Image uncredited via HFboards.
On Friday an agreement between the IOC and the NHL was reached, which will allow professional men’s hockey players to compete in the 2014 Olympic games in Sochi. Shortly thereafter the Olympic schedule was released, followed promptly by the Canadian and American orientation camp rosters. On Tuesday the Swedes and Finns followed suit, and the North American nations named their respective coaching staffs.
So by this point we have a good feel for which Canucks players and coaches will be involved (or not) in the 2014 Olympic games. Beyond that there are a variety of players who may yet force their way onto their respective national team’s rosters and, of course, there are a couple of players (and coaches) whom we might describe as having been snubbed.
Let’s get into it further after the jump.
Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Vancouver’s cherished Swedish twins are absolute locks to suit up for the Tre Kronor in 2014. It was just a few months ago, after all, that the twins starred for the Swedish national team as they emerged victorious from the 2013 World Championship tournament – a tournament which the Swedes hosted. They also talked a fair bit of trash in that tournament.
Generally speaking the twins have never been as celebrated in Sweden as some of their countrymen (primarily Peter Forsberg and Henrik Zetterberg). I remember in 2010, for example, the twins were on the bench in favour of Zetterberg, Alfredsson, Forsberg and Backstrom as team Sweden pulled Henrik Lundqvist for an extra attacker, and unsuccessfully attempted to tie up their quarterfinal game against Slovakia.
The twins of course went onto win consecutive Art Ross trophies in 2010 and 11, so I’m just saying Sweden that maybe the Sedins should’ve been on the ice in that situation The Sedins were also rather preposterously matched up on a line with Matthias Weinhandl, which y’know, is inexcusably silly.
It’s safe to say that the former Art Ross winners will play a bigger role for the Tre Kronor in Sochi than they did in Vancouver, and will presumably combine with World Championship line-mate Loui Eriksson on Sweden’s top-line and first power-play unit. The twins won Olympic Gold in 2006 playing third-line minutes for the Tre Kronor, but I’d imagine this Swedish Olympic club will be "their’s" for the first time in their respective and illustrious careers.
The Swedes will be stacked in this tournament. They boast the best goaltender in the world in Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best (or second best at worst) blue-line, and a bevy of talented forwards. From the twins and Eriksson, to a possible checking line featuring Zetterberg and Gabriel Landeskog, to a first unit power-play that might feature Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Erik Karlsson, a couple of Sedins, and Loui Eriksson: the Tre Kronor will be a prohibitive favorite in 2014.
A second Olympic gold medal would further cement the twins as two of the most talented, accomplished and unique Swedish forwards of all-time.
Roberto Luongo, a hockey player who may as well personify the divide between perception and reality, is very probably a soft lock to make the 2014 Canadian Olympic team. I’m describing Luongo as a soft lock for now because it’s still possible that Luongo holds out (or something), or combusts in the first half of the season. For what it’s worth, I don’t think either scenario is particularly likely.
Any way you might reasonably cut it, Roberto Luongo is the best Canadian born starting goaltender in the National Hockey League. Luongo leads all Canadian goaltenders in even-strength save percentage over a large sample, or a small one (last three years, say). He’s also second to Braden Holtby among Canadian born goaltenders in total save percentage over the last three seasons, and his sample is more than twice as large.
But of course, Roberto Luongo is a controversial pick because hockey fans and media prefer to ignore Luongo’s body of work in favour of a cherry picking a handful of moments in which Luongo has suffered through a bout of the yips. Luckily for Roberto Luongo and Canadian hockey fans, Steve Yzerman is smarter than that.
There’s one other factor working in Roberto Luongo’s favour here, and that’s experience. It’s odd to describe Roberto Luongo this way, but his inclusion on this roster would make him something of an elder statesman on the 2014 Canadian Olympic entry. After all, no other Canadian goalie invited to camp has so much as a sniff of Olympic experience.
For Roberto Luongo meanwhile, the Sochi games would represent his third Olympic tournament. Luongo has played seven games at the Olympics in the past, racking up a 6-1-0 record (which is meaningless) and a .927 save percentage. Putting up an elite save percentage and getting no credit for it? Sounds like vintage Roberto Luongo!
