There are just too many excellent hockey players–really really good players–who didn't make their respective Olympic teams. But here's a solution: Let those players come and play for Upper Lozo. Their talents will be appreciated here in a country where Lozo is, well, Lozo.
After hours of debate at the Upper Lozo headquarters, I have settled on a 23-man roster to represent my fictional country at the Olympics. It's comprised almost entirely of NHL players who won't be taking part in this year's Games. It's not necessarily the 23 best players not on an Olympic squad. It's more the 23 players I'd choose for an actual team out of who's left.
And yes, it's practically a second Canadian team.
Can we compete for gold in Vancouver if the International Olympic Committee and IIHF grant us a spot in February's tournament? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure we can hang with Latvia.
Marty Turco, Dallas Stars --
Remember when Marty Turco
was mentioned in the same breath with the NHL's other great goaltenders? Before his numbers unexpectedly ballooned last season, his highest goals-against average in any season was 2.55. He's been better this season, posting a 2.71 GAA and .909 save percentage on a team that has struggled as a whole. The 34-year-old still has the ability to carry a solid team for a two-week tournament, and he has the chance to battle for the No. 1 job here.
Cristobal Huet, Chicago Blackhawks --
Entering this season, if you asked 100 people to talk about the weak link on the Blackhawks, 99 of them would've told you it was Huet. All he's done is post a 20-8-2 record with a 2.08 GAA and .912 save percentage. The native of France lacks an Olympic team for which to play this season, and that's why he lands here. And if he's good enough to man the crease for one of the NHL's best teams this season, he's certainly good enough to compete for the No. 1 job with Upper Lozo.
Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings --
He doesn't have the experience of other goaltenders who could have filled this spot, but Upper Lozo wants to carry a young goaltender. The 25-year-old is getting his first extended look in the NHL this season, and he hasn't disappointed. His record is a mere 14-9-2, but that speaks more to Detroit's inability to score goals than Howard's ability to prevent them. His 2.23 GAA ranks eighth in the League and his .923 save percentage is better than that of Roberto Luongo
, Henrik Lundqvist
and Martin Brodeur
Just missed: Cam Ward
, Craig Anderson
Mike Green, Washington Capitals --
When it was announced that he failed to make Team Canada, his detractors piled out of the woodwork to explain the decision. "He fell apart in the playoffs last season." "His defensive play is suspect." How quickly people forget this guy was a Norris Trophy nominee last season as one of the three best defensemen in the NHL. Now he's not one of the seven best defensemen in Canada? Somehow we're going to find a spot on this team for Green, who scored 31 goals last season and is on pace for 20 more this season. His plus-15 this season is fifth among defensemen. Yeah, we'll take him on our team.
Jay Bouwmeester, Calgary Flames --
We're not exactly going out on a limb by picking up Canada's two best defensemen not on the Olympic team, but it's hard to believe that this guy isn't taking part in the 2010 Games. His offensive numbers have dipped a little in his first year with Calgary (2 goals, 15 assists), but he showed during his final three years with Florida that he's a complete defender and one of the better ones in the game. Pairing him with Green will make for pure Upper Lozo blue-line gold.
Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames --
Once again, Canada's loss is Upper Lozo's gain. Sure, it's tough to make an argument for his inclusion on his home country's team, but he's more than deserving of making our roster. He's an offensive threat who is an even bigger physical presence. As recently as a year ago, he was drawing comparisons to Hall-of-Fame defenseman Scott Stevens
, but he seems to be a victim of those expectations. Still, when you're assembling a team like this, the saying "beggars can't be choosers" comes into play -- although if you're getting a player like this while panhandling, you're doing a heck of a job.
Stephane Robidas, Dallas Stars --
OK. The Canadians are piling up. But it's about picking up the best of the rest, and Robidas falls into that category. Not only is the 32-year-old having a career year offensively (his 27 points in 43 games are already a career-high) but he's second in the NHL in hits (155) and he's ninth in blocked shots (95). When the Stars made their run to the Western Conference Finals two years ago, he showed he can deliver under immense pressure, posting 11 points (3 goals) in 18 games.
Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks (A) --
It's the stance of the Upper Lozo coaching staff that you can't have enough solid, puck-moving defensemen, and Campbell fits that mold. The 30-year-old has been as steady as can be while bouncing between the Buffalo Sabres
, San Jose Sharks
and Chicago Blackhawks
in recent years. He's consistently around the 40-point mark while never ignoring the defensive side of the game.
Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils --
So here's a pick that may raise some eyebrows among the people of Upper Lozo. The 27-year-old hasn't played 60 games during an NHL season in his short career, and he's far from a household name. But he's been outstanding since signing a two-year deal this offseason with New Jersey. Through 38 games, he's got 5 goals and 18 assists. He's a great puck-mover who also possesses the ability to go end to end on his own. And if he's a defenseman who gets the seal of approval from Devils mastermind Lou Lamoriello, that's good enough for us.
Sergei Zubov, SKA St. Petersburg of KHL --
The 39-year-old's experience and talent on the power play were too hard to ignore. He's finally healthy, and has 6 goals and 21 assists in 37 games in the Russian league. Hopefully the long and tumultuous history between Upper Lozo and Russia can be put aside for two weeks in February.
