The Canadian men's hockey team will announce its roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Tuesday morning. This follows the announcement of Team USA early last week at the conclusion of the NHL Winter Classic.
As it generally does, the decisions almost entirely fall into two categories. Some are so obvious that most 12-year-old fans could make them. Others are so controversial that no matter what choice Steve Yzerman and his cadre of advisers make, there will be heavy criticism.
The depth chart is overflowing with strength, especially at centre and on right defence. The top two goaltenders (i.e. "the guys who will actually play") are abundantly clear. But on the wings and on the left side of the blue line, the talent level drops a bit, and the decisions get much more difficult.
The following is our prediction for who makes the cut on the final roster. It is important to note that we are not here with projections of who we feel should make the final cut but rather which players will be selected.
Read on for our best guess of which players will comprise Team Canada's 14 forwards, eight defencemen and three goalies when they are announced a few days from now.
All statistics courtesy of NHL.com and current through January 4. All players listed at projected position on the Olympic roster, not that which they play on their current teams.
Patrice Bergeron is an elite shutdown forward at the NHL level, the kind of player who can go head-to-head with another team's top line in his own end and drive the play forward.
His scoring totals are down a little this season, and if things continue as they are, Bergeron will finish shy of the 50-point mark, a number he routinely hits. His defensive game is as good as ever, though, and that's really what puts him in the running for this team.
Bergeron has represented Canada internationally on previous occasions, winning gold at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympics. He struggled at the 2010 games in Vancouver, posting a lone assist and a minus-two rating.
If Team Canada wants to have a defence corps suited to the big ice, it's hard to imagine that it excludes Jay Bouwmeester. The St. Louis Blues defenceman is one of the best pure skaters in the league and complements that mobility with a big frame and talent with and without the puck.
A bubble player earlier this year, Bouwmeester has made it easy to take him to the Olympics, thanks to a superb season with the Blues that includes 26 points and a plus-18 rating through 40 games played.
Bouwmeester didn't play at the Vancouver games, but he went plus-four in six contests at the 2006 Olympics and more recently went plus-seven in eight games at the 2012 World Championships.
Logan Couture is one of many natural centres likely to play a wing position for Canada at the Sochi games. He's a good skater with solid size and a nice blend of offensive ability and defensive commitment, which is precisely the sort of C.V. Canada's management team is likely to prize.
Couture is just barely on pace to set a career high in points (66; he had 65 in 2011-12), but he isn't a player who needs to be lighting the world on fire offensively to get serious consideration; he just has to score enough, and he's done that to date.
Couture hasn't represented Canada internationally since playing in the U-18 World Juniors back in 2006-07, but he did play in Europe during last year's lockout.
Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world, and will centre Canada's top line in Sochi. He does absolutely everything well, from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and marries pure speed with uncanny vision, a goal scorer's hands and a commitment to getting all the details right.
Even in what for him is a decidedly average year, Crosby has an eight-point lead on Patrick Kane for the NHL scoring title and a 15-point lead or better on everybody else.
Crosby was a point-per-game player at the 2010 Olympics and will once again be the most important part of Canada's attack.
The most vital part of an extremely successful Los Angeles Kings team, Drew Doughty drives puck possession like few other blue-liners in the game and is no slouch without the puck either.
Doughty is averaging more than 25 minutes per night for one of the best possession teams in hockey. He's playing in all situations and providing the Kings with scoring punch from the back end, too.
Doughty recorded two assists and a plus-six rating at the 2010 Olympics, a year after putting up seven points and a plus-five rating at the 2009 World Championships.
There is no shortage of quality attributes in Matt Duchene's game, but the one that gets mentioned most often is his speed. He's just incredibly fast, one of the best pure skaters in the game, and if the Canadian management group leaves him behind, that's something it will be reminded of over and over again.
Speed alone wouldn't get Duchene on the team, but he's also having a breakthrough year offensively with Colorado, scoring at a point-per-game pace for one of the league's most pleasant first-half surprises.
Duchene played in Europe during the 2012-13 NHL lockout and has been a good soldier for Team Canada at the World Championships. Last year he put up four goals and five points in eight games for the Canadian entry.
Canada's ridiculous depth down the middle is exemplified by the fact that Ryan Getzlaf is the most likely candidate to centre the team's third line.
