The unfortunate reality in the Olympic selection process was that some really great players were going to be on the outside looking in when all the dust settled on Jan. 7. This was evident in the beginning with Bobby Ryan and Team USA and was continued through to the end with Hockey Canada's decision to leave Claude Giroux, Logan Couture and Martin St. Louis off its squad.
For many, the three players were virtual locks to represent Canada in Sochi. Giroux is two years removed from being named one of the top-three players in the world by TSN, while St. Louis is coming off a season where he led the NHL in scoring. Couture also had a fantastic season, which many lauded as a breakout campaign. All three players rank in the top-35 players in scoring entering competition on Tuesday night, are considered crucial contributors to their respective club teams and would surely be named All-Stars if a game were to be held this season.
But the dilemma in selecting an Olympic team is that it's not an All-Star team. Instead of looking to assemble the best players available, the management team is looking to assemble the best team available. This seems to be the case in Hockey Canada's decisions with their 2014 Olympic roster. The group must have felt that the team announced on Tuesday morning was the most cohesive collection of talent they could gather
In looking at Giroux and St. Louis, Hockey Canada might have felt that they lacked a scoring touch that players like Jeff Carter or Rick Nash have the potential to provide. Of course, it's difficult to question either player's production when both Giroux and St. Louis appear in the top-three in total scoring since the 2010-11 season, with St. Louis leading the league over that time. But in breaking down their totals, Giroux and St. Louis both supplement the majority of their scoring with facilitation, while Carter and Nash do so through goal scoring. Canada's brain trust might think they need players willing to shoot the puck and both players -- especially Nash -- aren't afraid to do that.
When speaking of chemistry, it's interesting that Hockey Canada appeared to favor tandem pairings (Corey Perry/Ryan Getzlaf, Jonathan Toews/Patrick Sharp, Sidney Crosby/Chris Kunitz) but felt comfortable leaving St. Louis off the team despite partner Steven Stamkos earning a spot. More so to this component, St. Louis leads the Lightning in points and hasn't missed a beat even though Stamkos hasn't played since November.
But, with the announcement approaching, it became more and more apparent that Giroux and St. Louis were not going to be included in the final announcement. Bob McKenzie, hockey's preeminent source of information, remained a consistent gauge on the pulse of Hockey Canada's selection process. McKenzie made it clear on Sunday night that Kunitz, Carter and Patrick Marleau were still fighting for spots with the likes of Couture, Giroux and St. Louis. By Tuesday morning, McKenzie made it sound as though Carter had beaten out Giroux for a spot, while Kunitz had grabbed a spot from Couture. Somewhere along the line Marleau nabbed a spot, while St. Louis lost one.
But beyond Couture, Giroux and St. Louis, players like James Neal, Joe Thornton and Mike Richards were barely mentioned in their absence from the Olympic roster, which truly highlights the difficulty of this process: Amazing players were going to be left off this team.
Regardless of playing style, statistical performance or Olympic history, Hockey Canada was only provided 14 forward spots, eight defense spots and three goaltender spots. Somebody somewhere was going to be left out (that's not even counting the scratches for players named to the team). And while an injury could open up an opportunity for one of these overlooked stars, the group named on Tuesday will largely be responsible for defending Canada's 2010 gold medal. And because of that, Hockey Canada better have left the right ones out.
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