Oh man are you guys going to hate me a lot in about 2 weeks.
The Winter Olympics are quickly approaching, and while we're all excited by the fact the Red Wings are playing something resembling quality hockey this month, it will soon be time to set aside our allegiances and root for a country instead of a professional team.
The transition for me is pretty easy because I will still be supporting a team wearing red and white. What that means is a whole ton of obnoxious jingoism from yours truly combined with the quietly smug arrogance of knowing that, as a Canadian, I'm a better hockey fan than all of you combined.
Let's take a look at Team Canada:
Here's the current Team Canada roster, per our friends at the SBN hub:
First thing that comes to mind is that is a very unlikable roster, even for Hoser McCanuck. However, this isn't a popularity contest, so it's about talent, not niceness.
No Red Wings were able to crack this lineup, but sources told us that Mike Babcock pushed way harder than he should have for Dan Cleary to get an invite to camp. Unfortunately, every one else has seen Cleary play this year, so Kris Draper will remain the last Red Wing to play for Canada at the Olympics.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of the team is the inclusion of Chris Kunitz. Many suggest that he only made it due to playing with Sidney Crosby and the chemistry that exists between the two of them, and there's no denying that Kunitz has benefited from playing with Crosby this year (he's currently tied for 10th in NHL scoring as of this writing). The Team Canada brass obviously felt that in a short tournament like the Olympics, having some pre-existing familiarity with each other will help the team gel early and form a cohesive unit right from the get-go.
I could write an entire post on the list of snubs, but the biggest names are Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis and Joe Thornton. Logan Couture was on the short list but a hand injury probably did him in. All St. Louis has done since the team was named has put up 8 goals and 14 points in 10 games, while Giroux overcame an extremely slow start to crack the top-25 in scoring. Something to watch is Steven Stamkos, who is still recovering from a broken leg and is not guaranteed to be ready in time for the Olympics. If he can't go (and he was named on January 6th so that if he was healed he could attend), then it will be interesting to see who takes his place.
The defense pretty much went as expected, and thankfully the Team Canada brass didn't screw the pooch completely by leaving P.K. Subban off the team. Hamhuis and Vlasic were interesting choices, but paired with the correct people they could provide defensive help on a team that has several good offensive defensemen. For my money, Alex Pietrangelo is one to watch. In 2010, Drew Doughty was an after-thought who turned out to be the team's best defenseman. There's always a guy who surprises at a tournament like this, and Pietrangelo has the skills to potentially be that guy.
The goalies named were pretty much a foregone conclusion. Roberto Luongo will be the starter unless he falters, in which case it's likely going to be Carey Price stepping in. An unlikely scenario could see Mike Smith be called upon, but thankfully they call any type of contact in the Olympics so his diving should allow the potent Canadian power play to be unleashed upon their opponents.
Canada has a pretty balanced lineup, but their strength is going to be their forwards. They have one of the best defensive corps in the entire tournament, with balance through 4 pairs, but they can roll 4 legitimate scoring lines while maintaining defensive awareness through guys like Toews and Bergeron. In a short tournament like this, having players who can shut down opposing forwards like Canada does should come in handy. Having a couple of the best offensive players in the world won't hurt either.
While most teams have at least one goaltender who could be relied on to steal a game if called upon, the feeling around Canada's goaltending is that they just have to not lose games for the team. Luongo took over for Martin Brodeur (who thankfully wasn't given a legacy invite) in 2010 and played well enough to win gold. Personally, I think Luongo is better than people give him credit for, and Price is a more than adequate backup, but if there is a question mark on this team heading into the tournament, it's in net. None of the goalies on the roster have the buzz attached to their names like others do, and the scrutiny of the entire country will be on the guy with the mask.
Mike Babcock. Enough said, right?
No? Well, last year he got an injury-ravaged and depleted Red Wings team to within a goal of the Conference Finals and is working with even less this year. He's already got one Olympic gold medal in his collection and is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the game. Coaching won't be an issue for Canada.
Normally I'd guarantee gold here, but I know better than that. Despite winning 2 gold medals in the last 3 Winter Olympics, Canada has not done well when the games are held overseas, finishing 4th in Nagano and 6th in Torino. However, Mike Babcock would know to use Wayne Gretzky in a shootout, and Kris Draper and Todd Bertuzzi aren't members of the team this year, so they've learned from their mistakes.
They're the favourites for gold, and with good reason. They've got the most balanced lineup in the tournament that can beat you with offense or defense, and if they get average goaltending they will at least medal. If they get great goaltending, they win gold. Again.