Will Any Canucks Make the Canadian Olympic Team for Sochi 2014?

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:

Personally I’m going to bet the under. And also this:

Love it.

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.

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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).

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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

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.

Roberto Luongo

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
Roberto Luongo .928 6883
Carey Price .924 6379
Cam Ward .923 7721
Mike Smith .921 4738
Martin Brodeur .921 6269
Marc-Andre Fleury .921 6453

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.

  • Hamhuis: I agree, he is on the bubble. He should be invited to the selection camp, and if he is having a good season and/or he and Weber pick up where they left off in Nashville, that could be a deciding factor.

    Plus if Hamhuis makes it, we’d have potentially more than half the D corps coming from BC, which is something for the BC fans.(Weber and Keith are locks, Seabrook should be in the mix too.)

    Bieksa and Burrows are long shots, although if you take history (’72) into account…

    A hyped Canadian team, going into Russia in what should be the gold medal game? I think the rest of Canucks-hating Canada can agree that if we need someone to play the 2012 version of Bobby Clarke, Burrows or Bieksa would do anything (or break any ankle) to ensure a Gold Medal…

    In all seriousness, I’d take Burrows over any of the Sharks forwards (or Heatley, since I still lump him in with them). Yeah, they are piling it on in the regular season. But show me an intl tournement or playoff series where they actually played liked they gave a damm every shift.

    Everyone remember how half-assed those guys played in 2010? Contrast that to Burrows, who’ll do anything to win.

  • I’m wondering what the chances of the entire American Express line making it onto team USA are. Kesler is obviously in, Higgins probably deserves to be and my guess is Booth has to prove himself when he comes back this year.

    Also given that Lidstrom has retired and Alfredsson is likely to, what are the chances for Hank to get the C on team Sweden? Assuming Forsberg doesn’t come back, it has to be either him or Zetterberg.

  • “Over/under on undeserving Canucks players is 1.5.”

    What an obnoxious thing to say. First off, this is a Toronto radio station — why are they going off on the Canucks? Secondly, since when does the Canadian national team have any history to speak of toward favoring Vancouver players? Since the pros started going to the Olympics, I don’t ever remember more than one Canuck on a Canadian team. Oh wait, that one year with Bertuzzi and Jovanovski. That’s it.

    If anything, I thought Burrows merited some consideration at least in 2010.

  • Re: Burrows

    The two main knocks against Burrows seem to be his rep as a punk, and his rep as a beneficiary of the Sedins. The numbers certainly support him being invited to camp at least.

    As for the rep as a punk who does things like pull hair, groin punch, bite, etc… who cares. Anyone doubt that guys who like to fishhook (and therefore put themselves in the position to be bitten or have their rock star locks pulled) like Bergeron or Keith aren’t going to be locks for 2014?

    Any cheapshots Burrows might pull are a non-factor as well. You can go down the list of potential team Canada members and everyone has been suspended or at least come pretty damm close. Hell, one of our best Dmen in 2002 and 2010 was Chris Pronger, and everyone knows he was an Lady Byng winner, right?

    We want a team that will win, right? So why not look for guys who’ll do anything to win? (BTW, as much as I hate him for his tenure in Vancouver, the leadership trophy is named after Messier for a reason)

    The other part of Burrows’ reputation, that he is a no talent ECHL’er just tapping in wonderous Sedin passes is a non factor IMHO. Yeah, he plays with two of the best playmakers in the NHL. So what, if he makes Team Canada, is he going to be playing with a pair of scrubs on the 4th line?

    He knows how to play with more talented guys, and go to the dirty parts of the ice and win them the puck, and then finish off the play.

  • Lu is pretty much a shoe-in to make the Olympics team next year. Canada needs a experienced goalie who has played in big-time games before. It’s vital. The only problem with Lu is that his mobility might be a bit of liability on the big ice service against teams who can move the puck like Russia and Sweden.