Every four years, Canadians wish that hockey was more like bobsledding. Or maybe pairs figure skating.
Those sports, after all, allow a country to enter multiple teams in the Olympic Games, assuming that it has the talent pool to field a second world-class entry. And when it comes to hockey, Canada is plenty deep enough.
Regardless of who Steve Yzerman and his crew picked today, some excellent players were not going to make the cut. Really, really excellent players. Enough, in fact, to field another squad capable of competing for a medal in Sochi.
Start with the NHL’s assist leader Joe Thornton feeding sauce to James Neal and Martin St. Louis. Then imagine the blazing speed and Globetrotter-esque puck movement of a Kid Line featuring Tyler Seguin between Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner.
Back them up with 2013 Norris finalist Kris Letang and gold medalist Brent Seabrook and solid goaltending from Cup-winner Corey Crawford or young sensation Josh Harding and you’ve got a club that would give other teams fits.
Sadly, for Canadians anyway, that second squad is just a fantasy. But it is fun to imagine what a Canada 2 team might have looked like…
Jonathan Bernier (Toronto Maple Leafs): He has the highest save percentage (.926) of any Canadian starter during the last two years and has displayed considerable grace under pressure while playing behind the NHL’s most porous defense.
Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks): He was a legitimate Conn Smythe candidate after backstopping the Blackhawks to the 2013 Stanley Cup, but he still gets the Rodney Dangerfield treatment. His winning experience would make him the starter on this all-snubbed club.
Josh Harding, (Minnesota Wild): Inexperience kept him from serious consideration for Sochi, but he’s consistently played at a level that no other Canadian keeper has matched this season. He had a league-best 1.65 GAA and a sterling .933 save percentage before being placed on IR this week.
Kevin Bieksa (Vancouver Canucks): He has physical presence and he nails it on the penalty kill.
Dan Boyle (San Jose Sharks): The 2010 Olympic veteran has lost a step, but he still has the smarts to key the power play.
Brian Campbell (Florida Panthers): A lefty who can play either side and a master at moving the puck.
Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames): He trails only Duncan Keith and P.K. Subban in points-per-game average (.75) and plays a smart, disciplined game in his own zone.
Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins): Not having his best season, but he’s still one of the game’s most dangerous players in transition.
Andrew MacDonald (New York Islanders): All but unknown outside of Long Island, he’s a reliable presence who can make a difference in all three zones.
Dion Phaneuf (Toronto Maple Leafs): Big, strong and a great leader.
Brent Seabrook (Chicago Blackhawks): Probably the last player cut from Canada’s Sochi squad (and probably the first to get called up in case of injury). A two-way threat, he would anchor the first pair on this club.
Logan Couture (San Jose Sharks): He looked like a lock after a brilliant playoff performance for the Sharks. His speed and ability to play the game any way you want would be key to this team’s success. He’s now undergoing surgery for an upper body injury.
Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers): His chances with the big team were scotched by his slow start, but he’s been fantastic of late, going 6-11-17 over the course of a nine-game scoring streak in December.
Taylor Hall (Edmonton Oilers): This summer camp invitee got off to a lousy start, especially in his own zone, but has been much better of late. His speed, net drive and finishing ability would make him a nice fit with Tyler Seguin on the all-snubbed second line.
Evander Kane (Winnipeg Jets): A big body with terrific speed, finishing touch and physical presence along the boards. He would be dynamite on the PK as well.
Milan Lucic (Boston Bruins): Knock his skating all you want — the big man gets to where he needs to go and arrives in an ill temper. A nearly immovable presence down low.
James Neal (Pittsburgh Penguins): A natural sniper with 34 points in just 24 games during his injury/suspension-shortened season. If he wasn’t a lefty, he would have made the big squad.
Ryan O’Reilly (Colorado Avalanche): A brilliant two-way forward loaded with intangibles, he would make an impact in a depth role.
Mike Richards (Los Angeles Kings): This 2010 Olympic veteran is a proven winner. Grit and leadership would earn him a depth role.
Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars): The most dynamic player left off Canada’s roster. If he had displayed the same kind of speed and creativity on the wing as he has at center, he might have made the cut.
Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis Blues): The prototypical buzzer, Schwartz is quick on his feet and hard on the puck. He’s shown some real finish this season, too, scoring 15 goals in 39 games despite minimal power play time.
Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes): Finally healthy, he was Canada’s hottest goal scorer (16 in his past 16 games) coming into the final selection process.
Martin St. Louis (Tampa Bay Lightning): The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner is carrying Tampa’s offense, averaging nearly a point per game despite the loss to injury of his regular center, Steven Stamkos.
Eric Staal (Carolina Hurricanes): This big forward has always answered Canada’s call. (He was injured at the 2013 World Championship while serving as captain.) Versatility would make him valuable on any of the four lines.
Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks): You could make the argument that he’d be the No. 1 center for any other team in the tournament aside from Russia, but the NHL’s assist leader couldn’t make the five-man cut for Canada. He’d be the top dog on the B team.