Team Canada enters the 2014 Olympics as hockey's defending gold medalists. As always, there is considerable debate over who should go to Sochi to defend that title.
That's where these power rankings come in. They aren't traditional power rankings in the sense that we aren't looking at just a brief period of time; instead they're designed to weigh each skater's chances at making the team based on what we know today.
Each of the following slides offers a brief case for and against, as well as our view of the likelihood of each player making the Olympic roster. We've focused exclusively on skaters here (having covered goalies in a previous post), and while health matters are mentioned, the players are ranked under the assumption that they will be ready in time for the Olympics.
Who are the dark horses? Which players are on the bubble? Who is all but untouchable? Read on for our view of who Team Canada is likeliest to bring to Sochi (important note: not necessarily the team we would take).
The Case For. The Calgary Flames captain is an all-situations defender who combines strong offensive talent with a capable defensive game. He was red-hot to start the season, with nine points in eight games played and was a major part of the Flames' strong start to the year. He has also played in both the KHL and World Championships.
The Case Against. Mark Giordano isn't big, isn't particularly physical and is competing for a job against other defencemen with more impressive offensive numbers.
Olympic Outlook: The situation is grim. Giordano, who was not invited to Canada's orientation camp, was already starting in the back of the pack, and a broken ankle that Calgary recently announced could keep him out of the lineup until the end of December probably seals the deal.
The Case For. A highly respected shutdown defenceman on a very good team, Dan Girardi brings a lot to the mix. While he's primarily a stay-at-home rearguard, Girardi moves the puck well, plays the body and has been trusted with top matchups for years.
The Case Against. Girardi is a right-side defenceman trying to make a team loaded with quality right-side defencemen. More than that, he has struggled to adapt under new head coach Alain Vigneault this season; even allowing for his tough role, the Rangers are giving up too many shots with him on the ice.
Olympic Outlook: In a word: bleak. Girardi wasn't on Canada's Olympic orientation roster this summer, and he would have needed a very strong start to play his way into consideration. He hasn't had one.
The Case For. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in 2011, is an exceptional talent. While still developing, he shows signs of evolving into a high-end two-way centre and has been Edmonton's top option down the middle since last season. He's also a wizard on the power play.
The Case Against. Many won't look past his minus-12 rating, even though most of that comes down to a miserable 0.831 save percentage with him on the ice. Mostly, though, he's still a young player and while at his peak he should be a contender for Olympic ice-time, he's a long ways from his peak just yet.
Olympic Outlook: Nugent-Hopkins is in tough. Canada is ridiculously loaded at centre, and the Oilers' poor start worsens what were already low odds.
The Case For. Evander Kane brings a unique skill set to the team. He is a high-volume shooter who plays a power game at left wing (arguably Canada's weakest position). He's also been a regular member of Canadian national teams for years, representing his country five times since 2007-08 and picking up seven points in eight games at the 2012 World Championships.
The Case Against. Kane has yet to deliver the high-level offensive totals that the Atlanta Thrashers envisioned when they made him the fourth overall pick of the 2009 Draft. He also struggled badly on international ice during the 2012 lockout in a brief KHL stint.
Olympic Outlook: Kane is a long-shot anyway, but calling out his coach to CBC for allegedly making him a healthy scratch against Chicago last week is not going to improve his chances.
The Case For. Entering action on Wednesday, Matt Moulson ranked 12th among Canadian skaters with 17 points in 18 games. He's played through adversity this season, continuing to put up points after being separated from John Tavares and sent to Buffalo.
The Case Against. Moulson has been seen as a complementary player for a long time, a forward with virtues of his own but not in the same class as players like Tavares. It's hard to shake that feeling, even if he has been good in seven games with a miserable Sabres team.
Olympic Outlook: Moulson has never represented Canada internationally, despite years of early summers while with the New York Islanders; it's unlikely that management will feel strongly enough to take a chance on him this time around.
The Case For. After a bit of an off year, Kevin Bieksa has rebounded strongly in early 2013-14. The do-it-all defenceman has nine points and a plus-nine rating in 20 games and has been leaned on heavily by Canucks coach John Tortorella.
The Case Against. Bieksa has slipped down the Canucks' depth chart in recent years, and even this season has not been asked to consistently match up against the top lines of the opposition. It's hard to argue that Bieksa belongs on the Olympic team when he isn't playing the toughest minutes on his own team.
Olympic Outlook: The biggest thing working against Bieksa may be that he plays on the right side, where Canada has players like Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and many others; it will take a lot for him to climb that depth chart.
