TORONTO- Four years after Sidney Crosby lifted Team Canada to gold in Vancouver the question of who will play on Canada’s men’s hockey team at the Sochi Olympics is all but certain.
The 25-player roster is scheduled to be unveiled Tuesday at 11 a.m. and aside from a few locks in the forward department (Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares) there are a number of difficult decisions facing executive director Steve Yzerman and his staff.
“We’re playing good teams, you need good goaltending,” Yzerman said during Olympic orientation camp in August. “You need good defence. You need balance. All of these teams are relatively balanced. Any area of weakness can be an issue.”
Who will get the starting job in net is one of the big questions looming over Team Canada.
Hockey historian Liam Maguire says the decision is between Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, with Luongo having a slight edge as the netminder who helped Canada win the gold medal in 2010.
Maguire says the third spot is more uncertain with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes, and Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild all being considered.
“I think Luongo and Price are all but a lock. As for the third goaltender I think Mike Smith has the edge but it depends on how the conversations with Yzerman go,” said Maguire. “They could consider Crawford because he won the [Stanley] Cup with Chicago or Harding because he’s battling [multiple sclerosis] and still having a great season.”
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One area where there seems to be a consensus is at centre where Crosby, Toews, and Tavares could be joined by Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins who all seem to be the first choice in the middle among analysts at The Hockey News and The Canadian Press.
With the wealth of talent in the forward position, specifically in the middle, a number of other centres will move to the wing position for the Olympics.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers are all top NHL centres, could become wingers for Team Canada.
Whether Stamkos joins Team Canada in Sochi is still in question and depends on his ability to return from injury after breaking his right tibia in November.
Natural wingers like Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightening, Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars are leading candidates to fill the remaining spots.
On the bubble are Pittsburgh Penguins forwards James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and Rick Nash of the New York Rangers who has struggled offensively this season. Neal faced a setback earlier this year with an injury but appears to be healthy now and is a natural scorer.
Veterans of the 2010 Olympic team Patrick Marleau, Joe Thorton, and Danny Heatley will likely be left off this year’s squad.
At the blueline the decisions facing Yzerman are more straight forward.
Among hockey analysts the “locks” for the top defensive pairings are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues teammates Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and teammate Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks will be considered for the two remaining spots.
Possible Team Canada roster
Line 1: Matt Duchene (COL) – Sidney Crosby (PIT) – Steven Stamkos (TB)
Line 2: John Tavares (NYI)– Jonathan Toews (CHI) – Claude Giroux (PHI)
Line 3: Logan Couture (SJ) – Ryan Getzlaf (ANA) – Corey Perry (ANA)
Line 4: Jamie Benn (DAL) – Patrice Bergeron (BOS)– Patrick Sharp (CHI)
Martin St. Louis (TB) and James Neal (PIT)
Duncan Keith(CHI) – Shea Weber(NAS)
Jay Bouwmeester(STL) – Alex Pietrangelo(STL)
Brent Seabrook(CHI) - Drew Doughty(LA)
P.K. Subban(MTL) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic(SJ)
Starter: Roberto Luongo(VAN)
Backup: Carey Price(MTL)
Extra: Mike Smith (PHO)
*With a file from the Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2014