Faceoff: Sochi preview
>There's some speculation that rosters could grow to 25 players for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, up from 23 in Vancouver. This is far from set in stone and may end up staying at 23. But for now, let's pretend the roster grows to 25 and base our selections on that.
Burnside: Here's where things get mighty painful for the Team Canada management team of Steve Yzerman, et al. Let's start with just the centers: Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares, Joe Thornton, Brad Richards and Patrice Bergeron. You could send 12 Canadian centers to a tournament like this and still come home with a gold medal. In the past, Yzerman and other Canadian team builders have moved centers to the wing, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him doing so again. But if you do that, it takes away a spot from a group of wingers that includes Patrick Marleau, Jordan Eberle, Martin St. Louis, Corey Perry, Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla. When Canada's final roster is announced, another roster's worth of stars could make a case for themselves as Olympians. Bergeron and Eric Staal were surprise additions to the 2010 roster, and we'd have them back anytime. St. Louis wasn't on the 2010 squad but given his chemistry with Stamkos, we're bringing both Lightning forwards. Brenden Morrow, Mike Richards and Iginla were all part of the gold medal effort in Vancouver and guys such as Patrick Sharp and Jamie Benn are knocking on the door, but if you're looking for a little sand plus a guy with built-in chemistry with Giroux, why not Scott Hartnell, who had a career-high 37 goals last season, 16 with the man advantage?
Martin St. Louis
LeBrun: Holy mackerel, Canada is so deep at forward it makes your head hurt when you try to figure out who to put on. The guys I left off are almost just as imposing a group as the guys I chose. I really wanted to include Martin St. Louis because he remains an incredible force, is off to a great start this season and his work ethic and leadership are second to none. But he'll be 38 come Sochi and I'd want to see where his game is at next fall before I make that call. It's also really tough to leave off Ryan Getzlaf and Joe Thornton, big star centers -- needing speed on the big ice in Sochi was part of the consideration but I'd be willing to change my mind in a hurry on them depending on this season and the first half next season. Getzlaf is coming off a disappointing season and his stock has fallen a bit with Team Canada. He needs to have a big season. Honestly, you could make a solid argument for every single player I left off. As for the guys I put on, aside from the obvious names, I'm a huge Jamie Benn fan, so that pick might surprise some people but to me he's a franchise player in the making and Sochi could be his coming-out party. Logan Couture is on my team, which might surprise some people but his 200-foot game is unreal and he can skate. Good fit for Sochi.
Burnside: Look for significant turnover along the Canadian blue line as emerging stars Kris Letang, Alex Pietrangelo, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto will try to shoulder their way onto the Canadian lineup. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are locks, given their continued chemistry as one of the best defensive tandems in the league, as are Nashville captain Shea Weber and Drew Doughty of the Kings. But on the big ice surface in Sochi, it will be hard to ignore Brian Campbell, although if Campbell makes the squad it might be at the expense of a veteran like former Olympian Dan Boyle. And what of a solid defensive presence such as Dan Girardi or Dan Hamhuis, or a star in the making such as Justin Schultz, Dougie Hamilton or the polarizing P.K. Subban? While there is plenty of skill at GM Steve Yzerman's disposal, it will be important to balance those free-wheelers with some solid, stay-at-home types.Duncan Keith
Michael Del Zotto
LeBrun: To me, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith are locked and loaded as the top four for Sochi. Then it gets real interesting. With Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger out of the picture, it's opened up the picture a bit. I'm a huge Dan Boyle guy, his skating ability and vision on the big ice in Sochi would be key, but he'll be 37 come the Olympics. Like Martin St. Louis, I want to see how he's holding up next season before it's decision time. Subban has time to bring his game to the next level over the next 12 months and force his way in. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is probably a surprise to some but he's an incredibly underrated blue-liner, a guy you can trust with the game on the line. He's on my Team Canada.
Burnside: Oh, the embarrassment of riches that face executive director Steve Yzerman, except, well, in goal. Go figure. But this looks early on to be a potential Achilles heel for the defending gold medalists. Martin Brodeur at almost 42 isn't likely to factor in. Roberto Luongo won the gold in Vancouver but there remain myriad questions, fair or not, about his mental toughness. Right now the best Canadian netminder might be Corey Crawford. Can you imagine that? If Crawford can guide the Blackhawks on a long playoff run in the spring, the potential for his inclusion goes up exponentially. Carey Price will almost certainly be in the mix but what of former Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury, who was the third goalie in Vancouver and was the best goalie on the planet between the 2008 and 2009 playoffs? Or what of Mike Smith, who was so good a year ago in leading the Phoenix Coyotes to the Western Conference finals? Lots of questions.
LeBrun: Canada isn't nearly as deep in goal as it used to be. Price was the only no-brainer for me. Debated long and hard between Marc-Andre Fleury, Mike Smith and Roberto Luongo for the last two spots. Luongo's great start this season can't be ignored, nor can his international experience including being the Olympic gold medal winning netminder of 2010. Projecting his game to continue to grow, I think Price starts the opening game in Sochi. Fleury would have been a no-brainer a season ago at this time. But his playoffs last spring scared me. Sure, he was tired and that's why Tomas Vokoun was brought in to alleviate his work load in Pittsburgh, but I need to see playoff bounceback from Fleury before I put him back in. Smith was the best goalie of this bunch last season with an incredible season in Phoenix. But he needs to prove that wasn't a one-off season. Cam Ward has struggled over the past year and I need to see more consistency from him, although as he showed this week in wins at Toronto and Ottawa, he remains an excellent netminder who could work his way into this mix.
Burnside: Hard to argue with success, although the last time Canada was in this position, coming off gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City and headed to Europe for the Olympic tournament, the team returned the same coaching/management staff and fell flat in Torino, coming home empty-handed. That said, we'll still give Mike Babcock the head-coaching job and return Ken Hitchcock to an assistant's role but add in Dave Tippett and Claude Julien to round out an all-star coaching cast. The bottom line is there are probably 10 coaches you could select and you'd hardly get an argument, including the defending Cup-winning coach from Los Angeles, Darryl Sutter; Cup runner-up Pete DeBoer; Paul MacLean, who has a long history with Babcock in Detroit; Barry Trotz and Guy Boucher.
Head coach: Mike Babcock
LeBrun: Basically, Canada will see fit to bring back the same group that won gold minus Jacques Lemaire, who retired. So I inserted Claude Julien -- whose tremendous work in Boston should warrant it -- for Lemaire. Mike Babcock isn't 100 percent assured yet of returning as head coach but I don't see how you don't give the reigning Olympic gold medal coach the chance to defend that title. Team Canada gave Pat Quinn that chance in 2006 after winning in 2002. Ken Hitchcock's international résumé plus his great work in St. Louis makes him a lock to return as an assistant. I'd really like to see former Olympic player Dave Tippett get a nod as well, if for some reason there's an opening.
Head coach: Mike Babcock
On The Radar
Even though we expanded our projected rosters to 25 players, not every player made the cut. Here is a list of guys we will be watching over the next year to see if they can break into the group headed to Sochi for Canada:
Martin St. Louis
Looking To Sochi
Assuming that the NHL and its players are able to resolve outstanding issues with the International Olympic Committee and agree to take part in the 2014 Sochi Games, it will be just one part of an evolving international landscape for the league. Scott Burnside »