The Case For. There may not be a player in the game more underrated than the Kings' right winger. Justin Williams plays a responsible two-way game, excels at advancing the puck five-on-five and provides reliable scoring punch.
The Case Against. Williams isn't an especially good skater, and that's something which will hurt him as Canada tries to build a fast team. He's another guy who suffers from having good but not elite-level scoring numbers, and there's likely a fear he's riding Anze Kopitar's coattails.
Olympic Outlook: The door opened a crack with injuries to other top Canadian players, but Williams is still a dark horse.
The Case For. Brad Richards is carrying the New York Rangers' offence right now. With Rick Nash concussed and Ryan Callahan having missed time, Richards stepped in to fill the void and has posted 15 points in 18 games, along with a plus-five rating on a team filled with minuses. He's twice topped 90 points in the past and had four points and a plus-three rating in six games at the 2006 Olympics.
The Case Against. Richards was widely mentioned as a possible buyout candidate earlier this year. While much of that has to do with salary, his offensive numbers have dried up significantly since coming to New York, and his stock has dropped with them.
Olympic Outlook: Richards has played well and probably even played his way on to Team Canada's radar after being passed over for the Olympic orientation camp, but he'll have to do more quickly to make the team.
The Case For. Joffrey Lupul has rehabilitated his NHL career with Toronto after injuries and poor seasons saw him bounce around the league for a few years. He has 97 points in 97 games since joining the Leafs, can play either wing and has learned to better use his size.
The Case Against. Lupul is without question a high-percentage shooter, and his overall game has evolved over the years, but he's not a particularly good possession player.
Olympic Outlook: The Toronto Star notes that Lupul was contacted by Hockey Canada in the summer, despite not being invited to the team's orientation camp; he's a dark horse who might be able to take advantage of injuries to some of Canada's more skilled players.
The Case For. Ryan O'Reilly is an exceptional defensive forward—one of the best in the league at just 22 years of age—and adds physical play and tenacity to a Canadian lineup that will be placing a heavy emphasis on skill. O'Reilly also boasts plenty of skill, outscoring the more recognized Jordan Staal in recent years. The centre/winger has also played in the World Championships twice and saw some time in the KHL last year.
The Case Against. O'Reilly's skating has improved over the years, but it isn't especially good and that's a weakness on the big ice.
Olympic Outlook: Canada's extremely deep at every position, but O'Reilly has at least some chance of cracking the team as a utility forward given his varied set of skills.
The Case For. Once a first-team NHL All-Star, Mike Green rebounded nicely last season after a few off years. He's fast, physical and in the prime of his career. The last time he represented Canada, the 2008 World Championships, he had 12 points in nine games.
The Case Against. There was a point when Green's offensive supremacy made him hard to ignore, but that point is in the past. Injuries have helped to knock down his level of play (he hasn't played 50 regular season games in the same year since 2009-10), and he's prone to defensive errors without enough offensive upside to tip the scales in his favour.
Olympic Outlook: It will take injuries for Green to crack a deep Canadian defence corps.
The Case For. Big, physical and blessed with an ability to move the puck, Travis Hamonic adds a nice mix of skills and a priority on defence to a Canadian group more known for its offensive prowess.
The Case Against. He's a right-side defenceman on a team that a Norris Trophy winner is going to have trouble cracking at the same position. While his gifts are considerable, he simply isn't at the same level talent-wise as others under consideration. He has also never played at the World Championships.
Olympic Outlook: Position is the biggest problem for Hamonic, and while his skill set would be nice to have, it's hard to imagine him being picked over some of the other candidates.
The Case For. Jason Garrison can do a bit of everything. The left-shooting defenceman switched to his off-side last season to play minutes on Vancouver's shutdown pairing and managed the feat, but he's at least as good on his natural left side. He's big, plays a 200-foot game and adds a potent shot to the power play.
The Case Against. Garrison is off to a bit of a slow start this season under new head coach John Tortorella, but there's more to it than that. While he's the kind of well-rounded defenceman every NHL teams loves, Garrison's offence isn't high-end enough for an offensive role on Team Canada, and if he's there solely for defence, it might make sense to bring someone truly exceptional rather than just quite good in that department.
Olympic Outlook: Garrison should certainly be part of the discussion, but it's an uphill battle.
The Case For. Karl Alzner is Washington's most formidable shutdown defenceman, a big, positionally sound workhorse who has logged major minutes for the Capitals and routinely sees the very best opponents available. He does almost everything well.