The list of NHL centres with more points than Getzlaf this season is one name long, and Sidney Crosby is going to be centering the first line. With Jonathan Toews second on the depth chart, that leaves Getzlaf in the third spot, despite the fact that he's on pace to break 90 points on the season.
Not only did Getzlaf score a point per game at the 2010 Olympics, but he's also played at the World Championships every year the Ducks have missed the playoffs over his career, putting up 23 points in 17 games for Canada at those tournaments.
It's funny to think now that there was a time when Claude Giroux's candidacy for Team Canada was in question.
The Philadelphia Flyers captain overcame a goalless first 15 games (15GP, 0G, 6A, 6PTS, minus-nine) in fine fashion, recording 11 goals, 31 points and a plus-10 rating in his last 26 contests.
Giroux has not previously played in the Olympics, but he destroyed Germany's top league during the 2012-13 NHL lockout and was a point-per-game player for Canada at the 2013 World Championships.
Dan Hamhuis posts decent—but unexceptional—offensive numbers each and every season, but that isn't why he's a candidate for the Canadian roster. Rather it is his tremendous abilities defensively—a skill set which includes the capacity for moving the puck forward without turning it over—that makes Hamhuis a natural fit on the blue line.
He's currently enjoying what has become a standard season for him, posting decent point totals, ridiculously low penalty minutes for the role he plays and a gorgeous plus/minus.
If selected, 2014 will be Hamhuis' first Olympics, but he has a wealth of international experience. In seven different tournaments for Canada, Hamhuis has never been a minus player and is a career plus-32 in 52 games split between the World Juniors and World Championships.
The 2009-10 Norris Trophy winner as the NHL's best defenceman is the one and only absolute sure thing on the left side of Canada's defence.
The way this year is going, he seems likely to win the Norris this year, too. Keith hasn't really dropped off as a player in the years between 2009-10 and now—he's been the same consistent two-way force he always was—but the Norris typically goes to a guy who can do that and pile up the points. Keith is just a hair shy of a point-per-game pace this season, easily his best number since a 69-point year the last time he won the award.
Keith had six points and a plus-six rating in seven games at the last Olympics and led the World Championships in points by a defenceman in 2012.
Canada's incumbent starting goalie is likely to be challenged this year, but the simple fact is that no Canadian 'tender can match his long-term track record of elite results in the majors.
By his own lofty standards, Luongo is having a good but not great season in Vancouver; he has a 0.920 save percentage through 32 games, which puts him among the NHL leaders but not at the top of the charts.
Luongo's international track record is exceptional. Even ignoring his 2010 gold-medal-winning performance, Luongo has posted 0.929, 0.930, 0.919, 0.925, 0.930, 0.949 and 0.942 save percentages at major tournaments going back to the 1999 World Juniors. For a guy with a less-than-stellar reputation under pressure, he's been great for Canada when it mattered.
Still an elite skater at the age of 34, Marleau's speed, scoring and improved defensive game all point to him as a logical part of a Canadian entry which almost always seems to give the edge to experience when making tough decisions.
Certainly Marleau's performance in San Jose this season puts him in the running. He has 38 points in 41 games as a key part of an extremely competent Sharks offence.
Marleau hasn't played in a lot of World Championships lately because the Sharks make the playoffs every year, but he's gone to the tournament whenever he didn't have NHL postseason obligations and has won two medals in four tourneys. He also had five points for Canada at Vancouver in 2010.
A big, fast forward with incredible goal-scoring abilities, Rick Nash was seen by most as either a lock or close to it in the summer. However, injuries and a less-than-stellar performance in 2013-14 have undermined that position somewhat.
Nash missed significant time with a concussion and has just 16 points in 25 games this year after coming close to a point per game with New York last season.
Working in his favour, however, is extensive international experience that includes two Olympics and four World Championships, as well as sojourns to Europe during the last two NHL lockouts. He had five points in seven games in 2010.
The most valuable player in the NHL in 2010-11, Corey Perry plays an agitating brand of hockey but does a lot more than just get under the skin of his opponents. He's also a clever positional player at both ends of the ice and a natural goal scorer.
