Steve Yzerman's vision for Canada's entry into the 2010 Olympics is getting clearer by the day. Don't be surprised if the squad he chooses resembles the Red Wings.
"The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup last year and you look at (Henrik) Zetterberg, (Pavel) Datsyuk, (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Brian) Rafalski, they're all excellent on both ends of the rink," said Yzerman, the Executive Director of Canada's Men's Olympic Team and the Red Wings Vice President. "That's what gave our team an advantage last year. That's the trademark of a championship team."
The 2010 Olympic hockey tournament is scheduled to begin in 369 days and Yzerman -- as calm as you remember him from his playing days -- is hard at work in figuring out what will give Canada an edge for gold in Vancouver.
He won't name a coaching staff until after the Stanley Cup Final and the final roster won't be chosen until after Hockey Canada hosts an orientation camp for invited players in late August, but Yzerman and his staff are deep into scouting and discussing the kind of players and coaches they are looking for to build a well-balanced team.
"Not only can we attack, but can we defend? That's going to be the No. 1 thing in putting this team together," Yzerman said. "I don't expect to be run-and-gun and we're not going to sit in a trap and wait for the other team to come. We have attack and defend.
"I want a team of players with ability to play at a high tempo. That doesn't always mean the fastest skaters, but guys that can think quickly and move the puck well. I want us to be a team that loves to play with the puck, particularly against these strong European teams. We don't want to give the puck away."
Yzerman is keenly aware of how stocked Canada is up the middle. At least seven centers, -- Sidney Crosby, Vinny Lecavalier, Ryan Getzlaf, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Marc Savard and Joe Thornton -- are all already on his list of potential players.
Yzerman, though, doesn't envision bringing that many pivots to Vancouver.
"I'm not averse to moving a guy around and in reality that will happen with one or two centerman," Yzerman said. "Seven might seem like an awful lot, but I would suspect there will be at least one guy playing out of position."
With the 2010 tournament is expected to be slightly more physical than past events due to the smaller, NHL-sized ice surface (200-feet by 85-feet), Yzerman is facing another difficult decision.
Does he opt for a traditional checking line?
He is saying no for now, but only because of the system he wants the team to play.
"I don't want to leave off a goal scorer or a guy who is a power-play guy to bring a guy that is a designated third-line checker. To me that doesn't make sense," Yzerman said. "To me, the best defensive lines are the guys that are good in both ends of the rink. Smart offensive players can be good defensive players. They just have to apply themselves."
Don't expect any of the players to be in their teens.
Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn and John Tavares are a source of great pride for the hockey-mad country, but it's unlikely any teenager makes it onto the final roster.
"Drew Doughty is a tremendous player out in Los Angeles as an 18-year-old, but just because there is so much depth in front of them they're going to have to be pretty exceptional to be on the Olympic team," Yzerman said. "In all likelihood there probably won't be a teenager on it, but I'm not afraid of doing it."
Even the goaltending situation, considered by many to be the easiest of the decisions Yzerman will make, is still in limbo. Injuries this season to Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo have forced Yzerman into expanding his list of potential puck stoppers.
"It reinforces to me and our group that we really have to know all these players. We're not just watching the guys that many consider obvious," Yzerman said. "We can't just take into account next fall our 13 forwards, seven D and three goalies. We have to be prepared to make a decision based on availability and who is playing well at the time."
I want a team of players with ability to play at a high tempo. That doesn't always mean the fastest skaters, but guys that can think quickly and move the puck well. - Steve Yzerman
As much as Yzerman is scouting players, he's also watching the coaches.
He met with his management staff, which includes Hockey Canada President and CEO Bob Nicholson and Executive V.P. Johnny Misley, as well as Detroit GM Ken Holland, Edmonton President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe and St. Louis Vice President of Player Personnel Doug Armstrong, in early November to go over potential candidates. They met again in December and plan to get together again next month.
A coaching staff will be named after the Stanley Cup Final and Yzerman hopes he'll have a list of players invited to the orientation camp out by July 1. The camp is scheduled for Aug. 24-28 at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary.
"We are finding out what we can about some of the coaches," Yzerman said. "We have to know the people we're talking about and their personalities. The coaching staff has to be a cohesive unit, a team, and their personalities have to match."