The Case Against. What Alzner doesn't do is produce offence, a task mostly left to regular partner John Carlson. He isn't especially physical, either.
Olympic Outlook: Alzner's commitment to defence makes him a nice potential partner for a higher-risk right-side defender, but right now he's likely well down the list of options.
The Case For. A big, physical defenceman who plays the stay-at-home role, Marc Methot might be a very nice fit on a third Olympic pairing alongside a more high-risk defenceman, such as Kris Letang or P.K. Subban. He has World Championship experience, plays on Canada's weaker left side and as a regular partner of Erik Karlsson's knows what the role requires.
The Case Against. The one line argument is that Methot's results are being carried by Karlsson. When playing with Karlsson last season, Methot's team attempted three shots five-on-five for every two the opposition managed; when playing with other partners Ottawa was handily outshot with Methot on the ice.
Olympic Outlook: One of the questions which has always been hotly debated in Canada is whether the national team should take the best possible players at each position or identify individuals for specific roles. If the club's management decides to go the former route, Methot is out; if they go the second way, he has a chance.
The Case For. A highly regarded two-way centre with great size, Jordan Staal is one of three Staal brothers with a chance at cracking Canada's roster. He's used to playing in a depth role, having been stuck behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh and would be a nice fit as a fourth-line player of a team as high-powered as Canada.
The Case Against. While there's a case to be made that Staal might fit in a specific role, there is little argument that on talent alone he's one of Canada's best 15 forwards. He's hovered around the 50 point mark his entire career and was on pace for just 53 points over 82 games in a bigger role with the Hurricanes last season.
Olympic Outlook: Staal isn't entirely out of the running, but a slow start and modest talent level are going to be strong marks against him as he tries to crack the Olympic depth chart.
The Case For. Jason Spezza is an extremely talented centre, one who typically records a point-per-game or more when healthy, and on virtually any other team he'd be a lock. Beyond the scoring he's also an all-situations player blessed with a big frame, good speed and exceptional vision. He also has ample experience overseas, both at the World Championships and in Switzerland. He kills penalties for Ottawa.
The Case Against. Spezza has struggled to stay healthy for much of his career, which has impacted his play, but the real problem is that Canada has an incredible number of truly spectacular talents at centre.
Olympic Outlook: A point-per-game performance and relatively good health work in Spezza's favour, but centre is extremely competitive.
The Case For. The 24-year-old captain of the Dallas Stars brings a bit of everything. Jamie Benn can play centre or wing, has good size, engages physically, skates well and scores at a respectable level. He also performed well at the 2012 World Championships, putting up five points in eight games.
The Case Against. The question is whether Benn does any one thing well enough to be in contention. He isn't a particularly high-end defensive player, he doesn't kill penalties and his scoring production isn't in the same range as other top Canadian players.
Olympic Outlook: If Canada is interested in icing a traditional "energy" line, Benn would be a perfect fit, otherwise it's hard to see him winning a role on the team.
The Case For. A near point-per-game player in the early going this season, Tyler Seguin can play both centre and wing and excelled on the larger ice during the 2012 lockout when he played in Switzerland. The second overall pick in 2010 is already an exceptional offensive player and a fantastic skater.
The Case Against. Both Seguin's defensive play and maturity have been questioned in the very recent past, and his scoring production just isn't so overwhelming that he can't be left off the team.
Olympic Outlook: A good start to the year has doubtless improved Seguin's chances, as have injuries to top Canadian skaters, but he's still a dark horse.
The Case For. Brad Marchand may not be the world's best scorer, but he makes up for it in other ways. To begin with, he's an exceptional two-way player five-on-five, capable of scoring at a more than respectable level and keeping the play in the opposition end of the rink even against good opponents. He's also a scrappy agitator who gets under the skin of the other team.
The Case Against. Marchand's scoring numbers are down this season; he has only six points in 17 games and a minus-one rating for Boston. While that's heavily influenced by an uncharacteristic (and unlikely to continue) 3.9 on-ice shooting percentage.
Olympic Outlook: He's on the outside looking in right now. Team Canada invited him to its orientation camp, so it's certain that he's under consideration, but he's unlikely to make the final cut.
The Case For. James Neal has 61 goals and 117 points in 120 games over the last two seasons; that's the kind of production that even Team Canada can't ignore. The 6'2", 208-pound winger can play either wing, is both a high-volume and high-percentage shooter and enjoys playing a physical game.
The Case Against. Neal has been a lesser player when separated from regular linemate Evgeni Malkin. More than that, an injury has kept him off the ice for all but two games this season.