For what it’s worth Steve Yzerman sounds like a man who values veteran leadership, as he told Chris Johnston:
“You can debate whether you want the young legs or you want the veteran experience,” Yzerman said. “Generally I’ve found over the course of my time — whether it’s Stanley Cup playoffs or international events — in these big games a lot of those veteran guys are the guys you rely on.
“When you look back to Vancouver, when it came time for the guys to step up, those (Chris) Prongers and Niedermayers really were important.”
With Niedermayer retired, Pronger functionally retired, and Iginla and Morrow left off of the orientation camp roster, the 2014 Canadian Olympic Men’s Hockey Team is likely to be relatively young. They won’t be an inexperienced group of course – only an idiot would describe Bergeron, Crosby and Toews that way despite their relative youth – but outside of Martin St. Louis and possibly Dan Boyle (who I’d think is a long shot to make the team), there isn’t much in the way of "elder statesman candidates."
This is partly why I think of Roberto Luongo as something of a shoe-in for the Canadian National Team. Beyond his consistent, stellar performance on the ice, Luongo brings a wealth of experience to the table. Luongo’s also got a sterling reputation for getting along with his backups, putting ego aside, and helping out his young understudies.
I tend to think that a guy like Price, Smith or Holtby could conceivably challenge Roberto Luongo for the starters mantle if they have an unbelievable start to the season. But I’d imagine that Roberto Luongo is the frontrunner for the starting position at this point, and thanks to his experience and track record, will at least be on the bench as the number two for team Canada.
In the Mix
For a variety of reasons, most of them related to embellishment and durability issues, Ryan Kesler’s stock has tumbled over the past couple of years.
It’s almost been enough to make us forget that Ryan Kesler was maybe one of the best players in the entire tournament during the 2010 games in Vancouver. He was so good, and so annoying, that an embarrassing number of Vancouver hockey fans wanted him traded before the end of the Olympic break…
Past accomplishments aside, Kesler may be in tough to make Team USA. The Americans don’t have the most centre depth in the world, but Kesler will still need to beat out one of Derek Stepan, David Backes, Paul Statsny or Joe Pavelski if he wants to be relied on heavily by the Americans in Sochi. That’s no small task, I might mention.
For Kesler, the key here will be his health. I don’t need to summarize the injuries he’s battled over the past two seasons here, but I might say that the hockey world hasn’t seen full speed Kesler since January of 2012. With an entire summer to work out and rest up, Ryan Kesler could be fit and ready to go in October for the first time in years. If he re-finds anything resembling his old form, he’s a lock to play top-six minutes for the Americans.
If, however, Ryan Kesler’s uninhibited physical style has taken a more serious toll on his abilities than we might be comfortable admitting, I could see him missing the team entirely.
Alex Edler’s omission from the 2010 Swedish Olympic team was a hilarious player selection gaffe, especially considering that Doug Murray was on that team. But if the Swedes left the talented but inconsistent Canucks defenceman at home this time around, I wouldn’t be shocked or appalled.
The Swedes are loaded along the blue-line, particularly with defenceman who shoot left. Edler has spent some time on the right-side in the past, but NHL forwards frequently walk him like he’s an adorable puppy when he plays on his off side.
So Edler’s primary competition if he hopes to suit up for the Tre Kronor in 2014 will include guys like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Kronwall, Victor Hedman, Nick Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Jonathan Ericsson. Luckily for Edler, Hedman and Kronwall both spend a lot of time playing as RD.
If I had to bet on it, I’d imagine that Edler will sneak into Sweden’s top-six (along with Ekman-Larsson, Hedman, Kronwall, Karlsson, Hjalmarsson). But he’ll likely be pushed by the likes of Oduya, Jonas Brodin and Ericsson, especially if he doesn’t have a strong start to the 2013-14 NHL campaign.
If you’re Dan Hamhuis, here’s the quote from Steve Yzerman (as per Chris Johnston) that has to make your ears perk up:
Yzerman did speak of targeting players to fill specific roles, which creates the distinct possibility that there could be a few surprise selections. The team won’t simply mirror a list of the NHL’s top Canadian-born scorers come December.
“We’re not putting together a team for a NHL all-star game,” Yzerman said. “We’re putting together the best possible team we can to compete against the best players in the world and try and win a gold medal.”
