Head-to-head: Canada’s Olympic hockey roster

By Suneil Sachdeva

When Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman sits down to finalize his team’s roster for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he will be faced with an embarrassment of riches. While players like Sidney Crosby and Shea Weber lead a list of shoo-ins, there are some interesting decisions that must be made to fill out the roster. The Gauntlet asked two of our writers to fill out their complete Olympic roster selections and then grilled them regarding some discrepancies between the two lists. Cool trivia — both writers selected three different goaltenders.

Roberto Luongo, goalie
(Sachdeva’s pick)

Suneil Sachdeva: Canada’s goaltending situation is wide open in 2014, and Luongo is the only member of the prospective group who has proven himself internationally. While he hasn’t been as spectacular this season, Luongo has still been solid between the pipes, and his history is strong enough to reserve him a seat at Canada’s table. His place on the 2010 Canadian roster in Vancouver was questioned as well, until Luongo went undefeated throughout the tournament to help Canada capture gold.

David Song: He backstopped Canada to gold in Vancouver and retains some potential, but Luongo’s performance has taken some alarming dips since 2010. He failed the Canucks when they needed him most and was almost chased out of town by backup goalie Cory Schneider as a result. Luongo remains a serviceable No. 1 goalie in the National Hockey League, but his mental fragility places him a cut below Canada’s many other options in net.

Carey Price, goalie
(Song’s pick)

DS: With great size, top-notch positioning and exceptional vision, Price has proven himself to be a franchise goalie in Montreal and has gotten off to a hot start this season. He is a strong candidate for Canada’s top tender because he combines technical skill with experience and athleticism. Price is calm and composed in the net, which can go a long way in settling down his team.

SS: Price’s skill is undeniable, yet questions still surround his ability to perform under pressure, which could be the downfall of his Olympic hopes. Price’s biggest problem in Montreal has been consistency, and coming off a year in which he posted brutal numbers — tying career lows during the season and dropping even lower during the playoffs — Yzerman may be hesitant about gambling on which Price shows up to Sochi.

Josh Harding, goalie
(Sachdeva’s pick)

SS: He was not on the radar at all this summer, yet Harding’s incredible play this season has warranted a look from Canadian brass. He has been one of the most dominant goaltenders in the NHL thus far, ranking in the top two in goals-against average, shutouts and wins, alongside a top-five save percentage. Having an elite defensive talent suiting up on the blue line in front of him figures to only improve his already strong play.

DS: Harding’s breakout season this year — achieved while battling multiple sclerosis — is an incredible story. Having said that, he’s no Canadian Olympic goalie. Why? Because he has spent his entire NHL career heretofore as a backup. Harding has not dominated the NHL for long enough to be considered a sure-fire starter. Backup goalies lack consistency, and Harding is no exception. He will not be able to hold his own against his more talented countrymen in net.

Claude Giroux, forward
(Sachdeva’s pick)

SS: A poor start to the season has placed Giroux on the bubble, but as recently as this summer he was considered a lock to make Canada’s top six. He is simply far too skilled a player to leave at home, and his elite creativity will be deadly alongside Canada’s plethora of scorers. His versatility — which allows him to play centre or wing, penalty kill or power play — will be extremely valuable to Canada.

DS: Tough cuts will always be made in the formation of an Olympic squad, and Giroux could become one of the toughest cuts this time around. His puck-handling, hockey sense and versatility are irrefutable. Unfortunately, the same can be said for a number of other potential Canadian Olympians. A championship team needs to be skilled and multi-faceted, so Giroux could be passed over in favour of someone with a little more grit and power to their game.

Mike Richards, forward
(Song’s pick)

DS: He may not be the kind of high-end offensive talent that most players on this roster are, but Richards plays an outstanding two-way game. Whatever he lacks in scoring ability, he makes up for with his versatility, grit and leadership. In 2010, Richards was an integral part of the Canadian checking line alongside Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash. His defensive acumen and experience can be a valuable part of the 2014 squad as well.

SS: Richards’s solid play at the 2010 Olympics certainly bolsters his chances to make the 2014 team, but it seems to be the only thing that does. While Richards’s grit and two-way play will be looked on favourably by Canada’s management group, the emergence of other young, talented Canadian forwards over the last four years will push him off this team. His hard-nosed style of play may be missed, but it will be made up by other players who can bring other elements to the table as well, such as Giroux or Chris Kunitz.

Brent Seabrook, defenceman
(Song’s pick)

DS: Seabrook didn’t do a whole lot in 2010, but with Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer out of the mix, the time has come for him to shine. His existing chemistry with Duncan Keith is an asset, but he is a great two-way defender in his own right as well. Capable of skating smoothly, logging big minutes, making precise passes and launching artillery strikes from the point, Seabrook’s well-rounded game is sure to serve him faithfully against the world’s best.

SS: There’s a good chance Seabrook will be on the plane to Sochi come February, but it seems time for Canada to move on with so many other more
dynamic defenders waiting in the wings. Seabrook’s chemistry with Keith — a lock to make the roster — will be his biggest advantage. The fact remains that Canada has a plethora of talented, experienced defencemen such as Alex Pietrangelo, Kris Letang and Marc Staal that are ready to take the next step. While Seabrook’s international experience and chemistry would be useful, there are just too many other options who could do so much more.

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