Olympic Outlook: Before the injury, Neal stood a good chance of making the roster; now he has to get up to speed in a hurry.
The Case For. The workhorse defenceman has been virtually the only bright spot in Florida this season, playing nearly 26:00 per game and posting a plus-two rating on a wretched team. A brilliant skater and far more well-rounded player than he was even four years ago, Brian Campbell posted a plus-seven rating in eight games for Canada at the 2013 World Championships.
The Case Against. Campbell lacks ideal size for his position and lacks the same defensive instinct as other options for the roster.
Olympic Outlook: We've said it before and we'll say it again: Canada's left side defence is wide open after Duncan Keith, and Campbell is one of a bunch of players who could play a role there. It all depends on what mix Canada's brain trust wants. His early start has helped his chances.
The Case For. The unheralded Francois Beauchemin is good at just about everything. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last season and is a true No. 1 NHL defenceman. He can shutdown the opposition's best opponents, moves the puck well and doesn't hesitate to engage physically.
The Case Against. Beauchemin is an experienced professional, but he lacks international experience, never having played overseas and having represented Canada only once before, at the 2010 World Championships.
Olympic Outlook: Beauchemin was a somewhat surprising omission from Canada's Olympic orientation camp, but with a plus-17 rating through 19 games with Anaheim, he must be in the mix for one of the spots on Canada's weaker left side.
The Case For. The 23-year-old winger is an exceptional offensive talent, and he's already a storied player at the international level owing to his heroics for Canada at the under-18s, under-20s and even the World Championships. Jordan Eberle has smarts and vision, and he's a finisher.
The Case Against. Eberle is prone to defensive gaffes at times and has an unfortunate tendency to turn the puck over in his own zone or cheat a little too much to the offensive side of the puck.
Olympic Outlook: Eberle is right on the bubble. The injuries Team Canada has suffered already can only help him, but he's been part of Edmonton's slow start, and that has rather the opposite effect.
The Case For. Andrew Ladd is a big, fast and versatile winger. He had a career year last season with 46 points in 48 games, and with 16 points in 19 games this year, he isn't far off that pace. He can kill penalties, fulfills his assignments defensively, and the play doesn't die on his stick.
The Case Against. Offensively, Ladd isn't in the same category as Canada's top talent; he's never scored 30 goals or recorded 60 points at the NHL level.
Olympic Outlook: Another bubble player, Ladd is a contender for a bottom-six role in Sochi.
The Case For. Brent Seabrook has chemistry with the only guaranteed left-side defenceman on Team Canada, Duncan Keith, and has been an integral part of two Stanley Cup wins in Chicago and Canada's gold medal victory in 2010. His underlying numbers this year are very good (he's second in Corsi percentage to only Jonathan Toews in Chicago). He's a big, physical, two-way defenceman.
The Case Against. There is good reason to think that Seabrook is the complementary player to Keith on his pairing; certainly his career numbers are much better with Keith than apart, while Keith's aren't impacted negatively by Seabrook's absence. His foot-speed isn't awful but may not be ideally suited to the international game.
Olympic Outlook: Seabrook is in tough; his best hope at this point is that Hockey Canada wants to play him and Keith as a pairing.
The Case For. A two-way forward with blazing speed, Patrick Marleau plays in all situations for San Jose and can line up at centre and on the wing. He helped Canada win gold at the Vancouver games with five points in seven games. He has 17 points in his first 16 games this year.
The Case Against. Marleau's offensive production has dipped markedly since 2010; once a reasonably reliable 30-plus goal, 70-plus point forward, he dipped to the mid-60s in 2011-12 and was on pace for only 53 points last season. At 34, he's on the downward side of his career.
Olympic Outlook: Marleau is one of a bunch of players hanging around the bubble for Team Canada, but he's probably less than 50/50 to make the team at this point.
The Case For. Primarily a shutdown defenceman, Dan Hamhuis also has underrated offensive skills. His hockey sense is terrific, and he's a fluid skater who doesn't hesitate to take the body. He has provided exceptional value to Vancouver as the Canucks' best all-situation defender.
The Case Against. Hamhuis has good, but not great, puck skills—meaning that he can be pressured into making bad decisions at times despite his commitment to his own end of the ice.
Olympic Outlook: He's another one of those half-dozen defencemen with a slightly less than 50/50 shot on the left side of the defensive depth chart.
