About four hours after Sidney Crosby scored the Golden Goal that capped off the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the first of many articles predicting what Canada’s team might look like in 2014 appeared online. In the four years since, every armchair GM in Canada has weighed the wealth of options and taken a shot (or two) at assembling the perfect squad to defend that gold medal next month in Sochi.
Finally, on Tuesday, we’ll find out how Steve Yzerman and the rest of Team Canada’s staff put the pieces together.
Here’s how I think it plays out tomorrow morning when the roster is unveiled in Toronto, along with a look at how the players might be utilized by coach Mike Babcock:
Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks: Starter. His track record earns him the role–that is, until he loses it.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: Canada’s best goalie (at least, the best not named Josh Harding) is ready to step up if Luongo falters.
Mike Smith, Phoenix Coyotes: Emergency use only. If he’s between the pipes, there’s been a serious problem.
Jay Bouwmeester, St. Louis Blues: Second-pair left D. Move him away from Alex Pietrangelo? Maybe. His speed and transition skills would allow Shea Weber to focus on laying down the hammer.
Dan Boyle, San Jose Sharks: Extra: The wheels aren’t what they used to be, but he gets the nod over Dan Hamhuis by virtue of his offensive game.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings: First-pair right D: Will play a punishing, physical role alongside his 2010 partner, Duncan Keith.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks: First-pair left D: NHL’s best blueliner this season will open up the ice for Canada’s top offensive players with his transition skills.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: Third-pair right D. Speed, smarts and sees lanes before they open up. He can be the puck mover on this pairing.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens: Extra. Forget about the “risk.” When Canada’s offense dries up — and it will — Subban is the one player who can open up the pipes and make things happen from the back end. Should key the first power play.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks: Third-pair left D. He might be the NHL’s top defender at even strength. He’ll be a revelation at this event.
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators: Second-pair right D. He can move the puck, too, but he’s best suited here playing the tough, physical role.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars: Third-line left wing. Big body who can play a physical game and win battles along the walls.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins: Fourth-line center, penalty killer, faceoff specialist. He looked overwhelmed at times in Vancouver, but he’s ready to be a high-performing role player this time around.
Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks: Extra. Terrific two-way player who’ll carry the water bottles or block a shot Doug Glatt-style if that’s what Mike Babcock asks him to do.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins: First line center. The focal point of this team. He’s the best player in the world, but he has to be more consistently effective than he was in Vancouver.
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche: Extra. Blazing speed and creativity could earn him a significant role before tournament is over.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks: Second-line center. Size and net drives more than make up for lack of speed.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: Fourth-line right wing. If Canada learned anything at previous Euro-Olympics (or at the World Juniors), it’s that skill wins out. That gives Giroux the edge over a more traditional depth player like Mike Richards.
Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks: Fourth-line left wing. Speed, experience and defensive play make him a safe pick, but his finishing touch adds some menace to the fourth line.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: Second-line right wing. A pure finisher, he may be moved around the lineup if the absence of elite speed on this unit becomes a problem.
Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks: Third-line right wing. Recent scoring outburst proves he could be a dangerous offensive weapon; strong two-way play and penalty kill prowess seal his value.
Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning: First-line right wing. Terrific set-up man who can make the most of the finishing skills of Crosby and Stamkos. Respected veteran could earn one of the A’s.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: First-line left wing. Sid exploiting gaps to set him up for one-timers is the next best thing to Gretzky/Lemieux in 1987. He’ll leave a gaping hole if he’s not ready to go.
John Tavares, New York Islanders: Second-line left wing. Natural center has to play out of position. Pace of his game seems to fit best with Getzlaf and Perry, but he could play on any of the top three lines.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks: Third-line center. He’ll handle the tough defensive assignments at even strength, kill penalties and dominate possession time. Don’t be surprised if he wears the C.