Who does Steve Yzerman want for Team Canada?
Rick Nash, Eric Staal, Dan Boyle among those on the bubble
Four years after Sidney Crosby and the Canadian men’s hockey team became the victors in Vancouver, the main matters for executive director Steve Yzerman will be defence and goaltending.
There is little doubt Canada has plenty of talent up front, on the blue line and in the crease. But can the Canadian Olympic team survive the loss of Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger? Will either Carey Price or Roberto Luongo hit their stride at the right time next month?
The strength of this Canadian team will be at centre and on the right side, both at forward and defence.
Ideally, head coach Mike Babcock would like to have three, left-shot blueliners. In 2010, he had Niedermayer, Pronger and Duncan Keith on the left side. Now he has only Keith. Marc- Édouard Vlasic and Jay Bouwmeester will be nice fits on the left side, but there likely will be at least one right-shot playing the left side on the Canadian defence.
With the Canadian Olympic hockey roster set to be announced Tuesday (CBCSports.ca, 11 a.m. ET) here are my selections for Canada’s 25-player roster, in which 13 forwards, seven defencemen and two goalies can dress for each game:
Line 1: Matt Duchene (COL) – Sidney Crosby (PIT) – Steven Stamkos (TB)
Line 2: Logan Couture (SJ) – Ryan Getzlaf (ANA) – Corey Perry (ANA)
Line 3: Patrick Sharp (CHI) – Jonathan Toews (CHI) – Claude Giroux (PHI)
Line 4: Jamie Benn (DAL) – John Tavares (NYI) – Rick Nash (NYR)
13th forward: Patrice Bergeron (BOS)
Extra forward: Eric Staal
Notable omissions: Martin St. Louis (TBL), James Neal (PIT), Chris Kunitz (PIT).
Duncan Keith (CHI) – Brent Seabrook (CHI)
Shea Weber (NSH) – Drew Doughty (LAK)
Jay Bouwmeester (STL) – Alex Pietrangelo (STL)
Seventh defenceman: P.K. Subban (MTL)
Extra defenceman: Marc-Édouard Vlasic (SJ)
Notable omissions: Dan Boyle (SJ)
Carey Price (MTL), Roberto Luongo (VAN)
Third goalie: Josh Harding (MIN)
Notable omissions: Mike Smith (PHX), Corey Crawford (CHI), Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT).
Up front, the most difficult decision for Yzerman will be to find a spot for his own Lightning captain, Martin St. Louis. The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner has enjoyed another banner season and I don’t think Yzerman can afford to upset the apple cart of his own NHL team. So I expect St. Louis to be on the Canadian team.
But I like Rick Nash better. He’s been a big-time performer on the international stage for Canada. An early-season concussion forced him to miss 17 games. He has been inconsistent since his mid-November return, but his lack of production this season can be attributed to the playing on a struggling team in the Rangers. Same goes for the likes of Eric Staal and Claude Giroux.
There also will be plenty of consideration given to Chris Kunitz to stay on the left side of Crosby, his Penguins teammate. But I like skill and youthful enthusiasm of Matt Duchene there and I wanted to make room for Jamie Benn. I like Benn’s grit and versatility to play a checking role if needed. Ditto for Staal. If Duchene falters, you can move either John Tavares or Staal in that spot alongside Crosby.
On the blue line, the difficult decision for me was Dan Boyle or Brent Seabrook. Both were on the 2010 team, but I chose Seabrook because he's Keith’s regular partner on one of the NHL’s best teams in Chicago.
Yes, I know I’ve contradicted myself. I won’t keep Kunitz with Crosby, but I will with Keith and Seabrook. That’s right. Seabrook and Keith were together at the Vancouver Games. Crosby thrived without Kunitz.
In goal, the only decision for Yzerman is the third goalie. I think it has been predetermined that Mike Smith will be that guy in the end. But I’m a sucker for a good story and that’s why I selected Josh Harding.
He deserves the nod. Even though Harding has battled multiple sclerosis, he is sixth in wins (18), third in save percentage (.933) and first in goals against average (1.65).