It was a year ago today, on a Sunday afternoon in downtown Vancouver, that Sidney Crosby scored at 7:40 of overtime to give Canada an Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey. The win defined the Games for the host nation, and the goal became the most important since Paul Henderson scored the Summit Series winner in 1972.
But despite the many great memories of that team, if executive director Steve Yzerman were to select a roster for this year, he would likely make several key changes.
Mike Babcock: The only coach who is a member of the Triple Gold Club has done it all, has done it for a long time, and is still the best in the business. He’s the front runner for Sochi. No change.
Marc-André Fleury: Although he didn’t play in Vancouver, Fleury has demonstrated skill with the Penguins despite some inconsistency. Still number three perhaps, but still here.
NEW – Carey Price has finally come into his own this year in Montreal, despite the pressures that go with playing at the Bell Centre.
NEW – Cam Ward. Canada’s lack of depth in goal is reason to be worried for Sochi, but even this year Ward has been excellent rather than sensational. He is on the team not so much for stellar play but for lack of other options.
Martin Brodeur: Sadly, the greatest goalie of the modern era is starting to show a few cracks and creaks, both in his play and his health. His contributions to the game have been extraordinary, but he has played his last Olympic game for Canada. Merci.
Roberto Luongo: Canada won gold not because of Luongo’s play but in spite of it. Nerves, over-sized equipment that makes it difficult to control the puck, and a flopping style make him a liability at the best of times.
Dan Boyle: Gifted offensively and solid in his own end, Boyle has done nothing to indicate he can’t still play Olympic-calibre hockey.
Drew Doughty: Although he’s had an up and down season this year, Doughty is a stud who will play for Canada in 2014, 2018, and 2022. Absolutely on the team.
Duncan Keith: One of the team’s top-four defencemen throughout Vancouver, Keith remains a top-four star.
Scott Niedermayer: “Great Scott” retired after the 2009-10 season, leaving one vacancy to fill automatically.
Chris Pronger: He started off in Vancouver as a stud, 1A and 1B with Niedermayer, but down the stretch he played fewer minutes in critical times, his slowness becoming more evident. One of only a few NHLers to play in all four Olympics since 1998, the time has come to say goodbye.
Brent Seabrook: GM Yzerman seemed to be making a smart decision by naming Duncan Keith, a star, and his defence partner in Chicago, Brent Seabrook, to the team as a pair. But Seabrook quickly dropped down the depth chart as Doughty moved up. Yet, Seabrook is having a great season with the Hawks in his own right this year, and deserves a roster spot not because of Keith or last year’s play but on his own merit since.
Shea Weber: That shot! That poise, which goes largely unnoticed in Nashville. Weber is a high-quality player anywhere, any time.
NEW – Kris Letang has emerged as the new Sergei Gonchar with Pittsburgh, a reliable defenceman with tremendous offensive ability and understated ability. Scott Niedermayer might be gone, but Letang can do a pretty fair imitation.
NEW – Marc Staal is another young player coming into his own this season in New York, giving the Rangers some mobility on their blue line and even moving ahead of Jordan as the second best Staal after eldest brother, Eric.
Patrice Bergeron: Loads of skill and experience, Bergeron continues to help Boston play the role of serious Stanley Cup contender and would surely be back.
Sidney Crosby: The hero who scored the golden goal would have missed this year’s Olympics after suffering a serious concussion in the outdoor game on New Year’s Day from an allegedly accidental elbow by David Steckel.
Ryan Getzlaf: Entering the prime of his career, Getzlaf scored some big goals in Vancouver and was a great two-way presence. He has earned an invite for 2011.
Dany Heatley: Perhaps just starting to show his age a bit for a player who is not the most mobile of skaters, Heatley deserves the benefit of the doubt and would be invited this year. His years of success and experience with Team Canada weight heavily in his favour, though likely not for Sochi.
Jarome Iginla: The man who set up the golden goal, Iginla remains a force. He scored twice as a kid in the 2002 gold-medal win, and his presence is a huge one in the Canada lineup.
Patrick Marleau: Although a formidable combination with Joe Thornton, Marleau isn’t the smoothest or fastest player on two skates and there are simply other players to choose from who deserve a chance. No invite this year.
Brenden Morrow: Morrow was a solid player last year, but solid leaves him off the team this year with several other players out-performing him in the last 12 months, namely Brad Richards and Patrick Sharp.
Rick Nash: A pure scorer who did a superb job checking Alex Ovechkin in Canada’s 7-3 win in the quarter-finals, Nash remains a key to any international event for his country.
Corey Perry: Coming into his own as an abrasive leader, Perry is a superstar. He scored the 2-0 goal in the final game last year, and is a top-six forward without question.
Mike Richards: A two-way player, checker, and penalty killer with plenty of offensive ability, Richards is welcome back, no questions asked.
Eric Staal: A stud. Few players bring the complete package to the table as he does, and Hockey Canada is fortunate to be able to select him to the Olympics every four years.
Joe Thornton: A prime example of a superb NHL player who doesn’t make the transition to the international game well (even on NHL-sized ice), Thornton is off this team. Just a little slow and not sound in his own end, he can be replaced by Richards without any negative effect.
Jonathan Toews: Perhaps the most complete player in the game – leader, scorer, two-way player – Toews will represent Canada for another decade and more. He scored the opening goal in the gold-medal game last year, was named tournament MVP, and became the youngest Triple Gold Club member a few months later when he captained the Hawks to a Stanley Cup (being named Conn Smythe Trophy winner as well).
NEW – Steve Stamkos is the name most likely to have caused controversy had Canada lost last year. Although he was only 19 when the team was named, he went on to lead the league with 51 goals (tied with Crosby) and proved to be a sensational scorer at the World Championship as well. He is doing the same again this year, and his inclusion is a no-brainer.
NEW – Martin St. Louis has proved such a good pairing with Stamkos and is a remarkable player in his own right. He deserves a spot on the team despite the poor performance in Turin, when he last played at the Olympics.
NEW – Brad Richards won with Canada at the 2004 World Cup and lost in Turin, but he’s had a sensational year and remains a magnificent passer with one of the best wrist shots in the game. His time (again) is now.
NEW – Patrick Sharp has played himself out of the shadow of Toews and Kane to become a superstar in Chicago in his own right. He has 32 goals and 56 points in 60 games this year and is highly talented with and without the puck.