Sunday, August 21, 2005

Team Canada: It's a pick 'em

With Hockey Canada wrapping up their "orientation camp" last week in B.C. (don't call it a tryout camp!), I figure it appropriate to throw my hat into the cliche yet oh so fun act of picking which team I feel would be best come February for the Winter Olympics in Torino.

I decided to select simply from the group that were at the camp. It's very possible that someone not part of it will be selected (which I intend to touch on tomorrow), but I'm going off who we know they're looking at. In 2002, every player that went to Salt Lake City was at the "orientation camp" that summer, so it does have some merit I suppose.

So allow me to get my Wayne Gretzky (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Lowe and Bob Nicholson) on.

GOALTENDERS:

Martin Brodeur

As if there was any doubt. Even though people often contend he's a product of a great system, I'll say it: the best goalie of the last 10 years. You can have your Dominik Hasek's and your Patrick Roy's. They're both fantastic. But if I had to win one game tomorrow, I put Brodeur between my pipes. Three Stanley Cups, one Olympic gold, one World Cup. He knows big games better than any other active netminder. He's never let Canada down when called upon, and there is no reason to think he'll start now. With the big ice and no red line, his puckhandling abilities will come in especially handily.

Roberto Luongo

The next one. They've been grooming him for a while now, and even though he's not my first choice, I wouldn't be uncomfortable with Luongo stepping in to be the starter. He's been terrific when put into that spot, both in the '03 World Championships when Sean Burke got hurt and last year at the World Cup, when a hand injury kept Brodeur from playing the Czechs in the semis. Despite not playing a game all tournament, he got in there and carried the team to victory. Anyone who tells you Canada wasn't outplayed that night is lying to both you and themselves, yet they won because of #1.

Jose Theodore

This is more insurance than anything, as rarely do these guys play. I went with Theodore over Turco simply because he knows the role, having served it in the World Cup. Goalies are different animals, and you never quite know how a guy who's used to playing a lot will react to sitting in the press box and having a role exclusive to practice. With Theodore, we know. Either one would be fine though.

DEFENCE:

Scott Niedermayer

Probably Canada's consistently best defenceman in both Salt Lake City and the '04 World Cup, Niedermayer is about as much of a given as this team has. Though most always talk about his skating and strong outlet pass abilities, as a defender, he's severely underrated. He won't crush the opposition the way larger blueliners will, but Niedermayer's excellent at reading plays and closing passing lanes. His PP acumen takes him over the top.

Rob Blake

A locker room leader who can log big minutes, Blake has to be there. He's been part of many Team Canada's, including World Hockey Championships in Europe, so his familiarity with the bigger ice will be an asset. With Al MacInnis not part of this Olympic team, his big shot will come in handy on the powerplay as well.

Chris Pronger

When he's healthy and on his game, Chris Pronger is, for my money, the most dominant defenceman in the world. He can shut anyone down physically, has superb stamina, and deceptive foot speed. Like Blake, the fact he sports a hard shot from the point will come in handy. Kevin Lowe will see a lot of him so he'll know whether we have the Chris Pronger who won the Hart Trophy or the Chris Pronger who plays well in spurts only.

Adam Foote

The last of the "big four" defenceman who most assume are already penciled in as being on the team. Foote's been a part of almost every big tournament, from the '96 World Cup to Nagano in '98 to Salt Lake City in '02 to the World Cup a year ago. He's played in a lot of big games during his time in Colorado. Of the four, he's the one I'm least sold on as being a given member of the team. Though we've seen many defenceman play well into their late 30's at a top level, it's at the very least a legitimate question with Foote. There is a school of thought that Foote, away from the Colorado system, will be exposed in Columbus as a good defenceman who has played on a great team. If so, maybe his roster spot will be up for grabs. But I suspect his tenure makes him difficult to unseat.

Robyn Regehr

As far as shut down men go, Regehr's emerged as one of the best in the game. Both in the '03-'04 season during Calgary's magical run and the World Cup that summer, he consistently neutralized the opposition's best players. However, like Foote, there are some who think that if they start calling obstruction in the NHL, his game will be diminished. It's certainly a fair question, but as it stands now, I can't see this team without him.

Wade Redden

While most of the other back enders are defence minded first, Redden gives them someone who can create offense with ease. Most considered him the best defenceman in the World Championships this past spring. His overall game has developed significantly over the last couple years in Ottawa, and there's no reason to think said growth will be disrupted this year. When it comes to long passes, he may be the best in the league. Whatever defensive gaps his game has - and compared to where he was four years ago, when he was being considered for the Salt Lake City team, he's a regular Rod Langway - can be helped by paring him with someone like a Foote or Regehr.

