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Winter Olympics hockey 2014: Picking Team Canada one year before Sochi

Canada won the gold medal three years ago on home soil in Vancouver, but the birthplace of ice hockey will face a much tougher challenge defending gold in Russia, home of their biggest historical rivals in the sport.

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Steve Yzerman is back as Team Canada's Executive Director after a successful stint the first go around in 2010. He's now an NHL general manager as well, which makes it the first time since 1998 that Team Canada will be headed by an active NHL GM.

Wayne Gretzky led the charge for both 2002 and 2006, the latter of which he did while also being the Head Coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. In 1998, it was Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke that made the picks. The main requirement seems to be a former Canadian national team star and Hockey Hall of Famer must lead the team, which makes one wonder who might be next in line. Joe Sakic? Raymond Bourque? Martin Brodeur? Scott Niedermeyer?

Enough on that tangent, let's get to why we're here -- to do Steve Yzerman's job for him. We at SB Nation gathered our NHL writers of Canadian descent to pick the roster they wanted to see go for gold in the exotic setting on the shores of the Black Sea in Sochi next February.

Unlike the American team selection, we didn't bother choosing a new coach for Canada. Mike Babcock has not been officially named the Team Canada bench boss for 2014, but with the entire management returning and Babcock still amongst the best in the game today, there seems to be little desire to change gears.

Ken Hitchcock also seems a likely candidate to return in some capacity given his outstanding performance with St. Louis the past two years as well.

The braintrust will likely be the same for Canada. The players? Well, there's going to be some changes:

Left Wing Centre Right Wing
John Tavares Sidney Crosby Steven Stamkos
Tyler Seguin Claude Giroux Corey Perry
Eric Staal Jonathan Toews Jordan Eberle
Taylor Hall Patrice Bergeron Rick Nash

James Neal

I'm not sure I agree with the total youth movement our panel came up with here for Team Canada. The last time the team was picked, Jonathan Toews was the young guy on the team up front, while this go around there seems to be quite a few more.

John Tavares and Steven Stamkos are mortal locks, as is Claude Giroux, but I can't see Canada including all of Eberle, Seguin, and Hall on the team. Missing from this team are some pretty decorated and still highly regarded superstars like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf, Martin St. Louis and Patrick Sharp.

But, voting being what it is, these were the names that emerged from the pack. However, it seems that age is finally catching up with three time Olympian Jarome Iginla, who didn't make the cut despite being on the top line just three years ago.

A lot of Canada's forwards are natural centres, but this proved to be little of an issue in 2010, and I assume the four guys shown here would be the centres for Team Canada if this were the pool of players picked.

Just Missing the Cut: Evander Kane, Jamie Benn, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Patrick Sharp.

Duncan Keith Drew Doughty
Alex Pietrangelo Shea Weber
P.K. Subban Kris Letang

Dan Boyle

Canada has an unique problem on defense for 2014: an abundance of right handed shots populate the top end of their talent pool. Of the top seven picked here, only Duncan Keith is a left handed shot and plays the left side on his team. This could mean that Canada will cut superior defenders in favour of players that are natural to the left side.

In 2010, Scott Niedermeyer and Chris Pronger were on the team with Keith. Now, the options on the left side are much less obvious. We got votes for a wide variety of left handed defenders, but no one that was obviously preferable to the players that came up on top here.

Personally, I like Marc-Eduoard Vlasic's defensive game quite a bit. Brian Campbell was the second most popular left handed choice, followed by Dan Hamhuis, Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin. Those may not sound like 'Team Canada 2014' names to you, but if there is going to be a surprise addition to the team it's likely to be at LD.

However, I like the chances of players like Pietrangelo, Subban, or even Boyle or Letang to convert to the left side if needed. These are players that are exceptional skaters with strong hockey sense that could fill in quite nicely here. I'm just not sure that they're so much better than the LD available that Team Canada will choose all of them to the team at once. They're all quite deserving.

Just Missed the Cut: Brent Seabrook (lost a runoff with Boyle for the last spot), Brent Burns, Brian Campbell.

Carey Price
Roberto Luongo
Cam Ward

Who will start for Team Canada? Well, Carey Price was the only goaltender to appear on every voter's list, so he'd seem to be the slight favourite from our panel's point of view. Roberto Luongo was the starter in 2010 for the medal round, and although he's in the midst of a spectacular goaltending battle in Vancouver right now he's still obviously a top choice for Team Canada going forward.

Canada has less options in net going forward than it's used to, but Cam Ward as a third string goalie is still quite impressive. Martin Brodeur has been at every Olympics since 1998 for Team Canada, but now on the other side of 40 it seems he's finally been passed for a roster spot. Marc-Andre Fleury looked like he was setting himself up as the goaltender of the future for Team Canada heading into 2010, but he's been a below average NHL starter since then. Still, he had some strong support and Cam Ward didn't win his spot by much.

Just Missed the Cut: Marc-André Fleury, Mike Smith.

Finally, we polled who everyone thought Captain Canada would be in 2014, and it didn't take long to decide who was going to get the honours. Jonathan Toews had some mild support, but Sidney Crosby will in all likelihood get the captaincy in 2014. He didn't have a highly productive tournament in 2010, but he got The Goal, and faced the elite checkers of every nation in each game. It's a tough job, and Canada was able to win due to their unparalleled depth. He's the face of Canadian hockey right now, and is a natural fit for the captaincy.

In just one year's time, Canada will be battling for a top seed position in a group with Finland, Norway, and Austria. Until then, debating Team Canada will consume a lot of intermission banter on Canadian hockey broadcasts. This list gives you a pretty good idea of where the debate is heading... and there are already no shortage of mock rosters out there already.