The Case For. The second-best left win in the NHL last year, according to the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, there's a reasonable case that Taylor Hall would have been regarded as the very best if only he'd had the privilege of playing alongside Sidney Crosby. He's a truly dynamic forward—a difference-maker on a weak team in the NHL's best conference.
The Case Against. Mostly, the case against goes back to Hall's performance under Lindy Ruff at last summer's World Championships, where he was given minimal ice-time on account of his tendency to make risky plays, particularly in the neutral zone.
Olympic Outlook: A slow start for Edmonton and a knee injury may have torpedoed Hall's chances; he needs to have a major impact in a hurry if he is to lock down a spot.
The Case For. Joe Thornton is one of the best passers in the game today and has evolved over time as a two-way player. He has scored at a point-per-game rate in the early going this season, consistently wins more than his share of faceoffs and is a dominant possession player. He's also regularly one of the best point producers in the Western Conference.
The Case Against. Thornton hasn't exactly carried the play in his last two Olympic games (13GP, 2G - 3A - 5PTS, minus-2), and at 34, he's not the player he was then.
Olympic Outlook: At this point it seems likely that Thornton just misses the Olympic cut, but he's certainly still in the conversation.
The Case For. Jarome Iginla was an exceptional performer for Canada at the 2010 Olympics (his third), picking up five goals and seven points in seven games. His experience at past Olympics and as an NHL captain would certainly be welcomed, and he's been excellent for Boston early this year. He's still a good skater and a physical presence.
The Case Against. At 36, Iginla is slowing down. His goal and point totals are in decline, and at times his two-way game slips a little, too.
Olympic Outlook: Iginla's performance in Boston has to be raising eyebrows. He'd be an unlikely candidate for the kind of leading role he had last time around but he very well could sneak on to the roster.
The Case For. One of the NHL's most effective power forwards, Milan Lucic combines a huge frame (6'3", 235 pounds) with a take-no-prisoners mentality. He's also a gifted goal scorer and with 14 points and a plus-10 rating is off to an excellent start to the season.
The Case Against. Lucic lacks the foot speed of an ideal player on the international ice. He's never represented Canada internationally as a pro or played in Europe during one of the NHL's too-frequent labour disputes. Moreover, his offensive tools are fairly middling by Hockey Canada standards.
Olympic Outlook: If Canada plans to ice an energy line, it's a good bet that Milan Lucic is on it. If not, his odds drop precipitously.
The Case For. Jeff Carter is a big, goal-scoring forward who can line up at centre or at right wing and who kills penalties as well as he picks up points. He's also a good skater and very competent face-off man who has topped 30 goals three times in his NHL career and had 26 in 48 games last season.
The Case Against. His early numbers this season (nine points in 14 games, minus-two rating) are a little underwhelming for a Canadian Olympic contender, and last year's goal-scoring run was fueled by an unsustainable (19.5 percent) shooting percentage.
Olympic Outlook: Carter's versatility, defensive ability and size don't guarantee him a spot on Team Canada, but he's in the mix and the odds are in his favour. If he can pick up the scoring a little over the next 10 games, those odds would improve.
The Case For. Mike Richards was a solid addition to the 2010 Olympic team; he had five points and a plus-five rating in only seven games. He is a highly regarded two-way centre and enjoying an exceptional start to the year, scoring at a near point-per-game pace and posting ridiculous underlying numbers. He's a utility forward who can do a bit of everything.
The Case Against. Richards isn't the same player he was four years ago—the guy who routinely scored at a point-per-game pace and captained the Philadelphia Flyers. His scoring, and at times even his two-way play, have dipped in Los Angeles.
Olympic Outlook: It depends on Richards. In the summer, it seemed likely that Canada would opt for someone bigger or someone with more offensive flair, but Richards' strong performance early has him in the mix without question.
The Case For. The Toronto captain is big, physical and blessed with wonderful offensive tools. He also has significant international experience, having represented Canada at three World Championships.
The Case Against. Dion Phaneuf's a lightning rod for criticism—even in Toronto—thanks to inconsistencies in his game. There is a perception that he can lose focus, and he has certainly been guilty at times of playing poor positional hockey in favour of offence or the big hit.
Olympic Outlook: Canada's left side is wide open, and Phaneuf is one of half a dozen players in the mix. Toronto's early success is in his favour.
The Case For. Marc Staal's underlying numbers in New York are solid this season, particularly given the circumstances he's played in: Alain Vigneault has fed him lots of defensive zone time and top opponents. He's averaging more than 20 minutes per game at even-strength alone this year.
