So, Martin St. Louis has been chosen to fill in for Steven Stamkos on Team Canada.
The best choice? I’m not sure about that, but it’s clearly the most popular decision that GM Steve Yzerman and the Canadian brain trust could have made. And certainly the safest.
St. Louis was probably the most surprising snub when the rosters were announced last month. The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner was off to a good start and had such terrific chemistry with Stamkos that it seemed inevitable they’d be drafted in as a duo.
But clearly there was something missing from St. Louis’s game that led to him being passed over in January. It’s been suggested that there were concerns about his defensive commitment and his ability to adapt his game to the big ice. Those worries haven’t gone away during the last month, but his response to the snub — 16 points in 14 games; being held without a point only twice — suggests a player who was highly motivated to prove himself worthy of a second look if a spot opened up.
He wasn’t alone in that, of course. The Flyers’ Claude Giroux has been masterful during the last month and it’s easy to imagine what he could have brought to the lineup. The same can be said for Eric Staal, an experienced international warrior, or James Neal, Canada’s best available sniper. Any one of them would have been an easy selection to defend and a valuable arrow in coach Mike Babcock’s quiver.
Yzerman could even have gone off the reservation and made a truly bold choice, like the Avalanche’s Ryan O’Reilly (7-5-12 in his past 12 games) or Nathan MacKinnon. Remember how the decision to leave the youthful Sidney Crosby off the roster was a hot topic for debate after Canada fell short in Turin?
Instead, Yzerman made the safe choice. He took a guy who will blend smoothly into the room, who has the full respect of his teammates, a guy who can fit in with Crosby on the top line or gracefully accept a limited role if that’s what’s best for the team. He won’t replace what Stamkos would have brought, but he can help.
And St. Louis deserved a long look on his own merits. It’s inevitable that he will be tainted as the PC decision, the selection Yzerman — who is also the GM of the Lightning — had to make to keep the peace in the Tampa Bay locker room, but that doesn’t make Marty the wrong choice.
But we’ll have to wait another couple of weeks to find out if he was the best one.