Dan Boyle

This last d-man spot could go to a handful of people (Ed Jovanovski, Scott Hannan, Eric Brewer, Chris Phillips) and you wouldn't be in a bad position, but I've grown to be quite the Dan Boyle fan. Though he's on the smallish (for a defenceman) side, what he brings to the table makes up for it. He's very similar to Niedermayer in that he can put a lot of points up, is underrated defensively, can skate like the wind, and has good passing skills. He's not as spectacular as Niedermayer, but their games are very comparable. Because of that, he'd be my alternative, but I'd feel confident that he can step in.

FORWARDS:

Mario Lemieux

A no-brainer to say the least, right? Well, sort of. At 39, and having not played in 18 months, it wouldn't be unfair to suggest that perhaps the combination of rust and age will overwhelm "Super Mario". Having said that, it's a risk worth taking. The leadership and experience he brings to the team is enough reason to bring 66. Oh, and the fact that when he's healthy, Mario's often the best hockey player in the world.

Joe Sakic

The same reasons to not bring Mario can be applied to Sakic. He's getting older, and eventually, the game will pass him by. You don't want it to be the year you depend on him to be a big contributor. Eventually, that day will come. I'd prepare for it by using his less than they have in the past, but he still has to be there in some form. His chemistry with Mario in both Salt Lake and at the World Cup was strong, so I'd think they'll pair them together again. Likely with...

Jarome Iginla

Expect Iggy to carry much of the load. Salt Lake was his coming out party of sorts, as the whole hockey world finally saw what a great player he is. He only solidified it with his play during the '04 playoffs. He can score, hit, has a strong defensive game, and is a leader. What else needs to be said?

Joe Thornton

In the World Cup, he played on the "fourth line" and served mostly in a checking role, and did it with a smile. For a guy who Boston fans often claim is selfish and not a team player, that was a welcome surprise. He tore it up in Europe last year, and (along with Rick Nash) was Canada's most dominant forward in the World Championships. I'd like to see Thornton be given a more prominent role this time around though. I expect him to have a huge year this NHL season, as the Bruins have built a strong team around him, so he should have a lot of momentum going into Torino.

Todd Bertuzzi

There's a lot of controversy surrounding this one, I know, but he's too good, too dominant to not be included. Bertuzzi has the ability to take over a game, both with his physical play as well as his offense, and that is the kind of player Team Canada can't have enough of. Assuming amends have been made with all the players, and he's able to control himself and not do dumb things on the ice (something he has a knack for), Bertuzzi's a given.

Rick Nash

Much of the reason for picking Nash is his chemistry with Thornton. The two ripped it up in Europe and at the Worlds, so it's only logical to go back to it for Turino. I'm still not convinced he's the phenom everyone else seems to think he is (his game is still very raw to me), but I'd be willing to take him along and put him to the test against the world's best. That said, if he's struggling by December or January, I wouldn't be too upset if they decide not to, instead going with a safer pick.

Dany Heatley

Assuming his contract situation gets resolved in Atlanta (how can he AND Kovalchuk both still be unsigned?!?), Heatley deserves this spot. Easily one of the more explosive players in the game, there isn't a chink in the armor. He can skate, hit, score, pass, and his defensive game was much better the last time I saw him play than I remember it being previously. He played with Thornton in the World Cup, with some success, so I wouldn't think it's a bad idea to pair him with Nash and Jumbo Joe.

Steve Yzerman

I suspect this one will raise some eyebrows. Like Lemieux, the question of whether or not he's still able to play at an elite level is more than fair. But I bring him anyway. He's a proven leader, can elevate his game when it's time, and scores timely goals. He might not crack the top 12 forward spots, thus getting no ice time, but even as someone who's role is to strictly be inspiration, it makes sense, as Yzerman is among the most respected players in the game.

Brad Richards

Richards was fantastic in the World Cup, on both ends of the ice, and proved himself with his play in the playoffs last year. Though the buzz is usually around Lecavalier, and last season St. Louis, Richards has quietly, in my mind anyway, become the best player on the team.

Keith Primeau

Should've been there for the World Cup, I thought. His play down the stretch in the playoffs was superb. He's managed to make the transition from an expected superstar to a terrific defensive forward who can score as well as anyone I can ever remember. His nasty side would come in handy on a team who's forwards lack it somewhat. It seems like Primeau would welcome being included, and be more than happy to play the role of the third or fourth line checking forward, which might not be the case if you put someone there who's used to a whole lot more ice time in a completely different role. I expect him to play terrific if given the chance to be on the team.