The Case Against. Injury has to some degree decreased Staal's effectiveness, as he has struggled with both concussion and eye injuries in the last two years, missing 63 regular season games between 2011 and 2013. He takes risks, and the offence doesn't always make those risks worthwhile.
Olympic Outlook: He's one of half a dozen left-side defencemen that can make a serious case for one of the two-to-three open spots on the Canadian blue line.
The Case For. Kris Letang is one of the premiere offensive defencemen in the game, flirting with the point-per-game mark in 2011-12 and exceeding it last season. He's fast, tough and plays in all situations.
The Case Against. Letang has a bit of riverboat gambler in him, but what might knock him off the roster is injury. Letang has struggled with concussions in the recent past and missed time this year with what Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described as an "apparent knee injury." He's played only eight games this season, putting up four points and a minus-four rating.
Olympic Outlook: If Letang's at 100 percent when the Olympic team is named, he's likely to go to Sochi, but the competition is so fierce that anything below 100 percent probably knocks him off the team.
The Case For. Jay Bouwmeester has never produced offensively the way people expected back in his draft year, but he's a brilliant skater and highly responsible at his own end of the ice. It doesn't hurt that he's already playing with Alex Pietrangelo.
The Case Against. Prior to this season, Bouwmeester has never really posted above average underlying numbers, an odd thing for a positional defender with solid puck skills. He isn't especially physical and doesn't bring much offence to the table.
Olympic Outlook: Given that Canada will be playing on the big ice, it's probably better than 50/50 that Bouwmeester makes the team.
The Case For. Dan Boyle was one of Canada's best weapons at the Vancouver games, scoring at just under a point-per-game pace. At the NHL level his best asset is his playmaking ability; he sees passing lanes that others might overlook and has the requisite skill to put the puck where it needs to go.
The Case Against. At 37 years of age, Boyle is slowing down, and even the Sharks slowly seem to be trying to cut back the number of minutes he plays. He was a regular penalty-killer even just three years ago; he barely sees time in that discipline now. He's also undersized and has taken a beating this year.
Olympic Outlook: Reading the tea leaves, it would seem that Boyle is more likely to play in the Sochi games than not.
The Case For. Patrick Sharp regularly scores 25-35 goals while playing a committed defensive game. He's been a key part of two Stanley Cup championships, can play both centre and wing and skates like the wind. He was also a point-per-game player for Canada at the 2012 World Championships.
The Case Against. Sharp isn't an overly physical player, and despite his reputation as defensively stalwart, he isn't a regular penalty-killer for the Blackhawks either.
Olympic Outlook: Sharp's versatility likely means he'll go to Sochi in a depth role.
The Case For. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is one of the better defensive defencemen in hockey today, but his offensive skills have been resurgent early. He has 11 points in 17 games for San Jose and is on pace to best the career-high 36 he managed in 2008-09. His underlying statistics are truly exceptional, too. He's one of the few defensive defencemen to also boast exceptional puck-moving skills. He's also been a good soldier at the World Championships whenever he hasn't had a deep playoff run to worry about.
The Case Against. Vlasic isn't especially big (6'1", 205 pounds) and isn't especially physical, relying more on positional play than punishing hits.
Olympic Outlook: Vlasic benefits from a weaker left-side defensive depth chart, and if the Canadian team is looking for a stay-at-home defender on the big ice they could do a lot worse than a positional guy who can also move the puck. He's in the mix.
The Case For. Eric Staal had six points and a plus-six rating in seven games for Team Canada in 2010. The Hurricanes' captain plays in all situations at the NHL level, and would add size and high-level scoring to the Canadian entry.
The Case Against. Staal is off to a wretched start in Carolina, with nine points and a minus-nine rating through 17 games for the struggling Hurricanes.
Olympic Outlook: Staal's reputation is such that it's likely he can survive a poor start and still make the team, but the longer it continues, the more likely it is to matter.
The Case For. Martin St. Louis is one of the NHL's best offensive weapons, and even at the age of 38, he's quick on his skates and elusive with the puck. He led the NHL in scoring in 2012-13 with 60 points, winning the Art Ross Trophy for the second time in his career. He's even killing penalties for Tampa Bay. He has 16 points and a plus-10 rating through 17 games for the surprising Lightning.
The Case Against. St. Louis' size (5'8", 180 pounds) and age work against him, as does the fact that his possession numbers have dipped over time.
Olympic Outlook: It's awfully hard to leave a guy who racks up points the way St. Louis does off the team. Then again, he put up 94 points in 2009-10 and didn't get to go to the Vancouver games, so it's apparently possible.
