"And now let me introduce you to the hardest working man in show business ....."
I believe one of the toughest jobs in sports is being GM of the Canadian Men's Olympic Hockey Team. Ya just know that every four years, in making your selections to represent the country at the ice hockey tournament, you're gonna make someone want to piss in your Cheerios.
Maybe it's my age but it seems this year is maybe one of the toughest ever. We won Gold in Vancouver in 2010. How much of that team do you want to change?
Well, that was then and this is now. And, some guys who wore our colours in 2010 are hard-pressed today to even wear their NHL home team sweaters. Some, unfortunately due to injuries and concussions maybe can't even tell you which sweater is which any more.
Gone but not forgotten from the Golden team of 2010: Marty Brodeur, Scott Neidermeyer, Chris Pronger, Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, and Brenden Morrow.
Some of the other 2010 alumni may or not make this year's team. Many are 'on the bubble' as they say, on many pundits list, for various reasons, the major one perhaps being that the Games this year will take place in Russia, on European-sized - read "much bigger" - ice surface. If ya can't get it from Zero to 60 in less than 10 seconds, chances are you may as well take your buggy to the dumpster. Age enters into that equation, for some.
In any case, here are my selections - chosen Monday, January 6th, 2014, or the 'Night Before Second Christmas' for Canadian hockey lovers.
Thus chosen are in Bold. Those chosen with asterisks beside their names will be new to the team this year.
The general consensus among most pundits is that the top two choices will be Roberto Luongo - surely, Martin Brodeur has been pumping his tires - and Carey Price.
The third choice is where the debate starts. Most years, it matters less who is chosen as the number three guy. Barring injury, whomever is picked to go to Russia, their role will be to keep up team morale and help groom the team in practices and possibly make one pre-tournament game appearance.
This year things may be different. At the moment, Luongo is not 100%. More may be known later today. While he will likely still get the nod, the choice of the third man becomes a little more critical.
If I had my druthers, while mostly, but not completely, a sympathetic vote, that guy would be Josh Harding from Minnesota Wild. Normally the back-up in Wild Country he has been lights-out this year and basically took over the number one job. The difficulty is a lack of experience and, regrettably, he has taken more time off again to realign his medication for MS. The best I can do then is to put him down as a 'dark horse' pick.
Mike Smith played well at last year's Worlds and can take a team on his shoulders when the chips are down. Alas, while having a good year, he's behind both Marc Andre Fleury and Corey Crawford in Wins and Goals Against Average, holding a slight edge on the latter re Save Percentage.
In his favour is that both Fleury and Crawford play for better teams, much better teams. For me that may translate down to looking more closely at Save Percentage. On the other hand, both Fleury and Crawford have won Cups. Then again, those two can look extremely shaky at times and would you really want Fleury in goal in a winner-take-all contest against, say, the Rooskies?
Smith can be temperamental - if there was a Stat for number of goalie sticks cracked open against the glass or cross-bars, he'd own it.
The bottom-line, for all picks, is who is least likely to panic and fuck-up in key moments? Eliminate Fleury.
Crawford just returned from injury and has played one game. Risky. We've already got Louie in sick-bay. Ergo: Clobber selects...
A few factors to consider here.
Left-Right combos (Nobody gets on the wrong side of Mike Babcock! And the Olympics is no place to experiment switching someone to their off-wing side when it comes to Defence.)
Love and know thy neighbour
Speed in one player of each matching
Power Play potential
Penalty Killing prowess
Let's get this out of the way right off the hoop. I'm very nervous picking last year's Norris Trophy winner, P. K. Subban. He can be a game-breaker.... but in two different and opposite ways. He's a hot-head and can be a bit 'selfish' with the puck, trying to do too much to be the hero. In 2010, STK (Sidney Crosby for those who don't know the moniker "Sid The Kid"), right here in Vancouver, yelled "Iggy" and headed for the net. Jarome Iginla passed him the puck and the rest is Golden Goal history. Recreating a potential similar scenario in Sochi, STK yells "Soup" (or whatever). P.K. is just as likely to either not hear STK, or decide "piss on you, I'm going to be the hero this year" and fan on his shot on net.
He can chirp at anybody, sometimes even at his own players. You don't chirp at the Olympics or you'll be sitting in the penalty box. Ya can't knock his desire to win but at what cost?
Equally talented and young players in previous Games have been left off the squad. Steven Stamkos and even STK if memory serves correct. Left at the "How To Become More Mature" entry door, I will pass on Subban, although I'm sure he'll get chosen for limited duty, like on the Power Play.
In the speed category, sorry Leaf Nation but Dion 'the Pylon" is sitting at home, eating potato chips with P.K. He has trouble in the smaller NHL rinks some nights; he'd be crucified on the big ice surface. And we don't do 'abrasive' or 'truculence' at the Olympics.