Kris Draper

We've seen what he can do in big games after all those years in Detroit, but during the last NHL season, he emerged as a bonafied goal scorer, on pace for 30 before his injury. Even still, many saw him as the team's MVP. And on that team, full of Hall Of Famers, that's quite the compliment. Like Richards, he stepped up huge in the World Cup, and like Primeau, has no issue with taking a diminished but still important role. Not at all a prima donna, and in fact, probably the epitome of a team player. His penalty killing abilities, as well as his face off skills, make Draper a lock in my book.

Patrick Marleau

At this point, it sort of becomes a pick'em. Like with those last couple defenceman spots, there are no wrong picks, as you know that whoever does go will do well if given the shot. It just comes down, I assume, to what feels right. I've been a big Marleau fan for years, and seen his game mature and evolve into a complete player. Not only can he score, but he's a crunch time player. During the Sharks last two playoff years, he's amassed 24 points in 29 games, and been their best all around player on both occasions. Call it a personal preference pick if you must.

Shane Doan

I suspect he'll be there regardless, because of the Gretzky connection, but it's not because he also doesn't deserve to be. Like with Marleau, he's someone who's game has finally developed to the level everyone expected when the Jets drafted him in the first round 10 years ago. Often the lone bright spot on a team lacking them, Doan has become one of the league's best captains, and if there is any doubt who the heart and soul of the Coyotes is, that person hasn't been paying attention. He can score if necessary, but as we saw with the World Cup, can also play a checking role if asked. Very versatile and reliable.

Now, let me play Pat Quinn for a moment:

Rick Nash - Joe Thornton - Dany Heatley
Mario Lemieux - Joe Sakic - Jarome Iginla
Brad Richards - Keith Primeau - Todd Bertuzzi
Steve Yzerman - Kris Draper - Shane Doan

Niedermayer - Blake
Foote - Redden
Pronger - Regehr
Not too bad.

I'm sure someone somewhere is outraged at this list, angered that a certain player was omitted. I hope so. It's far from perfect, and you could easily make a case for a handful of people I didn't include. That, I guess, is what's great about Canadian hockey. So much talent, so few roster spots. Not a bad predicament to be in for the suits and ties of this team.

The truth is, while I await the NHL season eagerly, I'm just as excited about the NHL going back into the Olympics. Save me the tired "professionals don't belong there!" spiel. I've heard it. Is it right? I don't know. What I do know is that I love seeing the best players in the world all involved in one tournament, playing for their countries so less. It never fails to excite me, and even when Canada comes up with the short end of the stick, I'm entertained regardless.

So who's your team?

12 Comments:

At 10:22 PM, Blogger reesandrew said...

Nash - thornton - Bertuzzi
kariya - Sakic - iginla
tanguay - lecavalier - heatley
Yzerman - lemieux - st louis

pronger - Blake
niedermeyer - jovanovski
foote - regeher

 
At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would watch Brodeur over the first couple months of the season before rushing to judgement. He was clearly outplayed by his Czech counterpart Vokoun at the Worlds, and was never really the Marty Brodeur of old at that tournament. This is a new landscape, and there will be some surprises in the first half of the NHL season.

 
At 9:47 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

Chris, "Someone with, perhaps, too much free time on his hands ... " after seeing this post, I'd have to agree with your assessment on your profile.

I still have misgivings about the message being sent to children, by having Todd Bertuzzi as part of a team representing Canada. I don't question his abilities on the ice but there are other players (e.g.: Simon Gagne, Brad Richards, Kris Draper, Alex Tanguay maybe even Sidney Crosby) available without the negative history attached.

Also, when will Hockey Canada step-in and limit the number of 35+ year-olds on the team? Yes, Lemieux, Yzerman and Sakic are great players and leaders. But when is it time to make room for the younger leaders? "Experienced" can quickly become "old" on the larger ice surfaces in Europe.

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger CMcMurtry said...

I still have misgivings about the message being sent to children, by having Todd Bertuzzi as part of a team representing Canada.

That's fair, but at what point do you say what's happened in the past is in the past and it's time to move on? Is Bertuzzi going to be punished for the rest of his life for it?

Also, when will Hockey Canada step-in and limit the number of 35+ year-olds on the team? Yes, Lemieux, Yzerman and Sakic are great players and leaders. But when is it time to make room for the younger leaders? "Experienced" can quickly become "old" on the larger ice surfaces in Europe.

