It is official: The NHL, NHL Players' Association and International Ice Hockey Federation have announced there will be NHL players at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Prior to the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF, NHL.com had three writers select the team they would take to Sochi for each of the "big seven" hockey-playing nations. Note: This is not the team the writers project each country's hockey federation will select, but the team they would select at this point.
The defending champions from Canada will be looking to win gold for the third time in four Olympic tournaments, but there is a caveat: The Canadians have not won gold outside of North America since 1952. In fact, Canada hasn't medaled in the two Olympics with NHL participation that occurred elsewhere, finishing fourth in Nagano, Japan in 1998 and losing three times in six games, including in the quarterfinals to Russia, in Turin, Italy, in 2006.
There is no doubt the Canadians will bring the deepest roster to Sochi, but there is a one giant question mark that is sure to have an entire hockey-mad nation nervous.
The depth and talent at forward, and particularly at center, is unmatched.
Several All-Star-caliber centers likely will have to switch to the wing, because Canada could place at least eight or nine natural centers on the roster. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews are probably the only two locks to stay in the middle, but Patrice Bergeron also is a near-lock given his defensive capabilities and faceoff prowess. Those three are among the best in the faceoff circle in the NHL, so starting with the puck should not be a problem for the Canadians.
Nine forwards made each of the three NHL.com rosters, with the biggest surprise as a unanimous choice probably Taylor Hall, though he did finish ninth in the League in scoring in 2012-13. A total of 18 forwards received at least one vote for 13 spots. A good way to show the depth of options available is to point out the players who didn't appear on any of the three rosters: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Matt Duchene and James Neal.
The seven selections on defense nearly were unanimous. Six players were on all three rosters, with Brent Seabrook and Dan Hamhuis splitting the last spot. Sweden also will boast a strong defense corps, but it will be hard for any country to match Canada's group.
One potential issue worth nothing here: There are too many right-handed shots to not have someone moving to the left side. Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber are righties, as is Seabrook. That means two of the three NHL.com projected rosters feature six right-handed shots and one lefty.
LNH.com Managing Editor Arpon Basu left Seabrook out in favor of Hamhuis, and it could be possible either Letang or Subban (very similar players) get left out in favor of a left-handed shot. The best options available could be Hamuis, Dion Phaneuf or under-the-radar choices Karl Alzner or Mark Giordano.
That leaves the proverbial "elephant in the room" for the Canadians. Russia has Sergei Bobrovsky, Sweden has Henrik Lundqvist and the United States and Finland have a few strong options, but the situation in net for Canada is muddled seven months out from Sochi.
Carey Price was on all three NHL.com rosters, and he would seem like the favorite to be the No. 1 if he proves his late-season struggles are behind him when the 2013-14 season begins. If not Price, there are several options, but do any of them stack up against Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick or Tuukka Rask? Cam Ward, Mike Smith and new Cup champion Corey Crawford are among candidates to make the roster. Oh, and the player who started the 2010 gold-medal game, Roberto Luongo, is a starter again in Vancouver and certain to be in the mix. He also was named on all three NHL.com rosters.
The Canadians should be the favorites going into the tournament, but can they win outside North America and will they receive strong enough goaltending? Each remains to be seen.
Here are the projected rosters for Canada:
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