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Competition intense for Canadian roster spots

by Dan Rosen / Chicago Blackhawks
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Arguably no country boasts as many Olympic-caliber players as Canada. Often you'll hear people say the Canadians have enough talent to field at least two teams at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The rules make that argument moot.

Like the rest of the field, Canada will have 25 players (14 forwards, eight defensemen, three goalies) going for gold in Russia. The rest will be home watching. The task of selecting these players is one of the most difficult in hockey this season because so many factors go in to finding the best 25 out of a large field of deserving candidates.

Canada has a lot of players who are strong skaters, but who are the strongest? The Canadians have plenty of forwards who are responsible with the puck, but which are the most reliable? There are a lot of Canadian centers who can move to the wing, but who can do it without any drop off in their game?

Who among Canada's elite defensemen can be just as effective in 15 minutes of ice time as they are in 25? Among Canada's goalies, who has the most mental toughness to stay in the game and come in off the bench if necessary?

Canada executive director Steve Yzerman will have the final say on all of these decisions, but like most other fans and media members, we're here to give him our input as the Jan. 7 roster deadline nears.

Here's a look at three projected lineups for the Canadian Olympic team:

Matt Duchene Sidney Crosby Steven Stamkos
Patrick Sharp Jonathan Toews Rick Nash
Eric Staal Ryan Getzlaf Corey Perry
Logan Couture John Tavares Martin St. Louis
Patrice Bergeron Claude Giroux

 Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was on the projected roster last month as the left wing on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Benn got bumped for Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, whose status is still in question because of his leg injury. Stamkos, though, should be named to the roster and replaced later if he is unable to play.

Patrick Sharp and Matt Duchene swapped spots. They could both play with Sidney Crosby, but Sharp's familiarity with Toews means he should get a run on that second line. Duchene has never played with Crosby, but they know each other and have worked out together. Staal takes Benn's spot, moving down from being the right wing on the top line.

Duncan Keith Drew Doughty
Jay Bouwmeester Alex Pietrangelo
P.K. Subban Shea Weber
Marc-Edouard Vlasic Brent Seabrook

Brent Seabrook replaces Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Seabrook was part of the Olympic team in 2010 and has played like one of the NHL's top blue-liners for most of the season.

Normally you'd see Seabrook paired with Duncan Keith, but Drew Doughty is up there, replacing Shea Weber in that spot from last month's projected roster. A Keith-Doughty pairing gives Canada a chance to have two of the best skating and puck-rushing defensemen in the League on the ice at the same time. Skating and puck possession are important factors to win on the big ice in Sochi.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Seabrook could be a match because they each play a physical game but can also jump into the play. Seabrook can also move up to play with Keith at times and Doughty would still be a fit with Vlasic in a pinch.

Weber and P.K. Subban could work because Subban will be able to try to create his offense and take some risks because Weber will be in position to back him up. They will be dangerous from the points because they both have hard, heavy shots.

Carey Price Roberto Luongo Mike Smith

Carey Price moves up the depth chart to No. 1 and Mike Smith replaces Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who has been out of the lineup since sustaining a lower-body injury on Dec. 9.

Price has had recent hiccups against the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, but overall he's been consistently excellent this season. He knows pressure too, because it's never easy on a goalie playing in Montreal.

Roberto Luongo has clearly been elite too, but he showed in 2010 that he can come in mid-tournament and be good enough for Canada to win gold. Babcock may prefer to have Luongo in his back pocket, an ace in the hole so to speak, if Price falters.

Benn and Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz lead the list of forwards who fell just short of making this projected roster despite getting serious consideration. They both could wind up in Sochi, though.

Benn's teammate and linemate, Stars center Tyler Seguin, was close too, but he plays the wrong position. Canada is too deep at center to consider taking another one who isn't as comfortable on the wing. The same holds true for San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton.

Also among forwards who were close were left wings Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers and Patrick Marleau from the Sharks.
Phaneuf and Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle were the final cuts on the blue line. Crawford and Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby were considered but ultimately not selected.

Arpon Basu -- Managing Editor
Corey Masisak -- Staff Writer
Steven Stamkos -- Sidney Crosby -- Martin St. Louis
John Tavares -- Ryan Getzlaf -- Corey Perry
Patrick Sharp -- Jonathan Toews -- Claude Giroux
Matt Duchene -- Patrice Bergeron -- Logan Couture
Tyler Seguin -- Taylor Hall
John Tavares -- Sidney Crosby -- Steven Stamkos
Patrick Sharp -- Jonathan Toews -- Matt Duchene
Chris Kunitz -- Ryan Getzlaf -- Corey Perry
Jamie Benn -- Patrice Bergeron -- Logan Couture
Claude Giroux -- Joe Thornton
Duncan Keith -- Drew Doughty
Jay Bouwmeester -- Alex Pietrangelo
Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Shea Weber
Dan Hamhuis -- P.K. Subban
Duncan Keith -- Drew Doughty
Jay Bouwmeester -- Alex Pietrangelo
Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Shea Weber
Brent Seabrook -- PK Subban
Carey Price
Roberto Luongo
Josh Harding
Carey Price
Roberto Luongo
Braden Holtby

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