Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos walks down the hallway as he arrives for a news conference Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. Even with the benefit of a later deadline, Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff have less than a month to decide on their roster for the Sochi Olympics. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/The Tampa Bay Times, Dirk Shadd) TAMPA OUT; CITRUS COUNTY OUT; PORT CHARLOTTE OUT; BROOKSVILLE HERNANDO OUT; USA TODAY OUT; MAGS OUT
Even with the benefit of a later deadline, Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff have less than a month to decide on their roster for the Sochi Olympics.
A week could still make plenty of difference in the long run. Now Canada has until Jan. 7 to name its 25-man group with injury replacements still possible.
Another week might not make a huge difference in the case of Tampa Bay Lightning star Steven Stamkos, who is rehabbing from a broken right tibia. It would make all the sense in the world for Team Canada to name Stamkos to its initial roster in case he can return by early-to-mid-February.
Where the extra time could really come into play is in helping some players heal up and others show that slow starts don't matter as much as hot streaks. There might not be room for the hottest Canadian-born player in the NHL come early January, but one or two spots being determined by who's on a roll isn't out of the question.
Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers would be well served to pick up his offensive production, even though his rebound from a poor start (five goals and 15 assists in 29 games) has him back in the conversation. Problem for Giroux is, as Dallas Stars coach and Canada assistant Lindy Ruff said, the list of players who could make it is still "pretty long."
No one has forced himself into that conversation more so than the Stars' Jamie Benn. Playing left wing on the top line alongside Tyler Seguin has brought out the best in Benn, who wasn't invited to Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August.
Benn said last week in Toronto he naturally used that as motivation, and Ruff said the converted centre was playing "like a possessed player" this season. Benn has seven goals and 19 assists in 28 games, second to only Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins among Canadian left-wingers.
Who comes out to make room for Benn might not even be a matter of that player disappointing as much as a numbers game. Kunitz's numbers could have him in the conversation on their own, but his chemistry with Sidney Crosby can't be overlooked.
Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks brings versatility and the ability to play all three forward positions, but it's easy to see him getting bumped at the last minute—or making it only if Stamkos can't go.
Rick Nash of the New York Rangers didn't make the last projection while he was out with a concussion. Assuming he stays healthy through early January, Nash is a strong bet to sew up a spot, in this case knocking out Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.
Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings just returned from an extended absence with a foot injury, so it's tough to gauge his candidacy at this point. Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks getting off to such a wicked start helps when Yzerman and Co. look at pure scorers, but it wouldn't hurt to have another one around, especially with Stamkos's status uncertain.
On defence, Marc Staal's neck injury and what New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault called "symptoms," could ensure he doesn't make it to Sochi to play with brother Eric, who should be a lock after picking up his production. Staal could be the fourth-best left-handed option Team Canada has behind Chicago's Duncan Keith, Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues and sneaky-good Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks, but that might not be enough because of the depth of righties.
Assuming Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators doesn't experience lingering problems from taking a puck to the face, Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues keeps up his impressive play and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings stays healthy, the top three on the right side is set. Dan Boyle of the Sharks could be a good veteran to take for his work on the power play, while risk-reward case P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens might prove too good not to take.
That would mean three lefties and five righties, but with the ability to dress seven defencemen there was already going to be some imbalance.
The place where there's no real fluidity might be in goal. Montreal's Carey Price has a 1.95 goals-against average and .938 save percentage and could be called Team Canada's presumptive No. 1 goaltender. Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks (2.34, .916) doesn't have numbers that jump off the page, but he did win gold in 2010 and has the edge over goalies like Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes and Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks because of that and his body of work.
Who's in: Forward Jamie Benn, forward Rick Nash, defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Who's out: Forward Patrick Sharp, forward Milan Lucic, defenceman Marc Staal.
Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Corey Perry
Logan Couture - Jonathan Toews - Rick Nash
Eric Staal - John Tavares - Matt Duchene
Jamie Benn - Ryan Getzlaf - Marty St. Louis
Patrice Bergeron - Steven Stamkos
Duncan Keith - Shea Weber
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Drew Doughty
Dan Boyle - P.K. Subban