It's become a common sight to see an executive associated with the Canadian Olympic team scouting from press boxes across the National Hockey League. The architects of the team Canada will bring to the 2014 Sochi Olympics are taking and comparing notes on a regular basis.
Executive Director Steve Yzerman is tasked with putting it all together. He routinely dispatches himself and his chief lieutenants -- Doug Armstrong, Ken Holland, Peter Chiarelli and Kevin Lowe -- around the League to check in with the players that are under consideration.
The players know they're watching. They're trying to impress.
Yzerman and Co. have until late December to form the Canadian roster. If they were doing it today, they may want to consider bringing the following group of 25 players (14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders) to Sochi:
|Patrick Sharp||Sidney Crosby||Eric Staal|
|Matt Duchene||Jonathan Toews||Rick Nash|
|Jamie Benn||Ryan Getzlaf||Corey Perry|
|Logan Couture||John Tavares||Martin St. Louis|
|Patrice Bergeron||Claude Giroux|
Staal's stats to date this season leave much to be desired, but keep in mind that the Carolina Hurricanes have struggled and Staal doesn't have Crosby and Sharp on his line. Put him on a line with them in the Olympics and Staal will return to his All-Star form. He's too experienced and too good of a player to leave off the roster simply because he hasn't had a great start to the season.
Masisak's Projected Roster: CANADA
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Matt Duchene
John Tavares - Jonathan Toews - Martin St. Louis
Jamie Benn - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Patrick Sharp - Patrice Bergeron - Logan Couture
Eric Staal - Rick Nash
Duncan Keith - Shea Weber
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Drew Doughty
Brent Seabrook - P.K. Subban
The intrigue up front starts with Chris Kunitz, who might be the top left wing or he might not make the team with no in between. A lot of people expect John Tavares to play center, but his shooting ability, combined with the two-way ability of the four guys listed above, might make him a nice fit on the wing.
Tavares, Duchene and Benn could be pretty interchangeable as centers moved to the wing. Duchene's extra gear might be a nice fit with Crosby. Having Staal (another center with the ability to be a score-first guy) and Nash (a natural wing who can kill penalties) as the extras would allow the coaching staff the ability to mix and match if needed.
If the desire to have at least three lefties on the defense corps wins out, there will be a couple of high-profile right-handed shooters who stay home. It's hard to see Canada not taking Subban, even if it is just an extra guy or to dress him as a power-play specialist. They did leave Mike Green, a Norris Trophy-runner up, home four years ago. Seabrook gets the nod here because his ability to make the stretch pass could be a weapon on the big ice.
Price and Luongo are closing in on lock territory, with Price the likely starter in the first game. There are several options for the third spot, and plenty of guys who are playing well. Holtby gets the nod because his numbers are better than Corey Crawford's and Mike Smith's despite having an inferior defense in front of him. Holtby also has more playoff experience than the two Toronto Maple Leafs guys.
-- Corey Masisak, NHL.com Staff Writer
Sharp works on the line with Crosby and Staal because he's fast, versatile and is a finisher. He's used to playing with star players on the Chicago Blackhawks so adjusting here shouldn't be an issue. Sharp is a star player.
Steven Stamkos' leg injury opened the door for someone else on Yzerman's list. Despite a recent injury Duchene has played his way through that door. He's a center for the Colorado Avalanche but Duchene, who has 12 goals and 20 points in 19 games, has played on the wing in past international tournaments.
There were and likely still are questions about Nash's availability considering he missed six weeks with a concussion. He's playing now for the New York Rangers and as long as he stays healthy, Nash will be a member of Canada's leadership core along with Crosby and Toews.
A line of Toews centering Duchene and Nash has speed, grit, skill, finishing touch and defensive awareness. They should be able to control the puck in the offensive zone. It has just about everything you'd want no matter the size of the ice surface.
Benn is the only player on this team that was not invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp this summer. The Dallas Stars captain played his way on by being one of the most dominant and versatile players in the NHL this season. Benn and the Anaheim Ducks' duo of Getzlaf and Perry will give Canada a size advantage whenever it's on the ice.
The so-called fourth line hardly is a fourth line. Like the other three lines, Couture, Tavares and St. Louis have offensive skill and are defensively responsible. This is a fast line with three players who should complement each other well.
Giroux had a finger injury in the summer and did not get off to a good start this season. Like Nash, there were and probably are still doubts about why he would be on the team. But the Philadelphia Flyers captain makes it because he's too good to leave off. He can take over games, play any position and is solid at both ends of the rink. He's also starting to heat up, which bodes well for his chances come late next month.
Bergeron is on this team as a specialist for defense and faceoffs, but just saying that is unfair to the Boston Bruins center because he's equally as adept in the offensive end. On this team, though, he won't have to be a scorer.
|Duncan Keith||Shea Weber|
|Jay Bouwmeester||Alex Pietrangelo|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic||Drew Doughty|
|Dion Phaneuf||P.K. Subban|
Keith and Weber make a natural pair. Keith can skate and move the puck; Weber can stay back and defend if necessary but also should have the freedom to join the rush to take advantage of his booming shot.
BIRTHPLACE: King City, ON
Vlasic and Doughty make up another natural pair. Doughty, like Keith, skates and moves the puck. Vlasic doesn't have the same shot as Weber but he has become a versatile shut-down defenseman for the San Jose Sharks.
Subban gets criticized for some of his defensive lapses but he creates offense and there's no better defense than a good offense. He may not get 20-25 minutes on this team, but Canada will generate chances if he's on the ice for the power play and offensive-zone faceoffs.
Phaneuf regularly takes on the best forwards the opposition puts on the ice. He won't have to play as big of a role on this team, but he'll bring a physical element to the club and won't be intimidated at all by the big stage.
The starting job is between Price and Luongo at this point. Canada can go with the experienced Olympian (Luongo) or the younger player who has been waiting his turn to be Canada's go-to guy in net. There is no wrong choice.
BIRTHPLACE: Anahim Lake, BC
Luongo has re-established himself as an elite goalie this season while Price has fought back from a tough finish to last season to be an elite goalie in a market that can chew up and spit out its young.
Crawford is a Stanley Cup champion and has proven he is one of the more mentally tough goalies in the League. Canada shouldn't stumble if the Chicago Blackhawks goalie has to play in Sochi.
|NEXT IN LINE
Canada's center depth is so great that San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton, Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin and Ottawa Senators captain Jason Spezza did not make it on to the above roster. They're all having fine seasons and could be an injury away from going to Sochi.
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau has had a strong start and should be given consideration by Yzerman and Co. The same is true for Pittsburgh Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who is unique because he already has proven chemistry with Crosby. Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little deserves some attention to for the start he's had.
BIRTHPLACE: Regina, SK
Goalie Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes and Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals were at the summer orientation camp and still warrant consideration, but Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding has been too good to ignore this season. However, Harding's international experience as a professional is limited to being the third goalie for Canada at the 2009 World Championship.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been excellent this season but it's a stretch to think that what he's done in the first quarter-plus of this season is enough for Canada to ignore his recent struggles in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Jonathan Bernier has been fantastic for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is it too much to put Martin Brodeur in the mix? The 41-year-old New Jersey Devils goalie, a four-time Olympian, has proven so far this season that he's still got it.