Martin St. Louis was Yzerman's toughest call
A few last-minute choices in selection process
Jeff Carter over Martin St. Louis. Dan Hamhuis over Brent Seabrook. P.K. Subban over Dan Boyle. Chris Kunitz over Logan Couture. Patrick Sharp over Claude Giroux. Patrick Marleau over Eric Staal. Rick Nash over James Neal.
In the end, these were the most difficult decisions that faced Steve Yzerman and his Canadian men’s Olympic hockey management team. But there were no easy verdicts for this judge and jury.
Sure there were locks like Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Shea Weber and Carey Price. But how would you like to be Yzerman when he had to call his own 38-year-old Tampa Bay Lighting captain Martin St. Louis that he was on the outside looking in?
“Personally it is a very difficult decision,” said Yzerman, who also left St. Louis off the gold-medal 2010 Canadian team after he played for Canada in 2006. “Honestly, regardless if I am with the Tampa Bay organization or not, it was a difficult one. It was a tough one in 2010 as well.
“He is a tremendous hockey player who has played outstanding hockey for us in Tampa Bay this season. Our team has a good record and he is a big reason why we are playing well. He is an outstanding hockey player and a high character person.”
Yzerman took it upon himself to personally call the unsuccessful candidates while others on his management team phoned those who made the Canadian team. Yzerman’s message to the disappointed ones were that they still will be under consideration if an injury to one of the Canadian players occurs.
Leaving St. Louis off the 25-player roster was the most difficult of all the demanding decisions that Yzerman and Co. made in the wee morning hours on Tuesday. But so was saying no to veterans like San Jose Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle, Chicago Blackhawks blueliner Brent Seabrook and Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. Both had served Canada so well in Vancouver.
But a slow and inconsistent start from Staal left him out in the cold and the emergence of offensive-oriented Subban put Boyle out of Olympic work. Hamhuis' versatility and world championship experience on the big ice got him the nod over Seabrook.
The other major decision was whether the undrafted Kunitz and his 23 goals this season (fourth in the NHL) was Olympic worthy or was he simply a benefactor of playing alongside Crosby on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“He has been an outstanding player throughout his career, a Stanley Cup champion,” said Yzerman, who first became impressed with Kunitz at the 2008 world championship. “He's been in the playoffs virtually every year. He's a hard-nosed player, a skilled player.
“Yes, he plays with Sidney Crosby. He's been a great contributor to that line and his team. The question a lot of people have asked is, has Chris Kunitz been helped by Sidney Crosby? They help each other. On his own, does he belong on this team? Our answer is yes.”
Two other decisions that hockey fans may have had difficulty dealing with was to put Hamhuis and Carter on the team. But Hamhuis was a dependable two-way, left-shot defenceman the management team has been high on. Carter is a gifted right wing who skates well and has a deft scoring touch. He almost was named a late replacement on the 2010 team, but Ryan Getzlaf’s ankle injury healed on time.
Big challenge to narrow list of forwards
Yzerman and the rest of the Canadian Olympic management team – Doug Armstrong (St. Louis Blues), Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings) Kevin Lowe (Edmonton Oilers) and Peter Chiarelli (Boston Bruins) – gathered with Hockey Canada’s Bob Nicholson and Brad Pascall as well as head coach Mike Babcock at a downtown Toronto hotel on Monday.
The rest of Babcock’s Olympic coaching staff was a text or phone call away.
The dodgy weather all across North America did not make travel plans easy to fulfill. Nevertheless, this group convened with a mountain of stats in a boardroom like setting. They left that boardroom to have dinner and watch some NHL action at the nearby Real Sports bar before retreating for one final session at the hotel that broke off around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning. While others went to bed, Yzerman, Pascall and a couple others stayed up and fretted for another half-hour.
Yzerman remarked that reducing the list to 14 forwards was the most difficult of the three positions.
“This was the most difficult exercise I’ve ever been a part of,” Chiarelli said.
Babcock had significant input. He wanted four left-shot and four right-shot defencemen. He wanted a mix of youth and experience. He wanted leaders. He wanted talent that played a 200-foot game, players who were strong defensively, who had a high hockey IQ and who made swift, smart decisions.
“We really tried to build a roster that can get up and down the rink,” Babcock said. “We didn't want too many slower players.
“We put together the best group of players we possibly can and now we have to become the best team we possibly can.”