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January 17, 2019
Olympic Countdown Begins
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
Canada will be trying to erase memories of the debacle that was 2006. The proud Maple Leaf finished seventh, one spot behind mighty Switzerland. And the Swiss were using chocolate sticks. Woe Canada.
Steve Yzerman is Canada’s new executive director. Here’s hoping he’s smart enough to take Sidney Crosby instead of Todd Bertuzzi. Crosby headlines a deep crop of Canadian centers, including such notable names as Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, Marc Savard, and Eric Staal. While it’s doubtful all those guys will make the team, Yzerman isn’t opposed to one or two playing wing.
“Canada has had good success, and I'm sure all countries have had good success with players playing out of position, not only centers, but you'll have some wingers maybe shifting from one side to the other, as well,” said Yzerman in a recent media conference call. “I've debated that a lot and talked to hockey people about it all the time. I guess my feeling on it right now is good players, truly good players with good hockey sense, can play any of the forward positions.
“I'm not adverse to moving a guy in. In reality that will happen with one or two centermen. But one thing I think that is important in keeping in mind when you do that, it's important to have -- guys who are natural wingers who played the position their entire career, pick up some of the nuances of playing wing; it's just the real simple things like the ability to pick a puck off the boards in your own when D is pinching up against you, where to stand, where to go. There's little things that if we have very good wingers, I would hate to leave off a top winger to move a centerman over.”
Stevie Y has no intention of continuing the absurd practice of forsaking an elite scorer just to take a designated checker or role player.
"I believe every player, every forward in particular if you're talking checking line, has the ability to play in that role,” said Yzerman. “I don't want to leave off a goal-scorer or a guy who's a scorer or a power-play guy who kills penalties to bring a guy who's a designated third-line checker. To me that doesn't make sense, because I think we have the ability to take really good players -- now, they're not all going to be able to play on the power play, so it's important that you're comfortable in other ways.
“And this is where the coach comes in and the coaching staff is we sit down and discuss all of our visions on how this team is going to be put together. Every coach has a little bit different idea on his matchups. Some guys will like to designate one line as -- the term shutdown line has become popular. If that's the case, then we'll assemble a line to be used that way, but with the intent to use it that way. But to me the best defensive lines are guys on both ends of the rink that can do it, smart offensive players, good defensive players. They just have to apply themselves.
“My idea of a checking line for Canada's Olympic team [is] three guys that are excellent on both ends of the rink, and they're dangerous that way. Today it's not my intention, but it could change depending on the availability of players' health and whatnot, but my intention, any kind of defensive line is going to be made up of guys that have the ability to play on the other end of the rink, as well.”
That perfectly describes Philadelphia’s captain, Mike Richards. A meaner, quicker Ron Francis, Richards is everything a hockey player should be. He scores like a chimp, he kills penalties, he hits, and he’ll even fight, earning my eternal gratitude for punching that creep Alexander Ovechkin in the head. Get a haircut, you filthy hippie!
“It's always nice to put the Canadian jersey on,” said Richards. “I know myself, as well as a lot of other people, are proud to be Canadian, and whenever I get the opportunity to play for Team Canada, it's always a thrill, and with the Olympics coming up I know it's in the back of everyone's mind as they're playing. What more exciting place to have it than in Vancouver. For everyone kind of trying out for the job, I know it's in everyone's mind as they're playing.”
Even though Canada won’t name its coaching staff until after the Stanley Cup Finals, and the players won’t be selected until after an August orientation camp, Richards can’t help but imagine taking the ice for his beloved country.
"It's always in the back of your mind I think when you're playing games, and obviously you want to do your best for your team right now in the present,” said Richards. “But at the same time you always want to do your best, and it's almost like a year-and-a-half-, two-year tryout for the team. Right now as the season winds down, you want to do the best for the playoff race and for your team, but at the same time it's always in the back of your head.”
“The most important thing is if you have to use three goaltenders, if you're in a position that you need that third goaltender to play, you'd better be comfortable that he can go in there and get the job done,” said Yzerman. “So I think ideally having a young guy with the mind that -- keeping in mind that he's maybe our designated guy for the future, future Olympics, we want him here for the experience, I think there's a lot of merit in that, as long as you're totally comfortable that he's the right guy going in there if you need him to go in there if for whatever reason one and two, you're moving away from that.
“Number one is you'd better be comfortable with him going in. I like the idea of a young guy getting the experience, being in that role. Again, if that guy is available, if such a goaltender is ready to go and we're comfortable enough that we can put him in the net if we need him, I'd kind of like to go that way. But if we have three really, really good ones on top of their game and that third one happens to be a veteran guy, it would be tough to pass that up or move by that. But I think there's a lot of merit in bringing someone young.”
Brian Burke will be opposing Yzerman’s quest for Canadian gold. Burke, GM of Team USA, is going to have a bit more talent at his disposal than he does in Toronto, but in his mind, the blueprint doesn’t change because of the venue.
“Our philosophy is no different than my philosophy in building a team,” said Burke. “We're not going to pick the team on a reactive basis. We're going to pick a team that can -- our goal is to be able to succeed, regardless of the style of the team we play.