In the 'love thy neighbour' category, it is imperative that the match-ups have some experience together. Duncan Keith is a shoe-in but some pundits have been leery on selecting his usual Chicago Blackhawk partner, Brent Seabrook who was on the team in 2010. I suspect it might have to do with foot speed. Seabrook may not be the fleetest guy on skates but we need experience - "resume counts" as head coach Mike Babcock opined - and Seabrook has won Gold as well as two Stanley Cup rings! C'mon Man! How can he not be on this team! Has everyone forgotten how he went to the penalty box to console a distraught Jonathan Toews in last year's play-offs? Leadership! Bam! Hawks went on to win the Cup.
Moving along... Shea Weber for all the reasons noted above. Matched with on the left side by....? Safety first.... and speed. Jay Bouwmeester is TSN's pick. I could go for that but why not Vancouver's Dan Hamhuis - who used to play with Weber in Nashville. Dan the Man is never going scare anybody with his scoring prowess but he's very dependable and can kill penalties. Let's fudge a bit. Lets' be a 'homer' for once! Let's have some connection to 2010 - someone from Vancouver!
Weber - *Boumeester or *Hamhuis
Drew Doughty is another shoe-in, with a real outside pick for his playing partner.... San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Doughty - *Vlasic
Back to the fudge. If the most prospective suspect is correct in Pietrangelo, then why wouldn't you pair him with a team mate at least - Boumeester? Other possibilities over-all seem to be Kris Letang, Mark Giordano, and, seemingly ageless, Dan Boyle.
Letang has been injured and when he's played has been less than has credentials would indicate. He'd be a real dark horse for me. Giordano. Excellent... for next time. But, would not be a surprise if they trend to youth and speed on the bigger ice surface. I think Boyle is risky. At 37, he may be a tad slower than his usual speedy offensive-minded past. I look at Vlasic as a younger version. While Danno is booked higher on the food chain in scoring, Marc-Edourad is not far behind. More telling, Boyle is a minus one; Valsic is a plus 12.
Ergo, unless I'm missing someone... the final pairing will be...
*Pietangelo-Boumeester or Hamhuis
If ya think picking the goalies and defence is a chore.. you ain't seen nothing yet brothers and sisters! The potential possibilities are absolutely mind-boggling!
David Poile, GM of the Yanks Team, after the bru-ha-ha over Bobby Ryan and others not being selected to play in Sochi, opined that the management team was not picking an all-star team and hence some very good players were not chosen.
Ditto. What He Say!
There are going to be a lot of Canadian 'All-Stars' left in the homeland.
You have to add the opposite factor here in picking forwards... left-wing, right-wing, centre. Yes, you'd better be able to play all three positions, or at least two-out-of-three of them, or get the chip dip ready by the TV.
No-Doubters out of the 14 Chosen Ones (Four lines plus two extras.)
Sid the Kid
They are all Centers. In theory then, that leaves one spot open for others who play that position. Candiadetes: John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Patrice Bergeron, Mike Richards, Eric Staal.... and (currently injured) Steven Stamkos.
Those noted in Italics were there (or here!) last time, as well as the three 'no-doubters' noted-above. Versatility baby. How are ya in the face-off circle? How are ya on the Power Play, the Penalty Kill.... how much do you drink?
Here's a list of other candidates that have been mentioned!
Corey Perry - Part of the dynamic duo in Duckland. Plays with Getzlaf (which seems to have escape the TSN dunces); was a risky choice in 2010 due to his temperamental style but has grown-up.
Patrick Sharp - having a glorious year; seems determine to make this team; defensive play has been suspect in the past but is improving; big heart, fast legs.
Claude Giroux - slow start to the year but was recovering from off-season injury. Has been on fire the last few weeks. Good two-way player. Can play in any situations. Wears the "C' for a reason.
Eric Staal - On the bubble; once a 'no-brainer' he seems to have slipped the last few years. Was good but not outstanding in 2010. Reliable. Won't make the big boo-boo.... and played wing last time. Can play in any situation. Experience may win the day. Alas, he is currently out with a lower body injury. We can only pick so many guys who are hurt!
Rick Nash - Has always been one of Canada's top players at these international competitions. Speed, game-breaking skill, but hasn't exactly been lighting it up in the Big Smoke. If 'resume' wins the day, he's in. If recent record wins the day... might be thee shocker left out.
Patrice Bergeron - He owns the face-off circle. Perfect role player. Won Cup in 2011 and Gold in 2010. Is here someone else to fill his place? The suspense is killing you I know.
Andrew Ladd - I added him because he's a good hard-working over-looked leader but too many ahead of him on the food chain. A real dark horse.
