In the midst of the NFL playoff frenzy, I have been a bit slack in my hockey coverage as of late. Have no fear, with the 2014 Winter Olympics just around the corner, puck season is officially in full effect.
February 8th, the world's best hockey nations will begin competing in Sochi, Russia for International Hockey's biggest prize; an Olympic gold medal. It seems like only yesterday I watched Jarome Iginla find Sidney Crosby open in front of the net to cap Canada's thrilling overtime win over the United States in the 2010 Games.
|Photo by: Jamie Squire|
Goaltending has been a point of concern for fans in the Great White North for many years now, and this year is no different. With Carey Price's recent struggles, Team Canada is forced to hope that Roberto Luongo has some Olympic magic left in the tank. Otherwise, the load falls on Coyote netminder Mike Smith.
Not that any of the three are bad goalies by any stretch, but the Canadian teams of yesteryear, with superstar goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, are now a thing of the not-so-distant past. In fact, many might argue that there are several other countries with an advantage over what Canada now has to offer. Jonas Hiller (Switzerland), Tuukka Rask (Finland), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Sergei Bobrovsky (Russia), Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden), and Ryan Miller (USA) are all names that might come up as preferred options to what the world's foremost hockey nation currently has between the pipes.
Nonetheless, every country still has to pick somebody, and the three guys they've chosen are certainly the most viable options. Regardless of who is in net, Team Canada has arguably the most talented roster top-to-bottom, and will definitely be on everybody's radar, as usual.
Which brings me to the point of this article. Team Canada boasts a roster with the top 3 point-getter's thus far in the NHL this season. The problem is, Canada has a ton of goal-scoring prodigies, but the squad is lacking in the true playmaker department.
Throughout the past three seasons, five Canadian-born players find themselves in the top 10 for goals league-wide. Of those five, four of them are on this year's roster. Canada also has five players in the NHL's top 10 for assists during that same time frame. However, only two of those individuals will be making the trip to Sochi.
In fact, the top 3 on the list were players snubbed by the Canadian Olympic Committee.
At 34-years-old, Joe Thornton still manages to make plays. The talented San Jose forward leads the league in assists this year (48 - tied with Sidney Crosby) and has more assists than any player in the entire NHL over the past three seasons. Thornton was a member of the last two Canadian Olympic Teams, yet was overlooked when selecting this year's club. There is no doubt that the Canadian squad needs to put younger talent on display and that Thornton's lack of speed could be a liability on the large surface. Having said that, Team Canada already has a plethora of youth. "Jumbo Joe" would be one of the team's oldest players, but what he would bring to the ice in the form of leadership could potentially be invaluable.
Philadelphia Flyer center and captain, Claude Giroux, is probably the most shocking of the players left off of the Canadian roster. At only 26 years of age, the "C" on his jersey is indicative of what kind of character and skill Giroux possesses. Over the past three seasons, Giroux is first in the NHL among Canadian players in total points (second overall) and second in the league in assists in the same stretch. The only knock on the young phenom from Ontario is his slow start to this season (zero goals in his first 15 games), but he has long since turned that around, and is in fact one of the hottest players in the NHL right now. The choice to look past what Giroux brings to his team and what he could bring to Team Canada will certainly be noticed.
Martin St. Louis plays on one of the best lines in hockey today, alongside fellow Canadian Steven Stamkos. The chemistry between the two has led to both men in the top 10 in the NHL in points over the last three seasons. While St. Louis is no spring chicken at 38, the opportunity to see him and Stamkos on the same line this winter is something that should have been considered. In that three year span, St. Louis has the fifth-most assists in the entire NHL, a big part of what gave Stamkos the No. 2 spot on the goals list during that period. Now for the drama. Steve Yzerman is the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis' team. He also happens to be the GM of Team Canada. This is the second-consecutive Olympic bid in which he has left the talented right-winger off of the roster. Will this bring bad blood to Tampa Bay?
Milan Lucic, Logan Couture and Tyler Seguin are just a few of the others who many feel should have gotten the nod. Alas, somebody will always get left out.
In a nation where every hockey move is speculated about for months on end, I don't envy Mr. Yzerman and the decisions he has to make. Not one bit. But from my view up here on this self-righteous perch, I will still cast my judgement. A great team needs playmakers, and too many of those were left off the roster this year.
I'm not comfortable, nor am I at liberty to say who should be sent home in their favor. It's not my place to pick apart the players whom others probably feel are just as deserving. The simple fact is this; some of the very best the nation has to offer were left home, and some of its mediocre talent is going to Sochi.
It's a damn shame.
All I can hope is for my criticism and negativity to be for naught. I will gladly be wrong, but I don't think I will be. The level of competition in International Hockey is better than ever, and I believe Team Canada will come up short of their ultimate goal; a ninth gold medal.
Whatever happens, it's the best time there is for hockey fans. Enjoy the action.