It’s finally here. With the Olympics getting under way and the hockey starting soon, it’s time to roll out our preview of each team between now and puck drop. May the best team win.
Canada’s national hockey team is currently ranked fifth overall in the world, which is confusing, but whatever, here we are. They’re bringing 25 NHLers to fill the allotted 25 spots, they’re coached by Mike Babcock, and they’re the defending gold medal champs after narrowly sneaking past a tough US squad in 2010.
(According to the IIHF, there are no referees in the country, which would explain the obvious bloodlust that pervades Canadian hockey culture.)
B, with Austria, Finland, and Norway.
|Carey Price||Montreal Canadiens|
|Roberto Luongo||Vancouver Canucks|
|Mike Smith||Phoenix Coyotes|
|Alex Pietrangelo||St. Louis Blues|
|Dan Hamhuis||Vancouver Canucks|
|Drew Doughty||Los Angeles Kings|
|Duncan Keith||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Jay Bouwmeester||St. Louis Blues|
|Marc-Edouard Vlasic||San Jose Sharks|
|P.K. Subban||Montreal Canadiens|
|Shea Weber||Nashville Predators|
|Jeff Carter||Los Angeles Kings|
|Corey Perry||Anaheim Ducks|
|Jamie Benn||Dallas Stars|
|Martin St. Louis||Tampa Bay Lightning|
|John Tavares||New York Islanders|
|Jonathan Toews||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Chris Kunitz||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Patrick Marleau||San Jose Sharks|
|Matt Duchene||Colorado Avalanche|
|Patrick Sharp||Chicago Blackhawks|
|Patrice Bergeron||Boston Bruins|
|Rick Nash||New York Rangers|
|Ryan Getzlaf||Anaheim Ducks|
|Sidney Crosby||Pittsburgh Penguins|
Chris Kunitz, Marc Edouard-Vlasic, Dan Hamhuis.
(…C’mon, you don’t need my help here.)
The NHL is universally accepted to be the best hockey league in the world (with Vladimir Putin being the only holdout there). NHL salaries are handed out based on perceived player value. Team Canada’s roster combined is worth just a hair under $150 million dollars, which is more than $85 million over the NHL salary cap, which is far and away more than any other nation in the tournament. What I’m getting at, is this team is pretty strong all over.
Their biggest strength is probably down the middle, where they’ll roll out Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, and then pick between guys like John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf for the next spot. This a group that contains puck-moving d-men, pure shooters, and the rare combination of size and speed (Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Corey Perry, Jamie Benn and beyond). With a top four of Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo and Drew Doughty, their offensive horses should have plenty of chance to be off to the races.
For some reason Canadians are all sketchy about their team’s goaltending, and think it belongs under this header. That’s debatable. Roberto Luongo won the gold medal in 2010 while starting for Canada, and he’s pitched an excellent .919 save percentage so far this season. Carey Price is at .923 while starting for the Montreal Canadiens, soooo, while it may not exactly be a strength when compared to say, Finland, calling it a “weakness” is a bit of a stretch.
Canada’s biggest weakness lies in player selection at forward: Chris Kunitz was selected for his “chemistry” with Sidney Crosby (like another all-world talent would struggle to generate offense with him, somehow), and guys like Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter were included while Claude Giroux, James Neal, Eric Staal, and Joe Thornton didn’t get the nod. Those debates will rage on if Canada fails, as many people would take any combination of of the names I mentioned over Kunitz/Marleau/Carter.
And finally, on the back-end, you’ve gotta think Canada would prefer to not have to use Hamhuis, Vlasic and Bouwmeester as much as their other five stars, given the talent that’s going to be coming at them in the big games.
Route to the Olympics
They’re ranked fifth internationally, top nine get in. Also, I assume the Olympics is like the Masters golf tournament, where winning once grants you years of exemption. (Note: sadly, this is not true.)
Here’s the thing: I have Canada finishing first, because I truly believe they have the best roster, and it’s not worth playing hunches beyond that. But in a single game elimination match against the team I’m going to say finishes second (STAY TUNED), I have them winning about 51 percent of the time. Sooo, it’s a coin toss at that point.
Times are GMT+4, (MSK – Moscow Standard Time)