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Bubble Watch for Team Canada's 2014 Winter Olympic Roster

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 13, 2013

Bubble Watch for Team Canada's 2014 Winter Olympic Roster

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    As the Sochi games draw closer, the speculation over who will and won't represent Canada on the men's Olympic hockey team is ubiquitous. Fans want to both know who the Canadian management group likes for the team right now, and argue for their preferred candidates.

    Which players are on the outside looking in right now, and who will ultimately be named to the team? The following slideshow gives our best projection of the players on the bubble right now and our best guess as to which of them will ultimately win the right to play for their country in a few months' time.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of NHL.com and are current through the start of action on December 13.  

Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Stats line: 32 GP, 17 G, 14 A, 31 PTS, plus-13

     

    The skinny: Kunitz is in an extremely odd position in that he could make the team and play on Canada's top line with Sidney Crosby, or he could be left home entirely. His chemistry and familiarity with Canada's best centre works in his favour, as do the impressive point totals he has posted since moving to Crosby's wing.

    Ultimately, though, most players perform well when lined up next to a talent like Crosby, and Kunitz should miss or make the team on his own merits. Our guess is that he misses.

     

    Projected outcome: Misses the team

Marc Staal, New York Rangers

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    Scott Audette/Getty Images

    Stats line: 30 GP, 2 G, 1 A, 3 PTS, minus-seven

     

    The skinny: Staal, like everybody else on the New York Rangers blue line, is packing around an ugly plus/minus, but that alone shouldn't be a reason to nix him from consideration. At his best, he's a complete defender with a nice range of skills, but at his worst, he gets overwhelmed and commits errors.  

    He's not really having a strong enough season to beat out some of the other options for this team. 

     

    Projected outcome: Misses the team

Brent Seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Stats line: 34 GP, 3 G, 19 A, 22 PTS, plus-19

     

    The skinny: Much like Kunitz, one of Seabrook's primary attributes is chemistry with a Canadian lock—in this case, Duncan Keith. Seabrook has tremendous merits in his own right (or else he wouldn't even be considered), but his biggest problem is that right defence is one of the most competitive positions on the Canadian depth chart. 

    It seems likely that the gap in talent between Seabrook and the true No. 1 defencemen he's competing for a spot with seals his fate. 

     

    Projected outcome: Misses the team

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks

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    Don Smith/Getty Images

    Stats line: 32 GP, 5 G, 29 A, 34 PTS, plus-five

     

    The skinny: It's hard to believe, but the NHL's ninth-leading scorer is more likely to see the Olympics on television than he is in person. Canada's obscene depth down the middle means that Thornton is only fourth in scoring among Canuck pivots, and it's a very good bet that he isn't going to displace someone like Jonathan Toews (34 GP, 13 G, 16 A, 29 PTS) based on being marginally better offensively.

    A lock on any other team, he likely isn't going to Sochi for Canada.  

     

    Projected outcome: Misses the team

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

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    Michael Martin/Getty Images

    Stats line: 27 GP, 14 G, 10 A, 24 PTS, plus-six

     

    The skinny: Duchene is life-and-death for the roster thanks to some ups and downs early in this NHL season. He pushed himself into contention with a red-hot start that included 12 goals in his first 18 games, but he's played his way down the depth chart with an eight-game stretch in which he recorded just a lone assist.

    Duchene rebounded on Friday with a three-point outing against Winnipeg, but the slump suggests he was playing over his head early (he was scoring on just under 20 percent of the shots he took), and there are other candidates available with more seasoned games. 

     

    Projected outcome: Misses the team

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Stats line: 30 GP, 7 G, 19 A, 26 PTS, plus-six

     

    The skinny: The Dallas Stars' new captain is enjoying an excellent campaign back at left wing on a highly effective line centered by Tyler Seguin. He's a traditional "hard on the puck" forward who consistently fights for possession and wins more than his share of puck battles.

    He's certainly in the mix. 

     

    Projected outcome: Final forward cut

Dan Hamhuis, Vancouver Canucks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Stats line: 33 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 PTS, plus-seven

     

    The skinny: Vancouver's top defenceman plays a complete game predicated on his ability to shut down top opponents through a combination of physical play and exceptional positional defence. He lacks top-flight offensive skills but is a calm and competent puck-mover and would seem a natural partner for some of Canada's more offence-oriented right-shooting rearguards.

    He is, however, in a fight with a couple of other players with similar skill sets, and those players are having better seasons.    

