TSN Hockey Insiders Bob McKenzie, Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger gathered for the latest installment of Insider Trading and the topics discussed included the injury situation for Team Canada, last second changes to their Olympic roster projections, and headline-making bubble players.
A lot of concern over potential Team Canada goalie Roberto Luongo after he was run over by Dustin Brown, will he be okay?
Darren Dreger: It sounds like good news for Team Canada. The MRI on Luongo's ankle didn't detect anything severe; nothing overly concerning. We're told Luongo is walking without a limp and he's feeling better so that should mean Canada is okay to name Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, and Mike Smith as their three goaltenders.
As soon as word broke there might be some concern with the long-term health of Luongo, that spawned obvious speculation as to what Steve Yzerman might do if they had to replace him from the mix and the sense that I have is it would have been Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Bob McKenzie: Whether we're talking Luongo or Steven Stamkos, the potential of having to replace an injured player is a very real one. We should look at what that process is. January 7 is the final day that all the federations and teams and countries have to name their final 25-man roster, but it's not really final.
In the case of Canada for example, they just nominate those 25 names and at the end of the month, between the 25th and 27th, the Canadian Olumpic Committee then vet that list to make sure there are no suspended players, to make sure everybody has a Canadian passport – that they're not trying to sneak a Russian on there. Then 24 hours before the hockey competition begins on February 11th, there is a directorate meeting. That's when the rosters become official, except they're not quite official. In that space between the directorate meeting and two hours before the puck drops on February 12th – if somebody got injured on a game day skate – you technically have a very tiny window to go through and name somebody else but there are a lot of logistical issues with the Olympics being in Sochi.
James Duthie: We have a change in our projected roster from Sunday. Price, Luongo, and Smith remain in goal. The defencemen remain the same except Dan Hamhuis comes on – remember head coach Mike Babcock has said from the beginning that he'd prefer to have four left defencemen and four right defencemen – that desire pushes Hamhuis on and Dan Boyle off, who we had on Sunday. The forwards remain the same as well. Insider Trading: Canada's Olympic Team Projection
Again, these are not all locks. Conversations are still going on with Team Canada brass involving forwards such as Eric Staal, Chris Kunitz, Milan Lucic, Patrick Marleau, Jeff Carter, and James Neal, and defencemen Mark Giordano, Marc Staal, Boyle, and Brent Seabrook; players that are still on the bubble.
Mike Babcock has stressed speed for these Olympics. Is there any concern about speed with any of the players projected to make the roster?
Pierre LeBrun: It's one to say it and for Team Canada it now has to be put into action. Canada looked like fish out of water in Torino and they're trying to not repeat that in Sochi. The world juniors really brought that home for Team Canada – they have to have speed as a tiebreaker; guys who can skate on a larger, international ice. We know some of the locks – Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Patrice Bergeron – aren't great standards and by this standard are kind of slow so they don't want to add more guys that are average skaters on the roster. When you talk about bubble guys like Matt Duchene or Claude Giroux, those guys are in because they can skate on the bigger ice.
There are a handful of players who will make major headlines whether they are on Team Canada or left off it; fascinating additions or glaring omissions. Let's run down the five most intriguing characters.
McKenzie: Top of the list by a large margin over everybody else is PK Subban. With all due respect to our American friends, the Bobby Ryan and Keith Yandle controversy: a garden party to what it would be if the eight defencemen for Canada are announced and Subban, the reigning Norris Trophy winner – is left off.
Over the course of this season, has there been any one moment where any network when they're talking about what they believe Hockey Canada will do, have they had Subban in the Top Six? The answer is no. We've never really gotten that strong sense that he's right in the mix, there's always been somebody ahead of him on the right side. We're projecting he's going to be here in the Top Eight but if any of us were to sit here and say he's an absolute, 100 percent lock, I don't think we could.
Another intriguing name is Martin St. Louis given that Yzerman is his GM in Tampa Bay.
LeBrun: That would be one tough phone call from Yzerman to St. Louis and you remember when Yzerman was made GM in Tampa after Vancouver 2010, that was kind of an awkward meeting between the two. St. Louis has actually strengthened his case by his play without Stamkos this season. He's continued to be a productive player. On the big ice in Sochi, St. Louis has a spot on this team and I think in many ways, if the stars align, Yzerman owes this to St. Louis. But he has to have earned it and I think he has.
Maybe the most debated player over the past couple months is Kunitz.
Dreger: And he'll continue to fight for a spot. His numbers speak for themselves: he's second, or at least tied for second among the Canadian goal scorers with his linemate and captain Sidney Crosby. As good as his stats are, he's still being viewed as a longshot. On numbers alone he's made a strong case, the chemistry with Crosby is obvious, but I don't think it's going to be enough. And another perhaps surprise would be Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. Yes, he has the experience the coaches love, he has the speed that's going to be good on the big ice but I don't think it's going to be enough.
How about another Patrick in Patrick Sharp?
LeBrun: I would argue that no other Canadian forward over the last year has made his case stronger than Sharp. His play in the playoffs for the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was amazing; he should have been among the three or four names among the Conn Smythe Trophy voting. His play this season in the first three months has been absolutely magical on both sides of the puck. He's versatile – he can play all three forward positions – which is important in a tournament where you have to juggle lines because of injuries. There has to be a place on this team for Sharp. I know you can't take everyone, but this guy just fits in so well.
Did James Neal get forgotten in this selection process?
Dreger: He has been. We've virtually not talked at all about Neal yet he is first in goals per game next to Stamkos. His numbers offensively are very impressive; there are some concerns with his game away from the puck, but he'll be part of the conversation before the final decision on Tuesday.
The same applies to Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins; a fierce competitor, but is that going to be enough to sway them?