Team Canada is loaded. It would have been no matter who they picked among viable Olympic candidates.
The Olympics itself and a team's success within it is far from an exact science. There's a school of thought that you take the best players, no matter what and let them do what they do. Canada probably didn't take all of the best players available to them, but there's not much drop off if that is the case.
When building a team like this, the management team has to ask themselves if Player X can play a fourth-line role adequately, if they can penalty kill or if there's a way to get some chemistry on the power play. They have players that can do that, despite the fact that most are first-option offensive players for their respective NHL teams.
The challenge of the Olympics is that these teams will come together two or three days before the tournament starts and will be expected to drop the puck and be ready to go. In short tournaments, the team needs to gel quickly. That's why you see players that have already developed chemistry make these teams.
These teams need to be very good very quickly. Canada has the talent throughout the lineup to do that, even with the guys they left off. They also have a team that should have no problem adjusting to the bigger ice surface. As constructed, Canada remains the favorite to win gold, but until they get on the ice, it's hard to know just how smart the decisions were or weren't.
Here's a look at Team Canada with some projected lines and thoughts on some of their strengths heading into Sochi.
|Line||Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Line 1||Chris Kunitz||Sidney Crosby||Steven Stamkos|
|Line 2||Jamie Benn||Ryan Getzlaf||Corey Perry|
|Line 3||Patrick Sharp||Jonathan Toews||Jeff Carter|
|Line 4||Matt Duchene||John Tavares||Rick Nash|
|Extra Forwards||Patrick Marleau||Patrice Bergeron|
I'll be honest, it's kind of a crap shoot when it comes to the forward group in terms of lineup projection. There are so many different combinations to play with.
You'd expect head coach Mike Babcock will want to keep a lot of teammates together for that built-in chemistry, hence controversial pick Chris Kunitz being a first-line forward on this projection. Beyond that, there are so many options the Red Wings head coach will have to play with in his second go at the Olympics behind the Canadian bench.
This team has a really good mix of speed and power throughout the lineup. There's the capability of having both speed and some ruggedness on every single line. Getting to the tough areas in the ice, which are basically the same as an NHL game despite a wider surface, is an area where Canada will excel.
You know Canada will not get pushed around at this tournament and while the big ice allows speed and skill some space to flourish, getting to the middle of the ice and creating chances in tight areas is still a huge key. Hard to imagine Canada will have much trouble making that happen.
They also have versatility throughout the lineup. Toews and Bergeron are ideal to play in a lot of defensive situations without giving up any offense. The same can be said for pretty much all of the centers, but you'd expect those two to get the toughest assignments.
Then all of the wings on this team can score. All of them. How nice is that?
I think Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau and Matt Duchene will be the guys that may be interchangeable in the lineup. Each team takes 14 forwards, but will likely suit up 13. I'd expect Canada to dress all five centers listed due to the versatility in that group.
There's going to be a very good hockey player sitting in the press box for some games, but Canada has the flexibility to move the lineup around depending on the opponent. My guess is it will often come down to what Team Canada values more, Duchene's speed or Marleau's experience?
No matter which 13 they go with, this group is going to score a lot of goals, you'd expect.
|Pairing 1||Duncan Keith||Drew Doughty|
|Pairing 2||Jay Bouwmeester||Alex Pietrangelo|
|Pairing 3||Marc-Edouard Vlasic||Shea Weber|
|Extra Defensemen||Dan Hamhuis||P.K. Subban|
On defense, Canada has some interesting choices for how to structure their lineup.
I think the Sochi games could be another touchstone moment for Duncan Keith. His speed and all-around game is made to torch teams on the big ice. He can play in all situations and should be extremely effective. If he ends up paired with Doughty, that's just a painfully talented top two.
I think the only pairing that would be set in stone is Jay Bouwmeester with Alex Pietrangelo. They have built-in chemistry and obviously are a good mix of offense and defense in a pairing.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Shea Weber could be a solid shutdown pairing with Weber seeing time on the power play as well to let that shot go. That's a highly mobile group that will play a physical game and limit a lot of chances if it ends up happening.
I don't think P.K. Subban should be the seventh defenseman on this team, but based on everything that has been said in the build up to this team being announced, that's probably where he ends up. If that's the case, Canada has an absolute weapon to deploy in situations where it needs some offensive spark. He could be a power play guy as well. His speed and offensive know-how, as well as having big-ice experience while playing with the Belleville Bulls in the OHL, is certainly helpful.
This group as a whole brings solid defense and most of these guys can move the puck extremely well. Their collective mobility and puck-moving capabilities are going to make Canada a really dangerous team in transition. That will help put a lot of teams on their heels.
Some opponents may be able to find the cracks defensively, though. If this defensive group can stay disciplined on the big ice, however, they're going to be a tough group to beat cleanly.
2. Carey Price
3. Mike Smith
When it comes to goalies, this is definitely the weakest spot in the lineup for Canada, even though it's pretty solid at the top. I think Price has been the most consistent of the three and though Luongo has Olympic experience on his side, it just seems like Price's time has come.
Luongo was on Team Canada the last time they played on big ice in the Olympics. He only got in two games in Torino in 2006, but that's valid experience to fall back on. Goalies often have the biggest adjustment of any player to the big ice due to the changing of the angles.
Neither Price nor Luongo has played on a big surface in a long time, though – 2006 for Luongo and the 2007 World Juniors for Price. That could be of some moderate concern since they won't get much practice time to adjust to it.
Mike Smith, however, has played on the big ice more recently. He was Canada's goalie at the 2013 World Championship, where Canada underwhelmed quite a bit. That said, there weren't a lot of great options for a No. 3. He's unlikely to play, but if they need him, he's got that recent experience to fall back on.
This Canadian team has a lot of potential and should be favored to win gold. Only the Swedes probably are close in terms of overall depth of talent on paper, but nothing is given in these short tournaments. Canada will have to play good hockey against the rest of the world, with every team gunning for their gold medal.
It's going to be a fascinating couple of weeks of hockey in Sochi.