     

    Projected outcome: Final defenceman cut

Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks

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    Don Smith/Getty Images

    Stats line: 32 GP, 14 G, 16 A, 30 PTS, plus-five

     

    The skinny: Marleau's speed is going to help him garner consideration, and the fact that he's a veteran and a known quantity won't hurt either. His offence makes him a plausible candidate for the team, but it is his well-rounded game (which includes experience killing penalties) and versatility that put him in front of some of the other contenders.

     

    Projected outcome: Final forward to make the team

Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Stats line: 25 GP, 5 G, 10 A, 15 PTS, plus-one

     

    The skinny: Canada's management group has plenty of cover if they decide not to bring Dan Boyle to Sochi. Loaded with right-shooting defencemen, and particularly with highly skilled offensive players at that position, bringing along a small finesse defender in the twilight of his career isn't a team necessity.

    But at the same time, it's important not to overemphasize things like which way a player shoots or to key in too much on finding the exact blend of skills that best fits the team if it comes at the expense of leaving a superior player behind. 

    And Boyle is a superior player. Put plainly: He is one of Canada's eight best defencemen and thus belongs on the team.

     

    Projected outcome: Final defenceman to make the team

Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Stats line: 30 GP, 2 G, 20 A, 22 PTS, plus-13

     

    The skinny: It was going to take something special to push Jay Bouwmeester on to the Canadian Olympic roster after some difficult years in Calgary.

    He's delivered offence at a rate entirely unprecedented in his career.   

    Bouwmeester has enjoyed a renaissance in St. Louis, and his natural giftsin particular, his ability to skate for miles and milesmake him an obvious choice for the big ice. Combined with a relatively weak left defence, the perfect storm needed to put him on the team has transpired.

     

    Projected outcome: Likely on the roster, but with little margin for error

Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Stats line: 31 GP, 13 G, 17 A, 30 PTS, plus-seven

     

    The skinny: Martin St. Louis was the NHL's leading scorer last season. Even on a stacked Canadian team, that should count for a lot. 

    Also impressive has been his resilience since Tampa Bay lost Steven Stamkos to injury. In the 14 games since, his scoring has actually gone up, with St. Louis recording six goals and eight assists in that span.

     

    Projected outcome: Likely on the roster, but with little margin for error

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Stats line: 32 GP, 4 G, 9 A, 13 PTS, plus-nine

     

    The skinny: Vlasic broke into the league as an offensive option after scoring at more than a point-per-game pace in his final season of junior. In the NHL, however, he has evolved into one of the game's top shutdown defenders, a player who handles tough minutes and excels anyway.

    The way he defends is an excellent fit for both Canada's roster and for the big ice.

     

    Projected outcome: Likely on the roster, but with little margin for error

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

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    Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

    Stats line: 32 GP, 9 G, 8 A, 17 PTS, plus-10

     

    The skinny: One of the game's preeminent defensive forwards, Bergeron is the kind of role player an Olympic team should consider. He generates solid offensive numbers and consistently outduels top opposition while providing things like penalty-killing and faceoff wins.

    The only item working against him this season is point production, which is down a little from previous seasons, but it seems unlikely that it ultimately costs him a spot on the team.

     

    Projected outcome: Likely on the roster, but with little margin for error

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens

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    Francois Lacasse/Getty Images

    Stats line: 33 GP, 4 G, 20 A, 24 PTS, plus-eight

     

    The skinny: No Olympic fringe player has been more hotly debated than P.K. Subban.

    His detractors say he doesn't provide enough in the defensive zone and is prone to poor turnovers and further, that those hiccups make him a bad choice for a tournament like the Olympics.

    His proponents can point to outrageous offensive totals, a Montreal team that performs worlds better with Subban on the ice than with him on the bench, experience in pressure situations and a Norris Trophy.

    He's one of the best defencemen in the game today, and that's why Canada will take him.

     

    Projected outcome: On the roster

Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Stats line: 34 GP, 15 G, 17 A, 32 PTS, plus-12

     

    The skinny: For the players on the fringes of the roster, the ability to do anything is important, and it's one Sharp brings in spades. An exceptional defensive forward who can play both centre and wing, Sharp also brings enough skill to play in the top six in a tournament like the Olympics. While he'd likely be in the bottom six in Sochi, he currently ranks sixth among Canadian forwards in NHL scoring.  

     

    Projected outcome: On the roster

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