Just missed: Robyn Regehr
, Tim Gleason
LW Mike Cammalleri, Montreal Canadiens --
A two-time 30-goal scorer who could eclipse 40 goals this season? Sign him up. Another victim of the depth of Team Canada, the 27-year-old Cammalleri has shown the pressure of a big contract and playing in Montreal isn't going to faze him. He's a top-flight scorer who will wear the colors of Upper Lozo (fuchsia, lavender and purple) proudly.
C Brad Richards, Dallas Stars --
All the 29-year-old has done in his career is win a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy and post 598 points in 661 career games. You can debate all you want whether he belonged on Team Canada instead of Jonathan Toews
or Patrice Bergeron
, but there's no debate he's our first-line center. He has 12 goals and 38 assists through 41 games this season, putting him on pace for his first 100-point season.
RW Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes (A) --
The 33-year-old captain of the Coyotes has seen his numbers fall off this season, but he will bring size (6-foot-1, 228 pounds) and toughness to the No. 1 line on this team. He's scored at least 20 goals in every season since 1999-2000, and he will be one of the veteran rocks of Upper Lozo.
LW Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning --
We're going to move Stamkos to the left wing so we can have "The Lightning Line" at the 2010 Games. Hey, it's a fictional team, so try not to overreact to this. His 21 goals this season are good for seventh in the League, and 13 of them have come at even strength, so he's not just getting his goals on the power play. We talked it over with him, and he's looking forward to playing on this line with his Tampa teammates. What a team guy.
C Vinny Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning --
You know you're a pretty decent player when a 29-goal season followed by 10 goals and 29 assists in 42 games the following season raises red flags. The only flag Lecavalier will be waving after two weeks in Vancouver with this team will be the Upper Lozo flag. To be fair, he has gone from a 50-goal scorer two seasons ago to a guy who might not score 20 this season, but he's still a playmaker worthy of this spot.
RW Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning --
The next time someone tells you that size doesn't matter, speculate why St. Louis was left off the Canadian roster. Luckily for the 34-year-old native of Sherbrooke, Upper Lozo believes that size truly doesn't matter, and St. Louis' 46 points in 42 games this season are evidence of that. In a short tournament (no pun intended), having the instant chemistry of this line is huge.
LW Wojtek Wolski, Colorado Avalanche --
In an effort to keep this from becoming four lines of a Canadian leftover team, the 23-year-old native of Poland gets the nod here. And this isn't an example of getting a non-Canadian for non-Canadians sake -- Wolski is a talented scorer who is starting to blossom. After modest totals during his first three seasons in Colorado, the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has 15 goals and 23 assists in 44 games this season.
C Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings --
How good is your fictional team when this guy is your third-line center? Slovenia won't be participating in the 2010 Games, so their loss is Upper Lozo's gain. The 22-year-old is having a brilliant season with the Kings, posting 17 goals and 25 assists in 43 games. His game might not be as well-rounded as some other centers, but that's to be expected from someone his age. He won't be asked to carry the offense on this team.
RW Bill Guerin, Pittsburgh Penguins (A) --
Guerin can still be an effective performer and churn out a hit in the right situation. He doesn't look like a 39-year-old while playing alongside Sidney Crosby
, and he can play that same role as a go-to-the-net grinder on this line. Plus, his Olympic experience would be invaluable for a young country like Upper Lozo.
LW Ryan Smyth, Los Angeles Kings (C) --
While it's totally understandable why Team Canada didn't have room for him, we just couldn't pass up on Smyth's leadership abilities and passion for representing his country. Of course, Upper Lozo isn't "his" country, but we feel after he's locked in a room for a few hours with our propaganda minister, he'll be waving our country's colors quite vigorously. All those intangibles aside, Smyth has 25 points in 27 games this season. If healthy, he can be a heck of a third- or fourth-line player.
C Jordan Staal, Pittsburgh Penguins --
Are we going too defensive with our fourth line? Perhaps. But we're not going to out-talent the big countries, so we need specialists like Staal who can win a key faceoff and shut down other countries' top scoring lines. Plus, it's not like he's an offensive liability. The 21-year-old is on pace for his second straight 22-goal season.
RW Craig Adams, Pittsburgh Penguins --
Consider this the pick that would get other potential Upper Lozo players upset. He's never had more than 21 points in a season, and the Brunei native has scored just as many goals this season as you. But what he excels at his blocking shots, killing penalties and throwing his body around. Is it better to have someone who is great in those areas as opposed to someone who is just OK as an offensive threat but not as good defensively? I think so.
LW John Tavares, New York Islanders --
Our 13th forward is someone we want to have with the team who could step into the lineup in case of an injury but is really there just to get the experience for future Olympic tournaments. Tavares has 16 goals and 12 assists in 44 games this season, but he's been streaky. That's to be expected with 19-year-old rookies, so he's not quite ready to be counted on.
Just missed: Jeff Carter
, Dustin Penner
, Simon Gagne
, Nathan Horton