He's up to his usual tricks this season, playing one of the NHL's most dominant lines alongside Ryan Getzlaf and (usually) Dustin Penner and scoring at a better than 40-goal pace.
Perry scored four goals for Canada at the 2010 Olympics and has been a significant contributor on two World Championship teams.
Defenceman Alex Pietrangelo is one of the up-and-coming stars on the Canadian blue line. He's a well-rounded talent who plays a disciplined defensive game and can be creative in the offensive zone, and he's also an exceptional skater for someone with a 6'3" frame.
This year he's playing more than 25 minutes per game on the St. Louis blue line, shutting down top opponents and (as he did with Carlo Colaiacovo previously) getting the most out of defensive partner Jay Bouwmeester. For good measure, he's on pace for better than 50 points this season.
Pietrangelo has starred in two World Junior tournaments and was excellent at the 2011 World Championships.
Canada's longtime goalie of the future finally seems to be its goalie of the present.
Price has had nice runs before, but his 0.928 save percentage in Montreal this season is the best he's ever recorded and puts him at the same level as some of the game's best goaltenders.
He's a shoo-in for one of the top two jobs in Sochi, and it will represent the first time since a gold-medal-winning performance at the 2007 World Juniors (where Price posted a 0.961 save percentage and was named the most valuable player in the tourney) that Price has played for Canada internationally.
A diligent two-way winger who has long been underrated, Patrick Sharp played critical roles in both the 2010 and 2013 NHL postseason as the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
He has been an extremely good scorer for a number of years now, but he's hit new heights this season, scoring at better than a point per game (and 45-goal) pace over the first half of 2013-14.
Sharp has played for Canada at two World Championships, most recently picking up eight points in eight games after the Blackhawks were eliminated from the postseason in 2012.
Big goaltender Mike Smith showed flashes of ability in Dallas and Tampa Bay but has really come into his own as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
His 2013-14 season to date has been reasonably good; with a 0.912 save percentage through 34 games, he's roughly middle of the pack as far as NHL starting goalies are concerned, and that's the territory most of his competitors for Canada's No. 3 job also inhabit.
Smith's first international experience for Canada came at last year's World Championships, where he posted a 0.944 save percentage over four games.
Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal is an elite skater and top offensive producer and will almost certainly be converted from his natural centre position to the wing for the Sochi games.
His NHL career has seen its share of rough times, and he's in another tough spell right now thanks to a miserable on-ice save percentage. He's still producing points but his minus-15 rating is the third time in four years he's cracked double-digits in the negative; even if it is undeserved (as it is) it will doubtless be something the Canadian management team notices.
Staal has a mostly distinguished international record that includes six points in Vancouver, but he was held goalless as Canada's captain at the 2013 World Championships.
The best goal scorer in the NHL today will, if recovered from injury, play for Canada at the Sochi games.
Steven Stamkos has proven over his first five NHL seasons that no other skater in the game combines his ability to generate a high volume of shots with his insane gift for converting those shots into goals. He had lit the lamp 14 times in 17 contests with Tampa Bay before breaking his right tibia in a November game against the Boston Bruins.
A controversial omission from the 2010 Olympic team, Stamkos has played at three World Championships and had seven goals and 12 points over eight contests for the Canadian entry in 2013.
A lightning rod for controversy, P.K. Subban is an elite puck-moving defenceman and one of the best players in the league at driving puck possession for his team. He's physical, and while he occasionally makes mistakes against the top opponents he plays on a nightly basis, he also has almost unparalleled upside.
After being named the NHL's best defenceman during a 2012-13 campaign where he recorded 38 points in 42 games, Subban is just slightly off the pace this year with 33 points through the season's first 42 contests. He is, however, playing 25-plus effective minutes per game for Montreal.
A World Junior standout in 2009, Subban has only a single game of international experience for Canada at the senior level, coming in 2013.
The one knock on John Tavares is that he is not an especially high-level skater. His other tools are enough to overcome that negative, though, as Tavares is an exceptional player both in terms of generating offensively and driving puck possession.
The new captain of the New York Islanders is still evolving as a player and is on pace for a career-best 90 points this season.
Tavares has never played in the Olympics but has been a standout at both the World Junior and World Championship level, posting 20 points in 13 games at two under-20 tournaments and scoring 16 goals in 22 games at the senior level.
