Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton have been impressive in San Jose this season. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Apologies to Homer Simpson, but whenever I think of Team Canada at the Olympics I conjure up an adapted Homerism: “To depth: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
Homer, of course, was talking about a certain liquid, but depth has been Team Canada’s strength and its crutch at the Olympics since NHLers began playing in 1998.
The main complaint Canadian pundits and fans have had in Nagano, Salt Lake City and Turin is the team takes too long to gel, sacrificing offense while players get used to one another.
In Japan, Canada scored 19 goals in six games, was led in scoring by Eric Lindros and Joe Nieuwendyk with just two goals and five points and finished a disappointing fourth. In Utah, Canada won gold and raised its goal total by three to 22 in six games, but that included a 7-1 drubbing of Belarus; Joe Sakic led the team with four goals and seven points. Italy is where it all came crashing down for Canada. A disastrous seventh-place finish included being shutout in 50 percent of its contests. And of the 15 goals Canada did manage to score in six games, 12 came against lightweights Italy and Germany; no Canadian finished in the top 20 in tournament scoring.
Since the talent level among Canadians is far-and-away the deepest of any country’s, why not look to naming NHL tandems to the Vancouver 2010 squad? If creating chemistry is a problem in short tournaments, go with guys who already have it, up front and on the blueline; linemates and defense partners. Sure you may sacrifice some talented players, but when you’re talking about guys at this level, the sacrifice is negligible.
Here’s a glimpse at some possible combos executive director Steve Yzerman and his staff could look to for some instant chemistry.
• Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley (San Jose) – The most obvious example on the list, the league’s leading set-up man and his sidekick, the league’s leading goal-scorer. And for good measure, throw in sometime running-mate Patrick Marleau, seventh in NHL scoring.â€¨
• Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry (Anaheim) – These two guys are likely going to be on the team, anyway, so might as well play them together. Getzlaf is 11th in NHL scoring, Perry fifth.
• Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (Philadelphia) – Both are centers, but if Carter is going to make the team, it’ll be as a winger. Neither are having over-the-moon seasons, but no one will deny they’d make two-thirds of a great third or fourth line and excellent penalty-killers.â€¨
• Steven Stamkos and Martin St-Louis (Tampa Bay) – This pairing really gelled towards the end of last season and at the World Championship. This season they’ve combined for 20 goals and 48 points in 42 games. Add Vincent Lecavalier – who’s heating up with nine points in his last 10 games – to the mix and you’ve got an entire line.
So there are eight-to-10 of 12 forward spots with already-in-place chemistry. Fill those lines out with Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash (that sounds like a fun troika to put together), and you’re laughing.
Now for the defense:
• Jay Bouwmeester and Robyn Regehr/Dion Phaneuf (Calgary) – Bouwmeester has played with both this season and is a lock for the team, but only one of the other two Flames will make it. I’d say go with Regehr, the shutdown guy.â€¨
• Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook (Chicago) – Seabrook is likely a longshot to make the team, but here’s where my theory comes into play. These two are partners 82 games a season, why not pair them up for (hopefully) six games in Vancouver?
There’s four of your six blueline spots. Add a Chris Pronger-Scott Niedermayer tandem to the mix (They have a history of chemistry, right?) and you’ve got a formidable back end. No Mike Green, no Phaneuf, no Dan Boyle, no Drew Doughty, but what are you going to do? No matter who the Team Canada brass decides on there are going to be deserving players left behind.
At least this way you can be sure there won’t be any downtime in the chemistry department.
John Grigg is a copy editor and writer with The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog appearing Tuesdays and the Wednesday Top 10.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.