Thursday, December 22, 2005

Analysis Of My Canadian Olympic Pick Discrepancies

Yesterday, the Canadian Olympic Team was announced. Last week, I made my picks. Like in the US Olympic picks 18 0f the players agree and five are discrepancies. I will try to justify why my picks in the discrepancy cases are better than the players who actually made the Olympic team. The basic reason for the discrepancies is one of philosophy of how to pick a team. Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe and the other people who were involved in the selection process believed that players should be chosen who have experience in previous international play unless there is a compelling reason not to select them (for example Mario Lemieux's irregular heartbeat). Specifically, they decided that it is better to have an experienced checking line - even if the players on it are clearly being outplayed in today's NHL. I believe that at the level of players selected for Team Canada, essentially all players play first line minutes on their NHL teams including checking situations and penalty killing situations and it makes more sense to select a player with more offensive upside when all other things are equal.

My discrepancy picks:

Rod Brind'Amour - Because he was left off of Canada's long list of eligible players it was clear he was not going to make the team. I think Brind'Amour should be considered the Selke favorite. He logs the most ice time of any forward in the NHL this season, often in a checking role and also has some siginificant offensive upside in that he has 29 points in his 29 games so far this year for Carolina. Brind'Amour does have international experience. He played on the 1998 Olympic Team and the 1996 World Cup team, although he has not made the more recent teams. As a checking center he would have been very valuable to Team Canada if they ever considered him.

Patrick Marleau Marleau was named to the 2004 World Cup team though he did not play in any games. He is a four time participant for Canada in the World Championships. He has 39 points in 32 games for the Sharks. His speed makes him a player who would excel on the larger international sized ice. He has really found his game lately having scored 16 points in his last 8 games in San Jose. Marleau would be a valuable forward for the Olympic Team if they selected him.

Bryan McCabe McCabe is the top scoring defenceman in the NHL. He has 40 points in 33 games for Toronto. McCabe has represented Canada in three World Championships, but never in any larger tournaments. He made the second team all star in 2003/04 and should be considered the Norris trophy favorite at this point in the season. Given the promise to continue the obstruction crackdown during the Olympics, a player with McCabe's power play ability would be very useful to Team Canada in the Olympics. He is on the taxi squad but not the main team.

Jason Spezza Spezza has 47 points in his 30 games so far for Ottawa, which ties him for second in scoring among Canadian players. Spezza is in his second complete season in the NHL and has no international experience beyond the World Junior Championships. Anyone capable of playing at that level in the NHL would be able to play at a high level in the Olympics as well. The best forwards in the NHL tend to be centerman, so it makes sense to chose more centers than a normal NHL team might have and play some of them as wingers in the Olympics. This is commonly done by many successful international teams. Its done in the NHL (many wingers on NHL teams were centers in juniors). I don't see why it would be such a problem. I think anyone who scores as well as Spezza has so far this year would be an asset to the Olympic team and it is a mistake to put him on the taxi squad.

Eric Staal Staal is tied with Spezza with 47 points in 33 games for Carolina. His 24 goals lead the entire NHL and yet he didn't make the Olympic team. Staal has no significant international experience. Staal would be a valuable member of the Olympic team, but instead he is on the taxi squad.

Actual Olympic Team discrepancy picks:

Shane Doan Doan will play on the checking line. He played for Team Canada in the 2004 World Cup and has played on three World Championship teams. Doan has 22 points in 34 games so far this year, which is far below the offensive standards of the players I picked but were left off. Seventeen of his 22 points have been on the power play, he has had very little success at even strength. This is troubling, because other players on the Olympic team would likely get the power play ice time and not Doan. Doan has the second worst +/- rating on his Phoenix team (-7). It is troubling that such a player would be taken for the "checking line". I think a player like Patrick Marleau would be able to fill his role. Marleau is a very good penalty killer in San Jose and would be quite capable to fill a spot of a checking line if it was necessary and he has far better offensive upside and so far this year has had better defensive play as well.

Kris Draper Draper is supposed to be the checking center on the Olympic team. Hei s having a bad year in Detroit. He only has seven points in his 34 games so far this year. His -6 +/- rating is the worst on his team. He did play very well in the 2004 World Cup and has experience playing on four different World Championship teams, but is not producing at all this year. Rod Brind'Amour offers everything that Draper offers with a much bigger offensive upside and better defensive play, so I gave him this spot.

Adam Foote Foote is very experienced in international play. He was part of the 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams and the 1996 aned 2004 World Cup teams. He has been a very good defensive stopper in the NHL and on these teams. On a horrid Columbus team, he is showing his age (34). He has 6 points in his 26 games so far. He is slow and appears to have lost a step over the lockout. Although McCabe would not fill the same role on the team as Foote would, McCabe has far more to offer the team at this point and would be a better addition to the team then Foote. Players like Robyn Regehr and Chris Pronger would make good defensive stoppers, they can live without Foote.

Rick Nash Nash has not had much of a start to the season yet. Due to injuries, he has been limited to six games played. During that time he has three points. Nash had a breakthrough season in 2003/04 where he tied for the NHL lead in goals with 41 (but do not forget that he had only 57 points due to his lack of assists). His international experience at the pro level is the 2005 World Championships. I picked Eric Staal in his place because he is also a very good goal scorer who is healthy and appears to be a more well rounded player than Nash who could score more points then nash ever could in a season.

Ryan Smyth Smyth has considereable international experience. He played on the 2002 Olympic team, 2004 World Cup team and seven different World Championship teams. He has 27 points in 29 games so far this year for the Oilers, which is good for fourth on the team. Smyth has been a good player for Team Canada in the past, but he does not have the offensive upside of Jason Spezza. His career best in 70 points in 2000/01. Spezza looks to easily beat that multiple times in his career. Spezza does not have the defensive ability of Smyth, but most of the Team Canada squad has solid defensive skills and I do not see why this is a problem. Spezza has more to offer to the Olympic team then Smyth.

These players are largely the bottom of the roster and will make little difference to the success or failure of Team Canada. However, I believe the best possible Team Canada would be chosen with a different philosophy and would do better.

NOTE: This will likely be my last blog post until after Christmas. I am going away tomorrow and although I will have internet access, I doubt I will want to spend my time in front of a computer, so likely there will be no new posts for a few days.

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