Ahh, Olympic selection time. Hockey fans love it. We get to see who’ll represent each nation at the upcoming zenith of world hockey.
And then comes something that’s arguably even more fun: we get to pour over each roster, and have robust discussions about who made it, why they shouldn’t have and, on the flip side, who didn’t make it and why they should have.
With most of the big players having named their rosters, it’s fair to say that there’s been some interesting omissions across the board.
There will be plenty of debate with friends of mine in Canada, Sweden and America about the make-up of each roster has led me to putting together a Sochi 2014 Olympic Hockey Outlaw All-Stars Roster, made up of Swedes, Russians, Czechs, Americans and Canadians who didn’t make their national roster, but certainly deserved a spot.
Like standard Olympic rosters, the Outlaw All-Stars team has three goalies, eight defencemen and fourteen forwards. From top to bottom, it’s a pretty solid unit, capable of challenging for a medal in Sochi, where it to take the ice.
Part one details the three net-minders and defensive corps. I’ve analysed my selections all the way through.
Corey Crawford (Canada): Pretty rough when the guy who backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to their 2013 Stanley Cup Championship can’t get a gig on his country’s Olympic roster, particularly when it was because of Crawford’s incredible work between the pipes that helped deliver the second Stanley Cup Championship to Chicago since 2000-10.
Jonathan Bernier (Canada): Here’s a guy who can lay claim to the highest save percentage of any Canadian NHL starter in the last two years – yes, that’s more than Price, Luongo and Smith, who were all selected for Olympic duty in Sochi.
Yet, the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie finds himself on the outer. He’s been good when the Leafs defence has been bad. I’d have chosen him definitely before Mike Smith and maybe ahead of Luongo, too.
Ben Bishop (USA): Simply put, there is no American net minder currently operating in the NHL who can boast more with more wins (or a better save percentage, for that matter) than Bishop.
Bishop’s level-headed play and emergence as a star have helped rescue a Tampa Bay Lightning season that seemed headed south in a real hurry with the injury to Steven Stamkos. I would’ve taken Bishop instead of Jimmy Howard as a (projected) third string goalie on Team USA.
Dion Phaneuf (Canada): How does this happen? The Leafs captain, a Norris Trophy-contending defencemen annually and a guy whose big body would be an asset in the high-pressure cauldron of Olympic hockey will be at home in Toronto, watching the games with his wife, Elisha Cuthbert, on CBC?
This makes no sense. He should be on the team in Sochi. A proven leader, he is a bad omission.
Jack Johnson (USA): A guy who’s never been afraid to put his hand up for Team USA selection even at the maligned World Championships when many others flat-out refused (and has represented his country at every level since under-17s), and a good blue liner to boot.
After a solid 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, I had Johnson pencilled into my line-up because of his skating ability, a sure asset on the bigger ice players will skate on in Sochi. Proven leader, who is the guy with the most ice time per game (more than 23:00) up in Columbus.
Sergei Gonchar (Russia): Big guy on the blue line, ferocious shot, veteran guy who doesn’t get flustered…who will be watching the 2014 Olympic tournament from his home in Dallas.
You know this is a bad choice when Russian legend Slava Fetisov (who won a gold, two silvers and two Stanley Cups as a player) comes out and says he’s “very sorry” that Gonchar isn’t on the team.
Citing a young defensive corps, Fetisov thought Gonchar’s experience would help. And they would have. Fetisov’s words might end up somewhat prophetic in six weeks’ time.
Brent Seabrook (Canada): You would assume the towering Blackhawk, who owns two Stanley Cup rings, was one of the last, difficult cuts, and would be the first guy called if there’s an injury to one of the Canadian defencemen.
Easy guy to slot in, with built-in chemistry with Chicago partner Duncan Keith on the blue line. Great two-way defencemen. I can’t believe he didn’t earn his spot straight up.
Erik Johnson (USA): No relation to Jack, except that they could both feel unlucky not to have made the Team USA roster.
I figured Johnson would join his Colorado Avalanche teammate Stastny on the plane, but missed out. I thought he was a lock, and I wasn’t alone, judging by the surprise from many quarters of American hockey.
Played in the 2013 World Championships for Team USA and is playing well this year, scoring seventeen points in thirty-nine games, averaging more than 22:00 on ice per night. Head-scratching omission.
Keith Yandle (USA): Hard to digest this one, too. The budding Phoenix Coyotes star is a strong defencemen who loves to jump into the play on offensive forays, and also happens to be the third-highest scoring American defencemen in the National Hockey League thus far, with six goals and twenty-one assists out in the desert.
Debateable that guys like Paul Martin or even Brooks Orpik deserved a spot ahead of Yandle.
Dan Boyle (Canada): Perhaps not the same imposing force he was four years ago, but the San Jose Shark is still a guy you’d want to have patrolling your blue line.
He has a wicked shot, and is a smart player, someone who could coordinate Canada’s secondary power play unit. Let’s not forget that he had a gold medal around his neck four years ago. Such experience should never be overlooked.
Part Two – the forwards – is coming soon!
Want to talk hockey? Find me on Twitter: @akitchener