Chin up boys, you three are the Canucks’ best best at having a player crack Team Canada’s 2014 Olympic roster.
In 365 days, or precisely a year from now, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi will begin. Presumably the gold medal game will take place on the final day of the games, on February 23rd.
For Canadian hockey fans, that’ll mean giving the old PVR a workout and or, staying up until 4 AM to watch top-flight hockey (totally worth it). It also means that we’ll be endlessly arguing over who should make it onto Team Canada’s roster for the next ten months. To kick that discussion off, let’s take a Canucks-centric look at which of Vancouver’s skaters have an outside shot at possibly cracking the roster and representing Canada in Sochi. Read on past the jump.
Largely I’m having this discussion thanks to Greg Brady of the Fan 590, who tweeted this today while discussing this topic on his morning radio show with Jim Laing:
We’re about to pick our projected Canadian roster for Sochi 2014 on-air. Over/under on undeserving Canucks players is 1.5. Be warned.
— Greg Brady (@bradyfan590) February 7, 2013
Personally I’m going to bet the under. And also this:
The national pride will swell for me seeing Kevin Bieksa & Alex Burrows given their gold medals in Sochi. It may not be the only thing.
— Greg Brady (@bradyfan590) February 7, 2013
Though frankly I don’ think Kevin Bieksa has as good a shot at cracking Team Canada’s roster as his most regular blue-line partner Dan Hamhuis does. Here’s my reasoning: Team Canada is particularly loaded with super-elite defenseman who have right-handed shots or who primarily play the right side.
Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa
Canada’s top-four on the right side is basically set in stone because you can’t possibly do better than Shea Weber and Drew Doughty (the idea of Doughty’s wheels on international ice, by the way, gives me a hockey-rection). Behind those two, on my hypothetical Team Canada Olympic depth chart, are guys like Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, Kris Letang and PK Subban, all of whom would be deserving Olympians. There are also veterans like Dan Boyle and Brian Campbell, whose games are particularly well suited to the international ice-surface, and should certainly be considered so long as their form keeps up for the next year.
In short, Team Canada has at least seven right-side defenseman – and maybe nine if you want to throw Dion Phaneuf and Dan Girardi into the mix – who would probably make the Olympic team before Bieksa. That’s steep competition, and I’m not holding my breath on Bieksa having a realistic shot.
The left-side however, is comparatively wide open. Duncan Keith is really your only shoe-in (and again: a Duncan Keith-Drew Doughty pairing will absolutely crush it on international ice) and beyond that, there’s names like Jay Bouwmeester, and… I guess let’s throw Dion Phaneuf and Brian Campbell in here too, even though both players prefer to play their off-side. Once you get beyond those three, we’re getting into names like Michael Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Francois Beauchemin and Eric Brewer – guys who Dan Hamhuis is probably superior too.
Look I’m not saying Dan Hamhuis is going to make the team, in fact, I don’t think he will. But among Canucks defenseman he’s got the best chance. He’s playing first unit power-play minutes this season too, so he’s got a prime opportunity to inflate those counting stats a bit, and at least play himself onto the radar. Hamhuis is a steady hybrid shutdown guy, he’s an excellent defender in his own end but he has the wheels and the hands to turn play around quickly. Let’s just say that Canada could do a lot worse.
Ultimately I don’t think I’m taking Dan Hamhuis if I’m picking a team from today’s vantage point. I think I’d roll with Doughty and Keith, Bouwmeester and Weber, Campbell and Pietrangelo, and I’d probably bring Brent Seabrook as my seventh guy.
But come to think of it, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis’ best shot at making the team might be as a package. In 2010, Steve Yzerman drew a handful of players who were "familiar" with each other at the NHL level to try and mitigate the "learning curve" he team would have to go through over the course of a very short tournament. For example, 66% of Babcock’s fourth line consisted of Anaheim’s top-line (Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Brendan Morrow) while Canada’s top power-play unit basically drew 80% of its players from San Jose’s power-play unit (Boyle, Thornton, Heatley, Marleau).
Outside of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa are probably the NHL’s second best "all-Canadian" defensive pairing (Subban and Gorges would be the other strong contenders). I’m not saying that it will, but that familiarity could work in Bieksa and Hamhuis’ favour.
Regardless, Canada’s blue-line will be a major strength of the team – along with their forward depth and Roberto Luongo – going into the 2014 Olympic tournament.
Alex Burrows has scored more even-strength goals than any Canadian forward not named Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Steven Stamkos and Corey Perry over the past four seasons. He’s also a top penalty-killer, a proven playoff performer, and the type of gritty, garbage goal expert whom you’d love to have in a tense, one game elimination contest.
At the same time, he’s Alex Burrows, and making Team Canada – even as a fourth liner – means beating out the likes of Mike Richards, Jordan Staal, Jamie Benn and Taylor Hall. So… Good luck!
It’s a steep hill to climb, but I still think that Alex Burrows has an outside shot of making the team in the Rob Zamnuer honorary defensive player role most recently occupied by Brendan Morrow. He participated at the most recent World Championship and performed pretty well, though he suffered a concussion which cut his participation in the tournament short. He also shoots about 50% in the shootout, so that’s another feather in his cap.
I’d love to see Alex Burrows make the team just for the Schadenfreud of watching other Canadian fans react to being forced to root for him. Where are your biting jokes now, huh punks? Realistically, I’d put his chances at about one in five, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility, especially if Burrows puts together another strong season and distinguishes himself – as he did in 2010-11 – in a Canucks playoff run this summer.
The thing about Roberto Luongo, is that he’s a shoe-in to be one of team Canada’s three goaltenders, but he’s almost certainly not going to be a Canucks player by February of 2014.
But whatever, the Olympics will give Canucks fans an opportunity to root for Luongo again soon after he’s moved to another club, and that’s pretty neat. Another thing about Roberto Luongo is that it’s very clear that he should be the starter for Team Canada, and I don’t think the competition is all that close.
Here’s the top-Canadian goalies in terms of even-strength save percentage from 2007-08 to 2011-12 (so stats don’t include this seasons performance thus far):
|Goaltender 2007-12||EV SV%||EV Shots Against|
By the numbers, there’s a clear choice for "the nation’s best goaltender" and it’s the guy in Vancouver who is on the tradeblock. Luckily for Canadians who like to watch their National Team win gold medas, Mike Babcock and Steve Yzerman don’t buy into the "choker" bull-shit that far too many in the hockey media like to pedal when it comes to Luongo.
So there you have it, the only Canucks player who is likely to make Team Canada’s Olympic roster will probably be moved before the 2014 Olympic games open. Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Bieksa and Alex Burrows are long-shots, sure, but it’s likely that none of them will make the team. So yeah, the Canucks who will probably end up at the Sochi Olympics will be representing other nations like Sweden (Edler, the Sedins), the United States (Kesler, maybe Booth, but probably not) and Denmark should they qualify (Nicklas Jensen, Jannik Hansen) and that’s totally fine. Though I know what you’re thinking: maybe the Canucks would have a representative on the Canadian Olympic team if they drafted moar Vancouver Giants, huh?
Edit: Incorrectly referred to as Kris Letang as a left-side defenseman and changed up the piece to reflect that.