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February 11, 2010
2010 Winter Olympics Preview
Canada, Silver Medal

by Tom Awad

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If you’re reading this article on this site, you know more than enough about hockey without my having to recap Canada’s history/obsession with the sport. Because the Olympics and World Cup are the only events played with all of Canada’s top players available, they are considered the most important tournaments in the public psyche, more so than the World Championships. After their memorable victory in the 2002 Olympics, Canada completely bombed four years ago in Torino, with a 3-2 record in group play including losses to Finland and (gasp!) Switzerland followed by an unceremonious 2-0 elimination by Russia. This time, Canada has all of its top guns and is playing on home ice. Anything less than gold will be a huge national disappointment. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be as easy as many Canadians would like to believe.

Appearances (Including 2010):

Total Appearances: 21

Medals:

Gold:   7
Silver: 4
Bronze: 2

Goaltending

Legend:

GVT: Total GVT

Name	           GVT
Roberto Luongo	  11.5
Martin Brodeur	   6.9
Marc-Andre Fleury  5.8

In the net, the story for Canada is depth. As much as some like to believe that Brodeur is in a class of his own, he has been no better than Vokoun, Nabokov or Miller this year; he is simply one of many elite goaltenders, and all the top teams in the Olympics have one. Canada’s advantage is that they have two, with Luongo also amply capable. Look for Brodeur to get the #1 job initially due to his international experience and puck control abilities, but Luongo will get the call should Brodeur, surprisingly, falter. Marc-Andre Fleury will get plenty of time to sightsee around Vancouver, as he won’t be getting much playing time on the ice. While goaltending won’t steal the tournament for Canada, it certainly won’t be their Achilles heel either.

Defense

Legend:

OGVT: Offensive GVT

DGVT: Defensive GVT

GVT: Total GVT

Name	           OGVT	 DGVT	GVT
Duncan Keith	   6.9	 6.6   13.5
Dan Boyle	   7.1	 3.8   10.8
Shea Weber	   5.8	 4.4   10.2
Chris Pronger	   4.9	 4.6    9.5
Drew Doughty	   3.4	 4.6    8.0
Brent Seabrook	   1.3	 5.8	7.2
Scott Niedermayer  5.1	 1.7	6.8

All I can say is wow. The defense corps put together by team Canada is basically what would have dressed for the Western Conference had there been an all-star game this season, plus Chris Pronger. While much has been made – justifiably – of the exclusion of Mike Green, I can see why team Canada felt they had that luxury. Duncan Keith is playing like the best all-around defenseman in the game today; Dan Boyle plays 26 minutes a game on the NHL’s #2 team. Philadelphia veteran Chris Pronger is a force of nature and one of the best physical defensemen ever to play the game, while youngster Drew Doughty has been the main reason for the Kings’ emergence as an NHL contender this season. Shea Weber labors in obscurity in Nashville, but he is 2nd among NHL defensemen in goals over the last two seasons and 6th in points and the Blackhawks' Brent Seabrook is one of the best defensive defenseman in the NHL, and routinely defends successfully against the best players in the NHL. On the other hand Scott Niedermeyer is not the bolt of lightning he once was, but he is still one of the smartest hockey players around and is well known for his calmness under pressure, one reason why he was named captain of team Canada. For the record, I think all 7 of these players were better choices than Jay Bouwmeester.

Expect to see Boyle playing the point on the power play, as he is used to playing with Thornton and Heatley; Pronger, Seabrook and Niedermeyer will be used for penalty killing duties and to match up against the opponents’ top lines. We should see plenty of dangerous clearing passes and explosive rushes regardless of who is on the ice. This is an incredible group, much stronger than Canada’s 2006 offering which had Rob Blake, Adam Foote, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, Bryan McCabe and Bouwmeester.

Forwards

Legend:

OGVT: Offensive GVT

DGVT: Defensive GVT

GVT: Total GVT

Name	         OGVT	DGVT   GVT
Sidney Crosby	 13.0   2.0   15.0
Patrick Marleau	 10.2	4.3   14.5
Joe Thornton	 10.7	3.2   13.8
Rick Nash	  8.9	3.6   12.5
Dany Heatley	  9.9	2.4   12.3
Mike Richards	  9.1	3.0   12.1
Eric Staal	  7.9	3.3   11.2
Jarome Iginla	  8.8	1.6   10.3
Jonathan Toews	  7.0	3.3   10.3
Ryan Getzlaf	  8.2	2.1   10.3
Corey Perry	  6.9	2.1    9.0
Patrice Bergeron  2.3	2.0    4.3
Brenden Morrow	  1.9	1.0    2.9

Okay, I’m going to get decimated for this, so I’m only going to say it once: Canada’s forwards are almost, but not quite, as good as Russia’s.

There, I said it.

That’s not to say that Canada’s forwards are anything less than elite. They have the best line in the NHL intact, with the Sharks’ Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau needing no time to get acquainted with each other. Most of their forwards are solid two-way players who can play multiple roles. However, they will have to give their all to match the Russians’ high-end talent, with Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Datsyuk and Semin as good as any 5 forwards team Canada can put out there.

Heatley, Iginla, Nash and Thornton are the only holdovers from 2006, but this roster is stronger than that group was. Richards, Toews, Morrow and Bergeron are fantastic two-way forwards who can kill penalties and hold their own against other countries’ elite players. Ryan Getzlaf, as of this writing, is questionable with a sprained ankle and will probably miss the Olympics; his linemate Corey Perry has also been great with the Anaheim Ducks, and had a league-leading 19-game point-scoring streak earlier this season. The talented Rick Nash has matured into a complete player and fantastic leader for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and has posted the second-best defensive GVT of this group of forwards over the last two years. Carolina's Eric Staal is a pure scorer and will be counted on for goals. Jarome Iginla, who was a hero of the 2002 Olympics, will hope to rekindle his magic once again in the 2010 Winter Games. Holding it all together will be Crosby, who was left off the Turin roster as an 18-year old, but will now be Canada’s undisputed #1 center and the one who will be counted on to lead Canada to gold. Last year's Stanley Cup winner has already proved himself as the captain of the Penguins, and he is probably the only player who can match up against Ovechkin and not get steamrolled. While Niedermeyer will be the official captain, Crosby is the best player and, as such, will be counted on to lead by example.

No analysis of Canada can be complete without addressing the elephant in the room: team Canada’s scoring woes in the 2006 Olympics. Canada was shut out by 3 of the 4 elite teams it played, with 2-0 losses to Finland, Switzerland and Russia. I believe that team suffered from trying to be too physical, without a sufficient emphasis on skill. Look at the defensemen I mentioned above: Foote, Redden, Regehr, McCabe, Bouwmeester. Good defensemen, but none of them has the offensive skill and ability to dominate a game like Dan Boyle, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty can. Furthermore, Canada went with “heart-and-soul” guys like Kris Draper, Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan, who are good players but not explosive scorers. I love Shane Doan, but would you really feel you had the upper hand if you sent him out against Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterberg?

Overall

After looking up and down this Olympic roster, you can see that Canada has no real weaknesses. They have two #1 goalies that are among the best in the business, the best blue line of any team with only Sweden coming close and forwards that match up favorably against every team except Russia’s. They must be considered co-favorites, along with the Russians, to reach the finals. Anything else will be a day of mourning in Canada.

Schedule: Norway, February 16 at 4:30 PM (PST); Switzerland, February 18 at 4:30 PM (PST); United States, February 21 at 4:40 PM (PST). Secondary round (except for byes) for all teams on February 23.

Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Tom by clicking here or click here to see Tom's other articles.

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