Executive director Steve Yzerman helped pick the team, coach Mike Babcock will be charged with leading them to gold. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
We won’t know until Feb. 28, or perhaps a few days sooner, whether Steve Yzerman and his advisory team made the “right” choices for Team Canada 2010.
What we do know this very moment is the only way he’ll escape criticism and eternal second-guessing is if his ensemble wins gold at the end of next month. Any other result for his home and native land is unacceptable.
We know this from history. Pundits still decry the inclusion of defense-minded winger Rob Zamuner on the 1998 team that lost in the semifinal; never mind the 11 other supremely gifted forwards couldn’t solve Dominik Hasek. And from 2006, when, somehow, Todd Bertuzzi singlehandedly ambushed Canada’s ability to score and even get close to a championship.
Curiously, nobody recalls the controversial selections, or omissions, from 2002 when Canada won its first Olympic men’s gold in hockey in 50 years. Leading up to the Games, Owen Nolan’s and Theo Fleury’s inclusions led to some head-scratching, but those criticisms evaporated once the medals were awarded.
The point is, Yzerman’s is a task with no margin of error. If the power play is stagnant, he’ll be roasted in perpetuity for not picking Mike Green. If it seems to lack focus and veteran leadership, he’ll be slammed forever more for passing on Martin St-Louis. If grit and heart come into question, detractors will always ask why Ryan Smyth was bypassed.
And if all the players perform to expectations and the team triumphs, Yzerman may get the Order of Canada along with his gold.
• Winter Classic Day has finally arrived and we rejoice. It’s a fabulous tradition-in-the-making for the NHL regardless of the occasional lopsided game or weather snafu.
We do have three words of advice, however, for the idea’s gatekeepers: don’t get greedy. Don’t bow any further to the temptation to go Super Sized, to transform a quaint concept into bloated series of sideshows.
The beauty of the classic lies in its innocence and infrequency. That needs to be protected. Attempts to over-market, over-hype and over-fete the contest – to dress it up with glitzy distractions as we fear in might be headed – need to be resisted if we want this annual party to remain special.
Similarly, suggestions to hold two per year should be dismissed. More than one classic in the same season defeats the original intention. Less, in this instance, truly is more.
Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt to throw Canada a bone and hold one in the Great White North. Soon.
• Congratulations to Sidney Crosby on winning the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s male athlete for 2009. It’s a well-earned honor.
That said, if I were handing out an MVP acknowledgement for the calendar year, I’d select Buffalo’s American-born stopper Ryan Miller. No individual was more critical to his team’s success, of lack of it, than the Sabres’ netminder.
When Crosby got hurt in ‘09, the Penguins survived. When Alex Ovechkin missed time earlier this season, Washington kept scoring. When Martin Brodeur proved human and finally suffered an injury in 2008-09, Scott Clemmensen shone.
When Miller doesn’t play for Buffalo, they don’t win. Almost ever.
Buffalo’s chances of making the playoffs last season died when Miller went down and they’re sitting atop the Northeast entering 2010 due largely to his spectacular play. If he maintains his level of excellence for the balance of the campaign, he could be the first goalie to win the Hart since Jose Theodore in 2002.
• Credit where it’s due: that Colorado, Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta and Los Angeles are all sitting in playoff positions entering the new decade is a testament to the NHL’s competitive balance.
Now if only fans in those markets were made aware of it.
The Avs (27th), Preds (26th), Thrashers (28th) and Coyotes (30th) are among the five worst home draws in the league, with only Nashville nudging over the 80-percent of capacity mark. The Kings are faring slightly better, ranked No. 19 at 89 percent.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.