The Case For. He was the best defenceman in the NHL last year. That statement bears repeating, because people tend to forget it: P.K. Subban was the best defenceman in the NHL last year. He's fast, physical and, depending on who is counting, either the best offensive weapon or very close to the best that Canada has on the blue line.
The Case Against. Subban isn't exactly a low-risk player; like most offensive defencemen, he pinches, and he can get into trouble doing that sometimes.
Olympic Outlook: He's on the bubble, but he shouldn't be.
The Case For. There was little question entering the year that Claude Giroux would represent Canada at the Sochi games. A point-per-game player last year, he recorded 93 points in 2011-12. He's a regular penalty-killer in Philadelphia and can play either centre or wing. His struggles this year are strictly percentage-based; the Flyers continue to win the possession war with Giroux on the ice.
The Case Against. The case against is simply that Giroux has been snake-bit early. In 16 games he has just a single goal (along with seven assists) and a minus-nine rating as the Flyers collapse around him.
Olympic Outlook: He's on the bubble, and the longer he struggles the more likely it is that he falls off the roster (perhaps he already has). However, the underlying statistics and Giroux's own history suggest that he'll bounce back, and if he does, he'll play for Team Canada.
The Case For. Chris Kunitz was a first-team NHL All-Star last season after putting up 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games. He's off to a similar start this season, with 16 points in 17 games and a plus-12 rating. He played well at the 2008 World Championships for Canada.
The Case Against. It's a rare thing for a competent but unspectacular player to suddenly leap forward in his mid-30s... why hello there, Sidney Crosby! Kunitz has been a reasonably good second-line forward for most of his career, and it's probable that if he were separated from Crosby, he'd be that again. It makes more sense to let Crosby see what he can do with an elite player rather than bring a player who likely only looks elite because of who he's skating next to.
Olympic Outlook: There's a pretty good chance Hockey Canada looks at the Crosby/Kunitz dynamic as a positive rather than a negative and that they join the Olympic team as a package deal.
The Case For. Perhaps no player has done a better job of playing himself into contention for Team Canada this season. Matt Duchene has 11 goals and 19 points through 16 games after a near point-per-game season last year, and his phenomenal skating ability makes him an ideal player for the big ice.
The Case Against. Duchene is only two years removed from a 28-point season, and like a lot of young players, he is prone to defensive lapses.
Olympic Outlook: Barring a sudden collapse, it's going to be very difficult to keep Duchene off the team.
The Case For. Big, fast, physical and one of the NHL's better goal-scorers—Rick Nash represented Canada at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, putting up five points in seven games in Vancouver. He's coming off a season where he scored at just below a point-per-game and just below a 40-goal pace.
The Case Against. The big concern is a concussion. Nash has played only three games this year and none since suffering a concussion on Oct. 8. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reports that Nash is nearly ready to return, though he's a little out of shape due to the time off.
Olympic Outlook: If Nash can come back soon and string together a solid month, it would be extremely unlikely that Canada would leave him at home.
The Case For. Two-way centre/winger Logan Couture is on pace for his best NHL season ever with 17 points in 17 games. He thinks the game at a high level and got experience on European ice in Switzerland during the 2012 lockout.
The Case Against. Couture's skating is only average or a little better than, and prior to this season his scoring numbers were solid but not especially Olympic.
Olympic Outlook: At this point, he's likely to slide into a top-nine role on the wing for Canada.
The Case For. It took a little longer than expected, but Alex Pietrangelo went from junior defenceman to legitimate No. 1 NHL blueliner seemingly overnight three seasons ago. He's off to a strong start this season with 12 points and a plus-seven rating in 15 games.
The Case Against. Pietrangelo is coming off a bit of a down year and like most young defencemen isn't as absolutely polished defensively as some veterans.
Olympic Outlook: Even with all the competition for spots, especially on the right side, it's hard to imagine Canada leaves him off the roster.
The Case For. Ryan Getzlaf was a top-10 NHL scorer a year ago and is only a point back of Sidney Crosby this season. He plays in all situations for Anaheim, adds size and a physical presence down the middle and has excelled internationally in the past for Canada with 30 points in 24 Olympic and World Championship games.
The Case Against. He's not exceptionally fast. Like most offensive players, he takes some risks with the puck. That and the fact that Canada has exceptional depth at centre is really all that can be said against him.
Olympic Outlook: Getzlaf isn't an absolute lock, but it would be a real surprise if he didn't make the team.
