite offensive players who create scoring chances with playmaking, puck-moving and power-play skills.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.