Thursday, 9 January 2014

My take on Team Canada

With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics approaching Team Canada has announced its hockey roster. As with any roster release related to hockey in this country, the decisions have been met with controversy. In this article, I will attempt to analyze Steve Yzerman's roster speculating his reasons for picking the players that he did.

Goalies: Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith

If Canada's hockey team had one weakness at the Vancouver Olympics it had to of been their goaltending. I don't mean that as a knock against Luongo as I am a fan, but, there were other goaltenders in the tournament who frankly played better. However, he did his job and without him we may not have won gold. I'm happy with his appointment to the team. Carey Price should be the starter going into it and barring a bad game or injury Price will rightfully finish the tournament in that position. Price has been phenomenal in Montreal this year, after a questionable year last season. Mike Smith as the third goalie is a comfortable choice, he may thrive in the defensive systems of Phoenix but I do not think that takes anything away from him. Smith is an elite athlete and in my opinion he deserves his position on the team and can hold the fort in the unlikely situation Price and Luongo aren't able to provide Canada with the level of goaltending that will be necessary.

Although Price, Luongo and Smith were regarded as the favorites to be selected to the tournament, there are other goalies who may have been in contention for the position. Crawford, Harding, Bernier, Ward and Fleury deserve an honorable mention for their play this season. It is comforting knowing that we have the depth to leave such quality goaltenders off the team. Overall I would say that our goaltending will be stronger than in Vancouver.

Defense: Jay Bowmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Mark-Edward Vlasic, Shea Weber

Before the roster was announced Doughty, Keith, Pietrangelo and Weber were considered to be locks to make the team so it is not a surprise that they were named. PK Subban played his way on to this team, there was torrent speculation that he may not be named despite his Norris title and relentless scoring pace, some felt he was too much of a liability because of his attitude to be named. I am happy that he was selected, he's too fast, too strong and too good to be left off of the roster. Bowmeester is a safe and very steady defender who has chemistry with Pietrangelo as they play together in St. Louis. 

The selections of Hamhuis and Vlasic are the most controversial of the defencemen. Vlasic is a good skater and safe in his own zone but how could make it over a player like Kris Letang? I believe Yzerman chose to bring Vlasic for two reasons. The first is that he shoots left, this is a very important and often overlooked characteristic. Yzerman would have wanted an equal number of left and right shooting defensemen, especially to appease coach Babcock. The other reason may have been Letang's poor play in the defensive zone. Hamhuis is described as a safe, defensively responsible defender (notice the trend) who can be played in all situations, he was probably chosen over Seabrook because he shoots left, ideally Seabrook would be paired with Keith because of their chemistry, but Keith is regarded as the number one left handed defender on the team. It would have been difficult to give that many minutes to Seabrook instead of Doughty, Weber or even Subban. 

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonothan Toews

Similar to the Defense, there was a certain number players who many felt would be locks, Crosby, Getzlaf, Perry, Stamkos, Tavares and Toews would have had to denounce their citizenship to be left off of the team. To understand some of Yzerman's more controversial player decisions it is important to remember that it is his job to put together the team he believes has the best chance to win gold. It is for this reason that certain players were left off who may be more talented than those on the roster. Yzerman chose the best player for the role and team, which was not always necessarily the best overall player.

The player on the roster who seems to have been the source of the most debate is Chris Kunitz. The undrafted winger has been a point a game player for the Penguins this season, playing alongside Crosby. Kunitz is a hard working veteran who can put the puck in the net and will definitely bring a healthy dose of grit to Team Canada's lineup. There is undoubtedly more talented players who could have been played alongside Crosby, and he may only have been selected because he plays with Crosby, but it is very important to have chemistry on the top line and this will guarantee that 2/3 members have that very important factor. 

Carter, Nash, Marleau and Sharp are all gifted goal scorers who have experience on the wing and it is likely for those reasons that they have been selected, as Canada seems to have reserved the winger positions for gifted goal scorers. Bergeron is a strong skater and defensive specialist who is elite in the faceoff circle. Bergeron being selected is a good example of choosing the best player for the role, for example, Eric Staal may be a better player offensively but probably wouldn't be as effective playing against other teams top scoring lines. Benn is the most underrated player on the roster in my opinion, he will likely be used for his defensive abilities like Bergeron, but Benn brings a higher level of tenacity which could be very important if we end up playing the Americans whose Brown, Backes, Callahan line may wreak havoc on a less physical team. Finally, Matt Duchene has proven himself over the past couple seasons to be one of the best young players in the entire league and is also an excellent skater and another great choice in my opinion.

As much as can be said about the forward selections who made the team can be said about those who did not. In my opinion the best player to be left off the roster is Claude Giroux. At the beginning of the season he may have been considered a lock but he may have played himself off the team with a horrendous start to the year and a massive goal scoring drought for a player of his ilk, it even spurred the creation of a website dedicated to his lack of scoring. Although, another reason he may have been left off could have been that he is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer and Canada wanted to reserve their wing positions for goal scorers. Joe Thortnon is another player whose absence from the roster has caused debate. I believe the choice to leave him off had a lot to do with his skating. Since the tournament will be on international ice, only the best skaters can be selected. He is also another pass first type of player who would have been a risk to move to the wing.

I believe Canada's forward group is structured properly. Instead of bringing more playmaking centers than necessary, and playing them out of position on the wing, Yzerman selected players who are talented goal scorers with experience on the wing. He also only selected strong skaters who will be able to keep up with the game on the bigger ice. 

Although the debates will continue on who should have been brought or left off the roster, I like the team overall and think Yzerman's choice to value chemistry and whether a particular player is right for the role will pay off and Canada will win it's second consecutive gold. What do you think? 

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