Put simply: Dan Hamhuis is not one of the top-eight Canadian born defenceman playing professional hockey, but he might make a good deal of sense for the 2014 Canadian Olympic team. Probably not though.
Despite long odds, there are a couple of things working in Dan Hamhuis’ favour as I see it. Firstly, Hamhuis is a left-handed shot and outside of Duncan Keith, Canada doesn’t seem to possess too many elite defenceman with that attribute. Secondly Dan Hamhuis is both a very good skater and a defence first blue-liner, a somewhat rarer combination than you might imagine.
Yzerman has suggested that he’ll bring eight defenceman to Sochi, and we’d have to think that Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and PK Subban are essentially locks. So that leaves three open spots on Team Canada’s roster, and twelve other defenceman competing for them.
Hamhuis’ stiffest competition will surely come from the other two-way lefty’s (Hamhuis is not exactly a comparable piece to a Kris Letang, or a Mike Green). That’s group which includes Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Dion Phaneuf, Jay Bouwmeester, Karl Alzner, and Marc’s Staal and Methot. Of those names and based on the underlying data, I think I’d take Hamhuis ahead of all of them though I’m willing to hear arguments in favour of Vlasic or Phaneuf.
Ultimately it would be a pretty significant surprise if Dan Hamhuis was named to the 2014 Olympic roster. But maybe it shouldn’t be. While Hamhuis’ quiet defensive efficiency goes largely unnoticed by the hockey world at large, he’s secretly a legitimate 1A defenceman and a worthy candidate for the Canadian Olympic team in my view.
I’ve long thought that Alex Burrows had a good shot at making the 2014 Olympic Team, but he wasn’t invited to orientation camp so I guess I was wrong. I just figured that he might be a contender for the Rob Zamneur memorial roster spot, but it turns out that Brad Marchand has that fourth line slot on lock!
Burrows’ shot at a roster spot in 2014 was likely done in by Vancouver’s quick postseason elimination in each of the past two seasons. I’m pretty sure Burrows would be at orientation camp, for example, if he’d scored an additional clutch playoff goal or two since his borderline miraculous tallies during Vancouver’s run to the Cup Finals in 2011.
Still it’s totally inaccurate to describe Alex Burrows’ omission from the orientation camp roster as a "snub," especially when you consider Team Canada’s absurd depth up front.
I’ve always thought that Dan Hamhuis would have a better shot at making the 2014 team than Kevin Bieksa would, mostly because of Hamhuis’ left handed shot. But I might also mention that Kevin Bieksa turned in a dud of a season in 2012-13. Don’t tell Don Cherry.
Ultimately I’m a little bit surprised to see Bieksa left out of orientation camp, especially while righties like Travis Hamonic are invited. Hamonic is under-rated, but I don’t think he’s Bieksa good at this point in his career, frankly. I guess Yzerman was paying attention during the San Jose Sharks series…
Here’s the real snub. John Tortorella was an assistant coach of the American team during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. That team was often overmatched talent-wise but successfully relied on gritty defense and stellar goaltending on their way to forcing overtime against a superior Canadian squad in the gold medal game.
That American team forechecked aggressively – like one would expect a Ron Wilson squad to do – but their play away from the puck was textbook Tortorella hockey.
Tortorella, however, was passed over for head-coach of the American squad in late June (Dave Poile selected Dan Bylsma instead). He also won’t be invited back as an assistant, losing his spot to Tony Granato (Bylsma’s assistant in Pittsburgh) and Blue Jackets bench boss Todd Richards. Todd Richards, by the way, should probably send Sergei Bobrovsky a nice fruit basket.
I’d imagine Tortorella’s exclusion from the American team’s coaching ranks will sting for the proud coach. As Torts said during his introductory press conference in Vancouver, however, he’s made his own bed. Tortorella’s Q-Rating is in the toilet after his acrimonious interactions with, well, just about everybody in New York over the past few seasons. I’d imagine that played into this snub, frankly.
Which is probably all well and good for the Canucks. This snub could serve as both a motivator for Tortorella, and a tough love reminder that the way Tortorella treated people in New York comes at a cost. I’d imagine the Canucks will now get a more motivated and focussed Tortorella as a result, while the Americans leave an intelligent hockey mind at home in favour of Todd Richards. So yeah, sucks for Torts, but it’s arguably all upside for Vancouver hockey fans.