Canada Olympic Hockey Team 2014: Projecting 25-Man Roster for Sochi Games
Canada's quest for back-to-back gold medals presents a new challenge for hockey's premier nation.
The most recent gold medal defense for Team Canada ended in disappointment, when it failed to medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. But Canada's hopes for a second consecutive gold medal are a bit better than they were seven years ago because the team is younger, faster and better coached.
The Canadians also won't have to deal with the burden of winning the gold on home soil amid the immense pressure from fans and media. Unlike in Vancouver, Canada does not have a difficult group in Sochi and was fortunate enough to avoid Sweden, the United States and Russia to start the tournament.
Let's take a look at how Canada should construct its roster for the best chance at a successful Olympic campaign in Sochi.
Team Canada unveiled a preliminary roster in July for its Olympic training camp that will take place in Calgary later this month. Here's a breakdown of the list.
- Goaltenders: Corey Crawford, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith, Carey Price and Braden Holtby
- Defensemen: Karl Alzner, Dan Boyle, Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Mike Green, Dan Hamhuis, Travis Hamonic, Duncan Keith, Kris Letang, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, Marc Staal, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber
- Forwards: Taylor Hall, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Brad Marchand, Rick Nash, Patrick Sharp, Jordan Eberle, Corey Perry, Martin St. Louis, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Eric and Jordan Staal, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Duchene, John Tavares
Toughest Roster Decisions
No staff will have a tougher time assembling a final 25-man roster than the people at Hockey Canada. Several NHL superstars who would easily make any other nation's roster will be left in North America during the Olympic break and not earn the opportunity to represent their country.
Here are some notable players left off my projected roster.
Logan Couture, Center
The most difficult roster decision was choosing between Couture and Eric Staal for the final forward spot. Both are elite centers with exceptional offensive skills, but Staal is a better defensive player, a stronger leader with plenty of captain experience and plays with more truculence than Couture.
Milan Lucic, Left Wing
Lucic would provide Canada with an impressive combination of physicality, clutch scoring and depth on the wings, but his power forward style of hockey won't translate to a larger Olympic ice surface as well as players like Taylor Hall, Martin St. Louis and Corey Perry.
The Boston Bruins forward also lacks the speed and quickness needed to excel on a larger ice, which, combined with his good-but-not-elite offensive skills, makes him a tough player to put on the final roster.
James Neal, Left Wing
Neal is a phenomenal goal scorer and would be an ideal winger for Sidney Crosby, but he doesn't provide the toughness and defensive ability that many of the other forwards bring to the ice each game. Canada already has more than enough goal scorers, which is why bubble players need to bring strong two-way skill sets to the table if they want to earn a spot on the 25-man roster.
Projected 25-Man Roster
The Team Canada roster is loaded with elite talent at every position. Many of these players were also on the 2010 squad that won the gold medal, which gives Canada important experience that most of the other medal contenders lack.
- Goaltenders: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Corey Crawford
- Defensemen: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang
- Forwards: Corey Perry, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Patrick Sharp, Taylor Hall, Crosby, Toews, Bergeron, Stamkos, Giroux, Tavares, Getzlaf, Staal
Projected Starter: Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks)
Luongo is once again the starting goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks, and no one should be shocked if he fulfills this role on Team Canada for the second straight Olympics.
His impressive international experience, which includes three World Championship and two Olympic appearances, makes him the ideal candidate for the starting role.
Luongo is still a top-tier goalie, but he doesn't instill the same amount of confidence in his teammates that Henrik Lundqvist (SWE), Jonathan Quick (USA) and Tuukka Rask (FIN) will for their respective nations. If he struggles early in the group stage, it wouldn't be surprising if Babcock decided to make a switch.
Projected Backups: Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens), Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks)
Price struggled at the end of last season (4-7 in April) and in the playoffs (13 GA in three-plus games) for the Canadiens. Given his lack of Olympic experience and disappointing NHL playoff résumé, he's best suited for the third-string role.
Crawford has a better postseason résumé as a Stanley Cup champion and is the more reliable choice for the backup role. The 28-year-old proved in last year's playoffs that he's capable of making important late-game saves when there's little or no room for error.
Projected Defensive Pairings
Projected Defensive Pairings
|1||Shea Weber (NSH)||Drew Doughty (LAK)|
|2||Duncan Keith (CHI)||Brent Seabrook (CHI)|
|3||Alex Pietrangelo (STL)||P.K. Subban (MTL)|
The Canadian blue line will see some new faces in Sochi due to the absences of 2010 veterans Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle and Scott Niedermayer, but there's plenty of two-way skill in this group.
There are three shutdown defensemen in Weber, Doughty and Keith, who will be assigned to defend the opposing teams' best forwards and also play an important role on the penalty kill. These players will be complimented perfectly by smooth-skating offensive defensemen such as Subban, Pietrangelo, Seabrook and Letang (alternate), all of whom have the perfect skill set for the larger Olympic ice.
There are no weaknesses on Team Canada's blue line, which is good news for Luongo and the rest of the goaltenders, since they won't be forced to make too many world-class saves each game.
