How will Canada's 2014 men's Olympic team look in Sochi, assuming the NHL agrees to send its players? In a straw poll of six analysts conducted by The Globe and Mail, 10 players were unanimously chosen – six forwards (Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Corey Perry, Jordan Eberle and Steven Stamkos); three defencemen (Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Alex Pietrangelo) and one goaltender (Carey Price).
After that, it was a free-for-all. Altogether, 23 forwards received at least one vote, as did 12 defencemen and five goalies. Steve Yzerman, who is back for a second term as the Canadian team's executive director, has a long "watch" list of players compiled last summer and chances are, all 40 remain in contention for the team.
Such is the depth of the Canadian program, especially at forward, where Canada could likely send two teams that would be competitive in the event. Moreover, Yzerman is not afraid to go off the board to make a selection that he feels confident in. His decision to include a 20-year-old defenceman, Drew Doughty, and a 21-year-old centre, Jonathan Toews, last time proved prescient. By the gold-medal game against the United States, Doughty was on the first defence pair alongside Duncan Keith. The International Ice Hockey Federation chose Toews Canada's individual most valuable player.
According to our panel, current form isn't much of a factor in their choices. It is what a player may do 10 months down the road, when the selections are announced. Among the Canadians in the top 20 of NHL scoring, players such as the San Jose Sharks' Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, both of whom played on the 2010 gold-medal winning team, didn't receive a single vote. Nor did two mainstays of Yzerman's Tampa Bay Lightning team, veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.
As one voter noted, Yzerman's history with selecting the 2010 team suggests that while he isn't afraid to take a young player, he won't "pick a young guy just because he's having individual success. Also, with Steve, he ranks players by seeing them in 'big moments' – how they handle critical situations and being in winning environments."
Beyond the 10 unanimous choices, Rick Nash, Eric Staal and Patrice Bergeron were all listed on five of six ballots among forwards, while James Neal was listed on four and John Tavares on three. Defensively, Duncan Keith, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto were selected on five ballots, while Brent Seabrook was named on four. In goal, Cam Ward received five votes, while Roberto Luongo and Marc-André Fleury were tied with three votes each.
Eight of Canada's 13 forwards are natural centres, but every voter had the same essential idea and placed Stamkos and Eric Staal on the wings. Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp can all shift to the wing as needed as well.
"You can't have too many players playing out of position unless they have some experience doing it," said Dave King, a three-time men's Olympic coach.
Nash, Crosby, Perry, Eric Staal, Toews, Bergeron, Keith, Doughty, Weber, Seabrook and Luongo were all members of Canada's 2010 gold-medal winning team.
A look at how the 23-man team might look:
Rick Nash-Sidney Crosby-Steven Stamkos
Eric Staal-Jonathan Toews-Jordan Eberle
James Neal-Claude Giroux-Corey Perry
John Tavares-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Other forwards receiving votes: Taylor Hall, Jamie Benn, Logan Couture, Milan Lucic, Mike Richards, Jarome Iginla, Jeff Skinner, Ryan Getzlaf, Matt Duchene, Brad Richards.
Duncan Keith-Drew Doughty
Marc Staal-Shea Weber
Michael Del Zotto-Alex Pietrangelo
Other defencemen receiving votes: Kris Letang, Dan Hamhuis, P.K. Subban, Tyler Myers, Brent Burns.
Carey Price, Cam Ward, Roberto Luongo, Marc-André Fleury (tie)
Other goaltender receiving votes: Mike Smith
Dave King, former NHL coach and three-time Canadian men's Olympic hockey coach.
Craig Button, former NHL general manager and TSN analyst.
Darren Pang, former NHL goalie and St. Louis Blues' colour commentator
Mike Johnson, former NHL forward and TSN analyst.
Mike Rogers, former NHL forward and Rogers Sportsnet analyst.
Kelly Hrudey, former NHL goalie and Hockey Night In Canada analyst.
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