Stock Watch for Players on Canada's 2014 Winter Olympic Roster Bubble
The 2014 Winter Olympics are now just over two months away. Anticipation is growing throughout the hockey world. Team Canada faces extra pressure to defend its 2010 men's gold medal after failing to do so after the team's last victory in 2002.
There's been plenty of speculation about which Canadians will make the final cut for Sochi, but very little concrete information.
Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock told the Canadian Press on Monday that his group is in no rush to make its final decisions. “The best thing about it is the media wanted us to announce the team in August or even here today, but that’s not going to happen. We’re going to take all the time we can and we’ll see what happens.”
Canadians will have to wait another month until that announcement is finally made. In the meantime, here's a stock report on some players currently hovering on or around the roster bubble.
Left off the roster for Team Canada's orientation camp last summer, Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn is making a strong case for inclusion on the real team when it heads to Russia in February.
Benn has clicked in a big way with new teammate Tyler Seguin and is playing the best hockey of his career with a Stars squad that is forging a new identity under head coach Lindy Ruff.
When asked by Ed Willes of the Province if Benn had been attracting notice from Team Canada for his strong play this season, new Stars GM Jim Nill responded, "He's on their radar now."
Benn's a veteran of international competition at the World Junior and World Championship tournaments. In a few months, he may also become a first-time Olympian.
Steven Stamkos might be adding a new skill to his already-impressive resume. We know he's a great goal scorer; it looks like he's also an outstanding healer.
NHL.com reports that just two weeks after breaking his leg, Stamkos met with the media in Tampa Bay on Monday and was able to walk without crutches or other assistance, with barely a perceptible limp.
Stamkos cautioned that he didn't have a timetable for his return. He wants to play in the Olympics but doesn't want to rush back:
The Olympics are something I was looking forward to taking part in. It's still on the back burner right now...I want to get back and play for Tampa and if everything works out, which I'm hoping that it does, maybe I'll get a chance to play in the Olympics. That would be great. We're not going to rush anything or take chances because of that.
If anyone can beat the recovery timetable, it's probably Stamkos—a well-known fitness fanatic who has been very durable through his NHL career.
The situation looked bleak when he was injured two weeks ago, but Stamkos is already giving Team Canada fans reason to be hopeful.
Would Team Canada really go to Sochi without current Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban? It's possible.
Despite Subban's popularity, skill and talent, he gets rapped for perceived defensive deficiencies—which could be further exposed on the big Olympic ice surface. Subban's also a right-handed shot, just like fellow Canadian blueliners Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty. He'll be hard-pressed to leapfrog over any of those three into a top-six role.
Though Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock didn't name any names when he was asked about the Olympic roster on Monday in Montreal, the Canadian Press reports that he also didn't offer any assurances to Subban and may have been subtly poking at his high-risk, high-reward playing style:
“The great thing about playing on the Olympic team is you’ve got to be a 200-footer,” he said. “You’ve got to do it in both ends of the rink consistently and the coach has to trust you.
“What I mean by that is you don’t put people on the ice you don’t trust, so you have to be dependable. So that’s the No. 1 priority. I mean, there’s skating, elite hockey sense, but you’ve got to be a trustworthy player."
With just over a month until Team Canada names its roster, Subban has plenty of work ahead if he hopes to change perceptions.
Joe Thornton is a Team Canada veteran and two-time Olympian who's having a great season with the San Jose Sharks. But there's a strong possibility that he won't be wearing the Maple Leaf in Sochi in February.
The 34-year-old has been knocked for failing to raise his game in important situations. When Canada bowed out early in Turin in 2006, Thornton tallied just three points. He had only one goal and one assist in seven games in Vancouver in 2010.
Expect to see young San Jose Sharks Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic make the 2014 squad easily, while veterans Thornton and Patrick Marleau could well be watching on television with the rest of us.
Chris Kunitz is earning consideration for Team Canada because of his chemistry with teammate Sidney Crosby on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Chris Stevenson of the Toronto Sun says that the Canadians had a tough time finding the right linemates to play with Crosby in 2010, so there's merit to the idea of bringing someone familiar to ride shotgun.
But it's not like Canada's lacking options at forward. Bringing Kunitz along for the sole purpose of playing with Crosby would be a micro decision that addresses one scenario only. With all that talent that's available, Steve Yzerman and company would be better off bringing the most talented players, with some bonus points for prior Olympic experience.
Kunitz meets neither of those criteria; he should be left at home.
Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks are widely assumed to be the top goalies that Team Canada will bring to Sochi. But who will grab that third roster spot?
Three other goaltenders were also invited to the summer orientation camp: Mike Smith, Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby. Of the three, Smith's international experience could give him the edge—he had a strong tournament for Canada at the 2011 World Championships. Crawford has been busy in Chicago, but his work has been seen as merely average on a strong team.
In a year where a number of young standouts have hijacked the upper reaches of the goaltending standings, Canada could go out on a limb with an invite to a James Reimer or a Josh Harding. Or, they could stick with an established veteran like Marc-Andre Fleury—he's having a fine season and knows the ropes after playing third fiddle to Brodeur and Luongo in 2010.
With so many options, Holtby is looking more and more like just one face in a large goaltending crowd.
Third-stringers don't usually see much ice at the Olympics. It will be interesting to see whom the selection committee ultimately chooses to bring along for the ride.
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