It also helps that many of these defensemen, including Weber, Doughty, Keith and Seabrook, have experience from Vancouver. They won't be intimidated by the Olympic stage or the pressure of gold medal expectations.
Projected Forward Lines
Projected Forward Lines
|1||Rick Nash||Sidney Crosby||Steven Stamkos|
|2||Patrick Sharp||Jonathan Toews||Claude Giroux|
|3||John Tavares||Ryan Getzlaf||Corey Perry|
|4||Taylor Hall||Patrice Bergeron||Eric Staal|
Canada will be able to play any style of hockey with the combination of forwards it will bring to the ice in Sochi. Many of these players have elite two-way skill sets that include impressive goalscoring ability, high hockey intelligence and fundamentally strong defensive abilities.
Figuring out which forwards to put together is very difficult, mainly due to chemistry issues. This is why we should expect NHL teammates, including Sharp and Toews, to play on the same line.
Canada will also have plenty of penalty killers to help shut down the star-studded units of the United States, Sweden and Russia. Bergeron and Toews are two of the best defensive forwards in the world (last two Selke Award winners) and will take important faceoffs, kill penalties and defend the opposing teams' top scorers throughout the tournament.
Team Canada's impressive combination of scoring ability, responsible defense and speed make its forward group the deepest and most talented of all the nations participating in Sochi.
Most Important Players
Roberto Luongo, Goaltender
As the probable starter in the net, Luongo's performance will have a bigger impact to the team's success than that of any other player. Despite his struggles in the 2010 gold medal game, he did make several quality saves in overtime and earned the prize Canada was after. This should give him plenty of confidence heading into Sochi.
If Luongo performs at a high level on a consistent basis, it's difficult to imagine Canada not winning the gold medal. No country has a deeper and more skilled group of forwards and defensemen with previous gold medal experience.
Patrice Bergeron, Center
Bergeron will play an important defensive role at the Olympics as a shutdown forward. He led the NHL in faceoff percentage last season and is one of the three best penalty-killing centers in the world. He's always well positioned, blocks shots, backchecks consistently and makes the smart play instead of taking risks.
His defensive performance in the 2013 playoffs for the Bruins, which included Crosby scoring zero points in the Eastern Conference Final, helped prove why Bergeron will be on the ice for Team Canada in many late-game situations where there can be no lapses defensively.
Sidney Crosby, Center
Crosby is the best player in the world, and even though he scored the golden goal in Vancouver, that was his only point of the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds.
Canada needs a more consistent performance from Crosby if it's going to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time since 1952. He will have to find a balance between his own offensive production and using his elite playmaking skills to create high-quality scoring chances for his wingers.
Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses
Depth at Center: Depth down the middle is critical to Olympic success because it's the most important position (excluding goaltender) and the defensive responsibilities are increased on an Olympic-sized sheet of ice.
Luckily for Canada, it has an abundance of world-class talent at center, including the two best offensive players in the NHL with Crosby and Stamkos. Whether Canada is on the power play, needs to shut down an opposing forward or take an important defensive zone faceoff, Babcock will have plenty of quality centers to put on the ice in any situation.
Gold Medal Experience: One of the most important aspects of winning teams that's often taken for granted is experience. Canada could have as many as 15 returning players from the gold medal team in Vancouver. This will help the team battle through adversity and handle the pressure and expectations from fans and media.
These players know how much hard work, both physically and mentally, is required to win the gold medal in Olympic competition, which will give Canada a tremendous advantage over teams with rosters lacking similar experience.
Goaltending: Luongo is a quality goaltender, but his recent Olympic and NHL playoff struggles are a concern. He was shaky in the gold medal game three years ago and has been far from stellar throughout his playoff career with the Canucks, including his meltdown in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final that cost Vancouver its first ever championship.
Aside from Luongo, no other goalie invited to Canada's training camp has experience on the Olympic stage, which isn't ideal for a top gold medal contender. Goaltending is almost always Canada's biggest weakness during Olympic competition and there's no reason to believe that won't be the case in Sochi.
Players Playing Out of Position: Canada has too many centers worthy of a spot on the final roster, and some of them, including John Tavares and Claude Giroux, are too talented to be left off the roster even though they might not deserve one of the four center spots.
This will create a situation where guys are forced to be off position on the wing, which won't be an easy transition because it's a much different role, offensively and defensively, than playing down the middle.
With that said, players such as Tavares and Giroux are capable of handling this switch and still performing at a high level, but it will make constructing the team's four lines a tougher challenge for Babcock and his coaching staff.
The Canadians will have the most complete team in Sochi. Bovada currently gives them the second-best odds to capture the gold at 9-4.
The challenge for Canada is ending its gold medal drought in Olympics held overseas, which currently stands at 61 years.
But with a roster that includes many superstars in the prime of their careers with winning experience, in addition to the best head coach in the NHL, Canada has the best chance of any country to take home the gold in Sochi.
Prediction: 6-0, gold medal winner
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.