"So we want to be fast enough to play speed teams, big enough to play big teams. I divide my teams in the top six spots, bottom six spots. To try to concentrate my skill, [and] in the bottom six are pick and shovel guys. And in an Olympic competition, the pick and shovel guys, [or] the guys that are asked to do those jobs, might be pretty skilled players, but they might be asked to accept a very different role for a short term.”
"I predict we'll be the smallest and youngest team in the tournament,” said Burke. “And I predict that not one cent will be bet on team USA in Vegas. But we're going there to win anyhow. And I don't mind going in the underdog role. If we're small in the top six, we'll have to fill out the bottom six with some beef.”
Dustin Brown, Blake Wheeler, and Bobby Ryan could be three big bodies capable of answering the bell. At least Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano, and the other aging frat boys are finally gone, right? Please, for the love of Don Knotts, tell me they’re gone!
"We have not resolved that,” said Burke when asked about the decrepit vets. “At no point have we said, any one of the groups said, that we don't or can't use or won't use or can't use any of the great generation of U.S. players.
“I mean, you have to keep this in perspective. For the last 20 years, our teams have included one or more of a group of guys, and the last 15 guys, this is a group of guys that I predict will be in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame but some of them are done I don't have a list here. But this is from memory.
“You're talking about some of the best players that ever wore the red white and blue, and these guys showed up at every tournament. They went with pride, passion, and valor. Regardless what happens in 2010 . . . that group carries the USA National Hockey Team with great distinction. They may not be represented on this team. There may be a total change in the guard.
"The world championship team we had last year was not represented by that group. So it may be a full turning of the page. It may not. I will tell you one thing, it would be grossly unfair to that group to make that determination based on age or that it's time to turn the page, so let's make a total change. We'll make it on the merits of the people involved.”
Team USA’s biggest concern is along the blue line. There isn’t a dominant No. 1 defenseman in sight. It’s actually rather pathetic. The Americans should be solid in net, though, with Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas. Burke hasn’t forgotten about Rick DiPietro, either.
"He's too good an athlete to be off the radar, and hopefully, hope any players that have injury trouble that they solve those injury problems and get healthy,” said Burke of the oft-injured Islander. “This is a guy who is a world class athlete, a world class goaltender. Great kid, and, yes, he's very much alive [for consideration], even though he hasn't been able to stay healthy the last couple of years.”
Sure, it’s ridiculous to speculate on potential rosters when we’re still months away from coaching staffs being named, but I have no interest in logic or common sense. With that in mind, here are my Olympic selections. Each team gets thirteen forwards, seven defensemen, and three goaltenders.
LCS HOCKEY’S SUPER DELUXE TEAM CANADA
FORWARDS DEFENSE GOALIES Sidney Crosby Jay Bouwmeester Roberto Luongo Shane Doan Dan Boyle Martin Brodeur Simon Gagne Mike Green Marc-Andre Fleury Ryan Getzlaf Scott Niedermayer Jarome Iginla Dion Phaneuf Dany Healtey Chris Pronger Vincent Lecavalier Shea Weber Brenden Morrow Rick Nash Mike Richards Patrick Sharp Eric Staal Joe Thornton
Of the forwards, Thornton is the only guy I don’t like, but his size gives him the edge over Marc Savard. Kid Crosby already has the diminutive playmaker’s role filled.
It’s about time people start appreciating Sharp. He’d anchor my penalty kill alongside Richards, Morrow, and Gagne.
I reckon I’d move Getzlaf to left wing. Staal would probably be my thirteenth forward, and he’s versatile enough to play wing if needed.
Defense is the biggest question mark. I’m assuming Niedermayer will still be around. If he is, he’ll probably be captain. I’d love to find a spot for my boy Brent Burns. Duncan Keith is deserving. Boyle and Green are essentially filling the same role, but mobility is huge in Olympic hockey.
I’ll always take Fleury over Price. Steve Mason could play himself into contention.
FORWARDS DEFENSE GOALIES Dustin Brown Keith Ballard Ryan Miller Chris Drury Mike Komisarek Tim Thomas Brandon Dubinsky Paul Martin Rick DiPietro Scott Gomez Brooks Orpik Patrick Kane Brian Rafalski Ryan Kesler Ryan Suter Phil Kessel Ryan Whitney Jamie Langenbrunner Ryan Malone Zach Parise Bobby Ryan Paul Stastny Blake Wheeler
The blue line is abysmal. Rafalski and Komisarek are the only guys I’d consider locks. I’d definitely take Orpik; the Stars and Stripes could use his muscle. Whitney has done nothing this season to warrant consideration, but I’m guessing he finds his game before the tryouts. A healthy Jack Johnson might be able to make an impact. Matt Niskanen is a contender. Tom Gilbert, John-Michael Liles, Ron Hainsey, and Joe Corvo have American birth certificates. I told you it was bad.
If DiPietro is healthy, he’ll go. Otherwise you’re looking at Craig Anderson, Ty Conklin, or Brian Boucher as the No. 3. Or dare I say Jon Quick?