First off, I don’t envy Steve Yzerman at this very moment. The general manager of Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, is under more scrutiny than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which says quite a bit on what our country thinks about hockey. Yzerman has the unenviable task of selecting the 25 players that will represent Canada in the one sport this country truly cares about. (I know many Canadians who do care about the Olympic sports such as curling, skiing and speed skating. But hockey trumps all of those by a landslide. Just stating a fact.)
What puts Yzerman under the microscope are the players that weren’t selected to join Team Canada. This is what Canada does best. Nitpick at the roster and debate it ad nauseam over a few cold ones at the local saloon. We here at Fighting For Stanley will join in the debate with the nitpicking. Here are three players that perhaps should not have been selected, and who their replacements should have been.
I’ll just come out and say it. Jay Bouwmeester is living off his reputation as a 16-year-old prodigy who represented Canada at the 2000 World Junior Hockey Championships. There were high expectations placed on the former Medicine Hat Tiger when he finally joined the Florida Panthers in 2002. But the question must be asked. When has Bouwmeester raised his game to become an elite defenceman? His tenure with Florida had flashes of greatness, but he could never lead the Panthers into the playoffs. When Bouwmeester was traded to Calgary in the summer of 2009, he was expected to shore up the Flames blue line, while giving them some offensive punch from the point. Bouwmeester struggled mightily in Calgary, as he couldn’t deal with the media pressure in a Canadian city. Yes, Bouwmeester had played well in St. Louis this season, but if he had trouble with the Calgary media, how will he deal with the entire country focused squarely on him? Hockey Canada is very loyal to Bouwmeester and vice versa so there is that bit of politics. As well, Bouwmeester could partner up with Blues teammate Alex Pietrangelo on the blue line so familiarity could have been a factor as well. But it says here that Bouwmeester has trouble with handling pressure filled situations and frankly, he’s overrated.
Who Should Have Been Chosen Instead
I will go against head coach Mike Babcock’s wishes for a balanced blue line. Babcock insisted on four right defencemen and four left defencemen which is why Seabrook was likely left off Team Canada. But here are the reasons why Seabrook should be going to Sochi. Seabrook has a knack for performing under pressure situations. One need look no further than last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs. It was Seabrook who calmed down Jonathan Toews while the Blackhawks captain was getting frustrated by the constant checking of the Detroit Red Wings. It was Seabrook who scored the overtime winner in Game 7, that finally eliminated the Wings. It was Seabrook who scored the vital overtime winner in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston that turned the series into the Blackhawks favour. You want loyalty? Seabrook was a member of the 2005 World Junior Team that destroyed everyone in its path to the gold medal. Seabrook was also a member of the 2010 Olympic team in Vancouver that captured the gold medal. Familiarity? Seabrook’s defence partner is Duncan Keith, one of the few automatics on the Olympic team. Add it all up, and Seabrook should be on the Olympic team.
The only reason why the Regina native made the Olympic team is that he is a linemate of Sidney Crosby. That’s it. Sure, Kunitz has put up solid numbers for the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, tallying 23 goals and 24 assists in 44 games this season with Pittsburgh. And yes, the chemistry he has with Crosby is very apparent. But wouldn’t you think the best player in the world can develop chemistry with any of the forwards selected for Team Canada? I relish at the thought of Crosby playing with Matt Duchene and Steven Stamkos on the same line. Kunitz? He’s a good player that has inflated numbers because of Crosby. Here’s a question for all of you. If Kunitz didn’t make the first team, would he have made a second Team Canada without Crosby? Stew on that for a while.
Who Should Have Been Chosen Instead:
Martin St. Louis:
One of the most underrated and under-appreciated players in the history of the NHL, St. Louis would receive far greater platitudes, if he wasn’t playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a franchise that doesn’t receive much exposure in Canada. The 38-year-old winger is like a fine wine, he gets better with age, compiling 17 goals and 21 assists in 42 games this season. This despite not having Stamkos for half of those games as Stamkos recovers from a broken fibula. If you want chemistry, try St. Louis, Stamkos and Crosby on the same line. I have a feeling Sid the Kid would have little difficulty being on the same wave length as St. Louis and Stamkos. Plus, St. Louis does have a winning pedigree. He played a major role in the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in 2004. St. Louis also was a member of Team Canada’s 2004 World Cup Championship squad. Yes, St. Louis was on the disappointing 2006 Olympic team that failed to win a medal, but St. Louis was one of the better players on that team. At the 2009 World Hockey Championships, St. Louis led the tournament in scoring with 4 goals and 11 assists, as Canada won the silver medal. The 2004 Hart Trophy winner should be on the 2014 Olympic team.
The hulking right-winger for the New York Rangers was a member of the 2010 Olympic team that won the gold medal, and he did score a memorable goal against Russia in the quarterfinals. However, Nash has struggled this season with the Rangers, tallying 9 goals and 9 assists in 27 games this season. Nash has been battling post concussion symptoms earlier in the season, but Yzerman felt that Nash’s body of work in the past for Canada was good enough. Yes, Nash is very loyal to Hockey Canada like Bouwmeester, but that shouldn’t be the reason to make Team Canada. When Nash has played this season, he has looked slow and somewhat hesitant. (It is understandable that Nash is hesitant due to concussion issues. Brain injuries are very serious and should be treated with caution.) And yes, Nash has historically played better for Canada than his club teams. But Nash is on the downside of his career and on the big ice, that could be a problem as teams like the United States and Sweden are opting for younger, faster players. Add to that, Nash had a poor playoff for the Rangers last season, scoring only once in 12 games, as he was neutralized by Zdeno Chara in the second round. The Rangers were easily eliminated by Boston in that series, largely due to Chara shutting down Nash. When the pressure was on, Nash wilted. He can’t afford to wilt in Sochi.
Who Should Have Been Chosen Instead:
There are a few possible candidates at this spot. Logan Couture would have made the team, but surgery on an injured hand that has the San Jose Shark sidelined for 3-4 weeks hurt his chances. Taylor Hall has been one of the few bright spots for the Edmonton Oilers this season. He would have been a solid selection for Team Canada. But Giroux gets the nod here. The Philadelphia Flyer did get off to a slow start this season, and that may have hurt his chance. But his play recently has stepped up considerably. Grioux leads the Flyers in scoring with 12 goals and 26 assists in 42 games this season. He also has led the Flyers from the cellar of the Eastern Conference, to a playoff spot. Granted, the Eastern Conference, particularly the Metropolitan Division is weak, but Giroux’s Flyers are in a playoff spot, while Nash’s Rangers are on the outside looking in. Let us not forget Giroux’s fantastic playoff performance against Pittsburgh in 2012. Giroux recored 6 goals and 8 assists in that series, as the Flyers eliminated the Penguins in the first round. I would have loved to see Giroux on the big ice surface, perhaps on a line with John Tavares and Jamie Benn. That trio had the potential to make some magic together. Alas, barring injury or some unforeseen circumstance, Giroux will be at home watching the games on television like the rest of us.
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