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has emerged as an elite two-way centre at the NHL level and been a first-line pivot for two championship teams now. Size, speed and a defensive conscience are married to exceptional offensive tools to produce a player who can go head to head with any opponent and come out on top.
As he has for the last six seasons, Toews is flirting with the point-per-game mark and playing major minutes for one of the NHL's best teams.
Toews provided exceptional value for Canada's gold-medal-winning team in 2010, scoring eight points in seven games and finishing that tournament with a plus-nine rating, and he's a better player today than he was then.
One of the NHL's better shutdown defenceman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has forgone the offensive game that saw him record 73 points in 66 contests in his final year of juniors in favour of a primarily defence-oriented approach in the majors.
That isn't to say the offence has completely dried up; Vlasic can still move the puck, and he's on pace for 30 points in the NHL this season. It simply isn't the top priority for an extremely disciplined player who generally acts as a safety valve for more offence-oriented partners.
Vlasic has minimal international experience, having played all of seven games in the World Championships in his career.
A committee designing a complete defenceman would probably come out with something that looks like Shea Weber. He's big and physical, but plays a disciplined defensive game that sees him avoid penalties and stay in position.
He's agile enough to track opponents in the defensive zone and fast enough to rush the puck. He can make an outlet pass or quarterback a power play and has a viciously powerful and extremely accurate slap shot.
Those tools have resulted in some impressive results at the NHL level, and while his plus/minus in tough minutes on a bad team is less than ideal, he's still driving the offence, despite having a pretty unimpressive array of scoring help.
Weber recorded six points at the Vancouver games and had 12 points at the 2009 World Championships, where he was named best defenceman.
Eric Staal—Sidney Crosby—Steven Stamkos
Patrick Sharp—Jonathan Toews—Claude Giroux
Logan Couture—Ryan Getzlaf—Corey Perry
Patrick Marleau—John Tavares—Rick Nash
Matt Duchene, Patrice Bergeron
Duncan Keith—Drew Doughty
Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Shea Weber
Jay Bouwmeester—Alex Pietrangelo
Dan Hamhuis—P.K. Subban
Dan Boyle, RD, San Jose Sharks: The veteran rearguard is slowing down, both literally in terms of skating and metaphorically with respect to his overall game. He no longer plays the best opposition night in and night out, and while he's still an extremely capable offensive option, Canada has a wealth of choices on the right side.
Mark Giordano, LD, Calgary Flames: An unheralded two-way defenceman, Giordano is having a remarkable season in Calgary, posting 17 points and a very respectable minus-one rating in 23 games for an outmatched team. He's missed time to injury, though, and had to play his way onto the roster this season, something he likely didn't get enough time to do.
Brent Seabrook, RD, Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith's regular Chicago partner is extremely good in his own right, but he isn't one of Canada's four best right-shooting defencemen.
Jamie Benn, LW, Dallas Stars: Benn is a top up-and-coming player for Canada, he's having a good season and he's an entirely plausible member of the roster. It says here that relative youth and a lack of NHL playoff experience will work against him, though.
Chris Kunitz, LW, Pittsburgh Penguins: As a career 50- to 60-point player who suddenly emerged as an NHL all-star in his mid-30s when paired with Sidney Crosby, there can be no doubt that Kunitz has chemistry with Canada's best player. The problem for him is that Canada's management is more likely to wonder what a career 80- to 90-point player might do instead on Crosby's wing.
Martin St. Louis, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning: Last season's NHL scoring leader was left off the 2010 team and, at age 38, seems likely to be ignored again.
Jonathan Bernier, G, Toronto Maple Leafs: Bernier has come out of nowhere to play himself into contention for a roster spot. He's a tough guy to leave behind given his 0.931 save percentage, but Canada may want a veteran as its third-string goalie.
Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins: Stanley Cup winner? Check. Playoff experience? Check. Good season? Check. Part of the 2010 team? Check. Unfortunately for Fleury, his playoff meltdowns the last four seasons are going to factor heavily into Team Canada's figuring.
Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals: Holtby could have played his way on to Team Canada with a strong first half of 2013-14, but unfortunately, his numbers have dipped a little. He's not clearly better than the other available options, and given his lack of international experience, that's likely to be decisive.