No Mario, No Stevie, No Problem

Steve Yzerman, with the upmost class has stepped aside from playing for Team Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

We can probably expect the same thing from Mario Lemieux. With his cureent health issue, it is likely he will step aside for someone else.

Team Canada will definitely miss these players. To say that they won’t will be foolish. On the surface, it appears that these two greats are no longer able to play at a high level. But I, like many others, including GM Wayne Gretzky, would not be wrong to think that they would bring out their best when it mattered most. Their leadership and the intangibles they bring simply cannot be seen on the stat sheet. After the dedication they showed, grinding through injury in 2002, they have earned their place in international hockey lore.

But since Yzerman wont be around this time, and likely neither will Mario, Canada will need to find fresh blood to fill their skates. Canada should have no trouble finding someone as they have the deepest group of players in the world.

With those two legends stepping aside, many fans and prognasticators have assumed that the likes of Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and phenon Sidney Crosby will be first in line for those spots. These 3 players have certainly earned their stripes but I do not believe that is the game plan of the team Canada brass.

I have to believe that those who have been there for Canada in the past, will be back again this time around. That isnt to say those 3 kids dont have a good shot or don’t deserve to be there, i actually think at least 1 of them does if not all 3. But I dont think they are what team Canada’s management has in mind.

You have to try to read between the lines to see that this is true.

1. Gretzky allowed Yzerman and Mario to make their own choice as to whether or not they were going to play. They could have easily chosen to go no matter their condition or play on the ice. That would have definitely eliminated some players perhaps playing better than they were.

2. If you’ve played for Canada before you seem destined to play again. That is the general feeling of most, including coach Pat Quinn. He conceded that the guys who have been there before will see action again. This was in conversation about his own guy Bryan McCabe who leads NHL defencemen in scoring by a wid margin. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it as they say. This is why the likes of Blake, Pronger, Niedermayer, Foote, Jovanovski, Redden and Regher are likely locked in on defence barring injury. And it would be players such as Bouwmeester, Hannan, Boyle and Phillips who would probably be first in line as replacements. They have been there before. It only makes sense for management to go with what they know and feel comfortable with. Even though McCabe has outplayed some of those players this season, he is well down the depth chart which proves my point that if you were there before, you will be there again.

3. Marty Brodeur is a safe bet as per 99. Even though he has not been Marty of the past, like Yzerman and Lemieux, he has been given an automatic birth unless he declines. There are actually more than 3 other goalies with better numbers than Brodeur. The other goalies in contention for the other two spots in goal, Cujo, Luongo, Turco and Theodore actually all have better numbers than Brodeur. If anyone watched his last game against Calgary letting in 4 goals in his first 7 shots, you will probably wonder why he is a lock in the first place. But again, he delivered for Canada in the past and most certainly will be the lead dog in goal again.

4. Gretz wants players to stay at their natural positions. check out this article on

99 was quoted as saying “I think the biggest change on our team today compared to 2002 and over the years is that we could take centremen and move them to the wing,” he said. “You can’t move them to the wing now. We have so many good wingers now, there’s no room to move them.

“We have centres now and we have wingers, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

you get the idea that it’s the best team they want. not the 12 most skilled forwards.

That is why you have to believe at most, 6 centres will make this team. that includes a checking centre. I dont think you could choose more than that. I think it would be counter productive just pick 12 centres because they are the best players. they have to know their positions, know their roles and leave little uncertainty as to what they can bring to the table.

so who’s in the running? I would say Sakic, Lecavalier, Thornton and Draper as the checker are going to be there for sure. These guys have been there AND delivered in the past. That is huge for Gretzky in his book. The one centre that perhaps will move to the wing is Brad Richards. It’s because he is a strong two way player and versatile. So that basically leaves an opening for 1 more centre but too many to choose from. You have leading scorer Jason Spezza. You have 2 other top 10 scorers in Eric Staal and Marc Savard. You have a guy who has been there before and starting to get hot in Pat Marleau. And of course you have the phenom, Sid the Kid.

I know some will simply say bring them all because they are all good. but what about wingers like Gagne, Iginla, St Louis, Nash, Bertuzzi, Doan, Smyth, Heatley, Tanguay? All of these guys seemingly have a leg up on the extra centres listed above. Gagne has delivered for Canada in the past, especially 2002 and happens to currently be the league’s leading goal scorer. Iginla is well Iginla, perhaps the league’s best power player. He too delivered in 2002. St Louis is the reigning MVP and played on the World Cup team. Gretz loves his change of pace speed to burn. Nash played so well with Thornton at the 2005 Worlds that he simply may warrant consideration for that fact alone. sure he is hurt now, but he should be healthy in February. Gretzky really wants Bertuzzi on the team. I think he wants that brute size and toughness with the skill set he brings. Especially true for the PP. Everyone cant find enough good things to say about Dany Heatley. He has probably been the league’s hottest player and certainly looks like his old dangerous self. You will see the lesser skilled, not as productive guys like Smyth and Doan on this list but because of their intangibles in terms of heart, grit, leadership, willingness to battle, willingness to accept a role. They will probably make this team to add balance in the lineup. All teams need these types of guys to win. If Gretz wants those in their natural positions, then that is what he will do.

So you are going to find top end star players being cut off a team for the first time in their lives. They simply will have to live with it. so will fans of those players. I recall on member on this site who said he would not cheer for Canada if Bryan McCabe was on the team. That is absolutely assinine but an expected anti-Toronto Maple Leaf sentiment. Whomever dresses for Canada should have all the support of Canadians. This is mainly directed at the Jason Spezza fans. I’ll be the first to say it. It will not be a travesty if he fails to make the team. For the record, he deserves a spot on the team in my books for being the leading scorer and for his great chemistry with Heatley. But if he doesnt make it, so be it. i hope people wont cry about it. just think Joe Thornton and how he got cut in 2002. Gretzky and co. know what they are doing and no matter who goes, they should have everyone’s support.

Thankfully the tough decisions are left with the experts like Wayne Gretzky. Hopefully he will succeed or else the “everything is wrong in Canadian Hockey” sentiments will return in full force.