Seeing as this will be my final article for Bleacher Report, and seeing as the nature of the article is one that evokes intense debate, I figured I’d go out with a bang.
My 2010 Team Canada Olympic Team
- It was a three-way battle for the two wing positions on the checking line. Leaving Brendan Morrow off this team was really hard, but his offensive production has been ugly since the start of November, and he doesn’t generate the SOG that Shane Doan does. Ryan Smyth has proven time and again that not only can he play with top-flight forwards (look at his work with Kopitar this year and how Kopitar’s offensive numbers died a fast death when Smyth went down a month ago), he also steps up with key plays in the biggest situations. I don’t have the confidence in Morrow that I do in Smyth and Doan.
- Everyone talks about Brent Seabrook being on the team because of his upswing in points and the chemistry he shares with Duncan Keith. Well, neither of those things are going to matter if you can’t keep up with the fastest guys in the world every night. Watching one of the speedy Russians blow by Seabrook in the neutral zone to create a scoring opp for himself was more than enough for me to keep him off the team. On the other hand, Drew Doughty plays 24 minutes a night, is a +8 while going up against opposing teams’ top forwards, and is tied for second in the NHL for most goals by a defensemen, ironically enough tied with seventh D Mike Green.
- There is a lot of hate for Green amongst the NHL brethren, saying that he can’t play in his own zone. Well that’s fine, but when a guy can both shoot and create like Green can, you can’t overlook that. Pronger was a joke in 2006 on Team Canada’s powerplay. I’ll never forget watching games with James Rose and us losing our minds at the fact that Pronger missed the net clean more times than his shots actually hit the goal. Hell once he even missed by a legit four feet, and no it wasn’t a bank play. Even this year, with teams shutting down Green’s shooting lanes as they have in the past to guys like Adrian Aucoin and Bryan McCabe after their great goal-scoring years (among others), Green is still right around a point per game because of his creativity and playmaking ability—and that’s without Ovechkin and Semin in the lineup for stretches.
- Steven Stamkos has to be on this team. Forget all the negatives you can come up with, and look at the bottom line: Stamkos has blazing speed, and he is the fourth highest scoring Canadian in the NHL. You can’t leave both him and Dustin Penner off the team, and since Penner has slowed down since his hot start, you have to take Stamkos and his ability to finish. You hide him on the fourth line, you spot him against other teams’ weaker defensive lines, and you use him on the PP. A guy like Stamkos with his tools can be a monster in this type of short tourney setting, especially since he won’t be the focus of checking lines as he currently is, and will have more space to use his scary speed.
- Dion Phaneuf has no business being on this team, so thank goodness Shea Weber is Canadian, as he plays the same physical style that Phaneuf has, has the same canonizing drive from the point, and is far more defensively responsible.
- The fourth and fifth centre roles are a crapshoot. You have—among others—Richards & Weiss, Mike Fisher, and Jordan Staal to choose from. Brad Richards is a former Conn Smythe winner who had five points in six games in the 2006 Olympics (one of the few who played well), is T-9 in points, plays just over 20 minutes a night (which is a lot, but nowhere near the 28 a night he played at one point during his time in Tampa), is comfortable playing both Centre and Left Wing, is a great penalty killer, and produces as much offense as he does while playing against opposing teams’ top lines. He’s not a flashy pick as he’s been under the radar the last three seasons, however he absolutely deserves to, and should be there.
- If I’d had the chance to watch more Pittsburgh this year, maybe I would have taken J-Staal here, as many of the HNIC crew did. But Stephen Weiss, who is T-21 in league scoring and was compared to Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman in his draft year, hasn’t so much blossomed as he has exploded this year, finally showing that he may in fact reach his full potential.
Weiss is currently playing some out-of-this-world hockey, and his 18 goals would put him squarely on Canada’s third line if the lines were being determined in terms of who has scored how many goals. With sublime playmakers the likes of Crosby, Thornton, Richards, and Getzlaf playing Centre for Canada, they need quality goal-scorers, such as Weiss. Not to mention the fact that Weiss is another minutes hog like Richards, also playing just over 20 minutes a night, and again being matched up against the opposition’s top lines every night. While you can’t go wrong here picking Mike Fisher or Jordan Staal, you gotta go with the guys who you think will be hot come February for the 13th forward role, and in such a crapshoot as this is, I’m going with the breakout star.
Okay so let’s have fun with lines & D pairings.
I know that everyone and their mother thinks that Rick Nash should play on the Crosby-Iginla top line, and I’m sure he will. I’d put Richards there though because of Crosby’s increased attention to scoring since the playoffs began last year, and the fact that Richards has both played better than Nash this year, and he can be a playmaker of the highest level for both Crosby and Iginla, to the point where I’d tinker with the idea of having Richards center the line.
The SJ guys have chemistry, so I think that one’s a no-brainer.
Putting Nash on the third scoring line w/Getzlaf & Perry makes for a disgusting power line with tons of speed, nastiness, and the potential for three top-flight NHL’ers to be able to put up scary offensive numbers, as other countries’ checking units will be focusing on the Crosby and (to a lesser extent) Thornton lines.
Stamkos can slide in on the wing on any of these three lines and his speed and soft hands will fit will with the playmakers on all three lines.
I have Weiss centering the shutdown line because he’s better defensively than Stamkos, and can handle what would be asked of him much better. (Assuming he makes the team) Smyth will likely see spot duty on the Crosby line, as his ability to create space for Crosby/Iginla and take some of the physical burden off of them is a great attribute in this kind of grinding, physical tournament.
Looking at the defense, each unit has a quality stopper paired with an offensive talent, and really in the case of all of them, the stoppers are quality offensive players, too. In spotting Green, I would play him with Neidermayer and Keith, as Neidermayer’s speed allows him to regain lost position frighteningly fast, and Keith is a defensive stalwart of the highest order, as his +30 and +33 respectively the last two years will attest to.
In goal, as much as everyone wants 2010 to be Robbie-Lu time, and he will certainly get his chance at home, Marty Brodeur has simply been the better goaltender this year, and won’t have the added pressure of playing in his home arena piled on to the pressure of pulling on the Team Canada jersey.
Plus, his 2002 Gold Medal performance and the three Stanley Cup rings give infinitely more big-game experience than Luongo has. Marc-Andre Fleury, he of the insane athleticism, crisp technique, and fancy new Stanley Cup Champions’ ring, would be fighting for the No. 1 job on virtually every other team in the tournament.
So that’s my Team Canada for 2010. And while I don’t expect a lot of people writing to say “Hey, nice stuff,” I’m sure that anyone who disagrees will mention it.