I think the majority of the team will be younger players. I think you bring the Marios and the Sakics along but don't make them the centerpieces of the team the way they were in '02. If they're showing signs of significant rust and/or age in their NHL play, then I'm sure the execs will act appropriately.

 
At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Subtract Heatley. He was horrible the last 2 tournaments and needs a huge first half to be on that team.

Subtract Primeau. He is overrated. Yes, he owned that Leafs series 2 years ago, but that's it.

Subtract Foote. I think he will be less effective.

Add Jovocop. Yes, he has huge brain cramps, and was terrible at the World Championships, but his skills are undeniable. If he falters in the first half, then leave Foote in.

Add St. Louis. How do you not? Can you imagine him on big ice? He was the MVP last year!

Add Lecavalier. Although I'm not his biggest fan, he impressed last World Cup.

 
At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do people say Heatley had a bad last tournament. He got 7 pts in 9 games. Was tied for 11th in pts in the tournament...all this playing on the 2nd line behind Thornton,Nash....

I think Lecavalier and St Louis will make the team

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger just'cuz said...

That's fair, but at what point do you say what's happened in the past is in the past and it's time to move on? Is Bertuzzi going to be punished for the rest of his life for it?
At a minimum, I think a full season of playing time would help put the incident in the past. Team Canada won the World Cup of Hockey without Bertuzzi, I'm sure they can manage without him at the 2006 Olympics. He can be on the team in the next World Cup or the 2010 Olympics, but the Olympics this winter is too soon.

 
At 4:50 PM, Anonymous "Ted" said...

Allow me to be as absurd as the people who still want to get a hammer and nails for Bertuzzi 17 months later: What kind message does it send to have Heatley on the team? Sure, it was an accident, but someone DIED. Everyone seems to have forgotten that. Heatley was even more reckless and irresponsible, but everyone seems to have forgotten that in the wake of the absurd amount of press the Bertuzzi incident got. Let's have some perspective and put it all behind us.

Anyway, my team sees:

Boyle out (do you really need both him and Redden?) and Hannan, who by all accounts is a ridiculously miserable guy to match up with, in.

Yzerman out and St. Louis in. Bottom line: This team does not need another 35+ guy, and Stevie's got to be the one with the least left in the tank. St. Louis is really well rounded. I could see him on Draper's line. They don't even need him to score. He can check and kill penalties (where he's eclipsed Rolston as the biggest threat to score short handed.)

Heatley out and Lecavalier in. Not for the reasons I stated above. Vincent, while being overrated all the sudden, is just plain better at both ends. It's close in terms of offense, but Heatley also has the eye issue. And he wasn't even born in the country!

Marleau out and Gagne in. Had to swap another centre for a winger, so I'm going with Wayne's boy.

I REALLY hope they don't do something stupid like name Ryan Smyth to the team. The team is too deep now to have a small pond guy like him make it over young talent because he has experience.

 
At 8:44 AM, Blogger just'cuz said...

You don't see the difference between an accident and an intent to injure?

An attack from behind can only have one intent...that's to hurt someone.

 
At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Cranky Leafs Fan said...

Bertuzzi is more liability than potential help. He is one player that can rival Jovo for coming up with the stupid play at the perfect time to blow the game. Add in that the Olympics are on the big ice with Swedish and other Euro refs and Bertuzzi does not make it.

Put in St. Louis, Tanguay, Gagne (even if they are out of position) or Ryan Smyth (who had comparable stats to Bertuzzi on a not so good team). The better skills and lack of stupid penalties will be a huge plus for the team.

As for his suspension, come on. Saying it was 17 months is completely misleading since he really only missed 20 games. this is less than McSorley got for Brashear, who missed three games; and Hunter got for Turgeon, who missed three or four games. Steve Moore is probably done.

Heatley's incident was an accident that involved no booze or drugs, just a couple of young guys in too much car. and for that matter, nothing to do with playing hockey. As for driving, he can't do that for three years, except for going to work in a court-approved, speed-governed car.

I guess if we applied the same standard to Bertuzzi, he should not be allowed to skate up from behind someone away from the play.

 
At 2:33 PM, Anonymous "Ted" said...

I see a difference between punching someone from behind and driving extremely recklessly. What happened in both cases was the worst case scenario. I don't have to tell you which one I'd rather be on the recieving end of.

Not to pick on Heater, but to call it an "accident" is misleading. The only reason he's not being sued for all he'll ever be worth is because the Snyder family have been saints through it all. I do not know of too many people who would be that forgiving. He may not have intended to hurt anyone, but when you're that reckless, intent doesn't matter.

 
At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

S-P-E-Z-Z-A!

 

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