Tyler Seguin - Outstanding talent with speed and play-making abilities, especially with line-mate Jamie Benn. If "what have ya done for me lately' counts, he'll be considered. If 'resume' dictates, he won't. Soft in the play-offs when he was a Bruin and why he is now in Dallas. Was it lack of heart or too many nights on the town? Does it matter? Also..too many great Centers ahead of him. Next time.
Jamie Benn - Another young gun whose time may have arrived for the big top. Alas, my initial feeling was that he goes if Seguin goes, as a combo, otherwise James Neal gets his spot. Neither major Sports network even have Neal on their list as a potential selection. Benn's their guy. What don't I know?
James Neal - Called the "Real Deal", he could play with STK. Only reason he's not is cause he's been playing with Malkin.... and Chris Kunitz has been stellar on STK's left side. Good scoring threat on his own. What else do you need to know? Hmm.. was traded from Dallas a couple of years ago. Why? Only the shadow knows ... or Steve Yzerman.
Chris Kunitz - Plays currently with STK. That might be his only, but extremely significant, advantage. Twenty three goals; has legs, has heart. Never been close before and what happens if STK goes down? Is his success dependent on who he plays with? T'would be a good news story...but are Benn or Neal better choices? Will they ask STK for his opinion?
Mike Richards - On the team in 2012; another multi-dimensional player. Won a Cup in LA. Not fast on his skates but could be advantageous as a defensive presence. This isn't an all-star team, remember. Ya need a shut-down line. Can Ryan Getzlaf be that guy at Center on third-line?
Jeff Carter - Named as a Reserve Player in 2010 in case of injury. Skates really well; has a flair for the dramatic and is very responsible defensively. Plays with Mike Richards and has for some time. Another duo/combo hard to overlook. Will he be in if Richards is in? Out, if Richards is out? In this case, I think Jeff can stand on his own..but Yzerman might go for the duo with rings.
Matt Duchene - Young gun having a terrific year in Colorado. Bigger ice surface is an advantage for his selection. Would be new blood - always a good thing. Only disadvantage, with potential 'new blood' on the D, do you go with more experienced guys upfront? MAY lose out to Staal in that regard.
Logan Couture - Ditto here. Couture can play in more situations however and may get the jump on Matt. But will management select Patrick Marleau?
Joe Thornton - A lot of people love Jumbo Joe. I'm one of them. He is consistently among the top leaders in assists and can win face-offs till the cows come home... and just try getting the puck away from him anywhere on the ice. On the team in 2010. Can play wing but is a natural center-ice-man. Okay but not outstanding in Vancouver four years ago... and that might open the door for someone else.. and there are only so many doors. Perhaps his best chance is if either Couture and/or Marleau are selected.... but those two may be battling for a spot. All three? Maybe but just maybe.
Patrick Marleau - Here we go again! On 2010 team, with Jumbo Joe. Still can skate like the wind. If Yzerman et al are looking for consistency - why spoil a proven formula, pick Patty and Joey.
Steve Stamkos - Likely chosen regardless of his very serious but repairing injury. In fact he's might play a few games soon before the Olympics start.
Martin St. Louis - Left off the 2010 team much to many people's raised eye-brows. Four years later; four years older and he's better than ever. If you look up 'heart' in the dictionary you'll see his picture. Has to be there as either the 14th guy or at least on the injury reserve list - which at least would be a compliment.
Taylor Hall - Certainly has the wheels... and 16 goals, on a pathetic Oiler team. I would consider him a definite dark horse but more a 'next time' guy as well. If you're thinking way outside the box, one could picture him and Eberle... again, next time. They'll get some experience in the coming years at the World Championships.
Well gosh darn folks it's finally decision time! I need to add 10 players... here goes!
Slated for Right-Wing
Slated for Left Wing - Hardest position to pick! More Fudge!
*Jamie Benn or James Neal or Chris Kunitz - a real fudge. I'll defer to other pundits choice in Benn.
*Matt Duchene or Patrick Marleau - it will depend on other selections and if ya wanna go more youthful. I will lean towards Marleau given the new blood on all other left-wing positions.
Last Guys on the Bus
*Jeff Carter or Marty St. Louis. My heart says Marty but my head tells me Jeff Carter. Then again, both might make it at the expense of Rick Nash.
Patrice Bergeron or Joe Thornton. I suspect Bergeron will get it due to Boston GM being on the management team, and, well, that Cup n 2011....but Jumbo Joe would be my pick. He is just as versatile as PB and could slot in nicely with team mate Couture. Sorry Bruins fans but there are no other Bruins to match PB with - that'd be my argument at the table. Milan Lucic? Not on the big ice surface; he'd be awarded a gold medal for panting. Hey, what about Seguin, his ex-team mate? In a stretch.
As for relying on my predictions.. I must warn you that this past weekend in selecting and/or cheering for 2 Canadian World Juniors games, two Canucks games, and four NFL games, I went zero for eight. Nada. Nyet.