The Case For. If Patrice Bergeron isn't the NHL's top pure defensive centre, he's very close to it. He was named the NHL's top defensive forward during the league's last 82-game season and excels in matchups against the best players in the world. Even Canada will start the odd shift in its own end of the rink and it's hard to think of a player better-suited to that task than Bergeron.
The Case Against. If Canada wants its 12 best scorers in the lineup for every game, Patrice Bergeron is not one of those players.
Olympic Outlook: Bergeron's elite defensive ability, coupled with very good offence, means he's an extremely likely member of the 2014 team.
The Case For. John Tavares is an awesomely potent offensive weapon. He regularly scores at a near point-per-game pace in the NHL and does better than that at the World Championships (16 goals, nine assists in 22 career games at that level). He destroyed the top Swiss league during the 2012 lockout (42 points in 28 games).
The Case Against. While he can be explosive at times, Tavares isn't an elite-level skater.
Olympic Outlook: Tavares isn't an absolute lock, but he's *this* close.
The Case For. Corey Perry, the 2011 NHL MVP, is an easy player to dislike but a tough one to leave at home for the Olympics. Big, aggressive and blessed with an exceptional scoring touch, Perry plays in all situations for the Ducks and is part of one of the best power-vs.-power lines in the NHL's best conference. He had four goals at the 2010 Games.
The Case Against. The flip side of Perry's aggression is that he can go too far sometimes, losing discipline and costing his team.
Olympic Outlook: If Perry's healthy, he's going to Sochi.
The Case For. At his best, there are few defencemen in the world who can match Drew Doughty's all-round game, and if not for Jonathan Quick's miracle run in 2012 it likely would have been Doughty taking home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He attacks well, defends well, plays physically and skates like the wind.
The Case Against. Doughty isn't always at his best, and his offensive game isn't quite at the same level as the best offensive defencemen in the world even at the best of times.
Olympic Outlook: Doughty's a lock for Team Canada.
The Case For. Duncan Keith does everything well. The 2010 Norris Trophy winner is a complete defender. He skates brilliantly, plays an aggressive yet controlled defensive game and moves the puck as well as almost anyone. He is also a left-handed shot, something of a rarity in the upper echelon of Canadian defenders. He had six points in seven games at the last Olympics.
The Case Against. Keith has never come close to repeating his 69-point season in 2009-10, but that's basically where the failings end.
Olympic Outlook: Keith is a lock for Team Canada.
The Case For. If an NHL general manager—Paul Holmgren, for example—wanted to build a perfect defenceman, that player would probably look a lot like Shea Weber. Weber's a 6'4" rock in his own end of the ice, dominant both physically and in terms of puck possession and boasts a booming slap shot. He had six points in seven Olympic games in 2010.
The Case Against. The case, insofar as there is one, is that Weber has a minus-eight rating 17 games into the season. In this case, plus/minus doesn't reflect his overall play, but there it is.
Olympic Outlook: Poor health is the only thing that can keep Weber off the Canadian roster.
The Case For. "Captain Serious" is a dominant two-way centre. His size and speed serve him well at either end of the ice, and he's intelligent enough to do the right thing regardless of which zone he's in. Jonathan Toews combines one of the NHL's best offensive forwards and one of its best defensive forwards in the same package.
He had eight points for Team Canada in Vancouver, along with a plus-nine rating.
The Case Against. There isn't a case against. If Toews defensive game were simply average, he'd still be a strong candidate as an offensive producer; if his offensive game were knocked back, he'd be a candidate in a purely defensive role.
Olympic Outlook: Barring injury, Toews is a lock for the team.
The Case For. Steven Stamkos might be the most gifted offensive forward in the NHL, and if he isn't at the very top of the list, he's awfully close. He's a freak offensively—a high-volume shooter with an unheard of shooting percentage despite the sheer number of shots he takes.
The Case Against. The only thing that could possibly intervene has: injury. Stamkos broke his leg in a game against Boston and may not be healthy in time for the Olympics.
Olympic Outlook: Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports that Stamkos' return in time for Sochi "isn't out of the question" but that's as optimistic as it gets.
The Case For. Sidney Crosby is the best player in hockey today. His offensive skills are unparalleled; there are better goal scorers, but they can be counted on one hand, and nobody else has his playmaking ability. In 2010 he showed those skills with a point-per-game performance for Canada that included the game-winning goal in the Gold Medal match.
The Case Against. Crosby has missed 72 regular season games over the last two seasons, so his health is a bit of a question mark, but it's the only one.
Olympic Outlook: There is no question about it, really; Crosby is a lock.