Perhaps, for the first time since NHL players began participating in the Winter Olympics, Team Canada does not have a clear cut starting goaltender.
In Nagano, Japan, circa 1998, Patrick Roy was the man. When 2002 rolled around, Martin Brodeur stepped up after a poor opening game by the in-over-his-head Curtis Joseph. 2006, no one remembers but it was probably Marty again, with Luongo in support. Finally, in 2010, Team Canada reclaimed Gold with Roberto Luongo between the pipes. Bobby Lou was an obvious choice back then to split with Brodeur, which is what they did throughout the round robin. Who’s the obvious choice now?
The Candidates – There Ain’t Many
There are seven goaltenders suited to play goal for Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The following seven have experienced substantial time as starters on playoff teams, ultimately doing enough to be in the conversation. They are: Mike Smith, Roberto Luongo, Corey Crawford, Cam Ward, Martin Brodeur, Braydon Holtby and Marc-Andre Fleury.
There are seven established Canadian goaltenders in the NHL as of right now. I know, I was shocked too when I discovered that. The days of Canadian goalies dominating the hockey’s greatest league appear to be done. If not Canada, then who is producing the top goaltenders in the league? Here is a brief look at some of the competition.
America boasts the likes of Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider. For Team USA, it’s not so much a question of who is worthy, it’s more like, how do we narrow this group down to three. All five above mentioned Americans are tried and tested.
The Swedes have perennial All Star Henrik Lundqvist in the cage. Finland boast a wealth of talented goaltenders, headed by two of the game’s finest, Boston’s Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. As for the Russians, the 2012-13 Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky will likely hold the fort in Socchi.
Canada’s Seven Goaltending Candidates
Mike Smith has revived his career as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes. He’s a large goalie with incredible mobility considering his size. Smith is a mystery. He could never put it together in Tampa. Upon joining the Coyotes he turned his career around. Unfortunately, every goalie is a star in Phoenix. Ask Philadelphia Flyers GM, Paul Holmgren what happens when one of Dave Tippett’s goaltenders leaves the comfort of an ultra defensive system. Smith is a great goalie, but he’s a long shot to make the team.
Marc-Andre Fleury won a Gold Medal for Canada in 2010, although he didn’t do much to contribute on the ice. Fleury occupied the 3rd spot on Canada’s goalie depth chart, meaning, he was the guy who sat in the press box. Fleury had just won a Stanley Cup months before the 2010 Games. Since then, it’s been down hill at lightning speed for the former 1st overall pick. The Flower will need a miraculous start to the 2013-14 NHL season to make the team this time around.
It’s nice to have experience in the lineup for important games. In Martin Brodeur, Canada would enjoy a wealth of been-there, done-that. As old as Marty is, let’s face it, he’s still kind of good. Maybe Martin Brodeur makes the Socchi team, but it’s unlikely. He had his time, won 2 Gold Medals, it’s time for others to step up.
Braydon Holtby was invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp because he’s a good NHL goaltender with the potential to be great. Potential aside, he has an outside shot at making the team simply due to a lack of experience and success compared to his competitors for a spot in the top three.
Corey Crawford really came out of nowhere last season and established himself as one of the league’s elite net minders. He has a very strong shot at making Team Canada for the Winter Games in Socchi, Russia. Crawford’s near perfect 2012-13 campaign is hard to ignore while considering who Canada’s best goaltender is. It’s very reasonable to believe Crawford makes Canada’s roster for the 2014 Games. That being said, Crawford’s undeniably legendary season from one year ago is a small sample size, albeit a terrific one. If he is in the top three now, a slow start to the 2013-14 NHL season will quickly change that.
Crawford’s biggest asset – he’s won a Stanley Cup. If that criteria weighs heavily on the minds of the team’s selectors, Crawford is almost a guarantee to join Team Canada in Russia next February.
It’s been a frustrating calendar year for Vancouver Canucks’ goaltender Roberto Luongo, but his luck is about to change. The Canucks revitalized ace is a lock to make Team Canada in the upcoming Olympics. Bobby Lou’s been there before. He was the winning goalie when Canada held gold in 2010. Not to mention, Luongo has proven himself over and over again. He’s been a great goaltender, yearly, for many years now. Above all else, Team Canada’s management staff are known to bring along players with previous Olympic experience. Brodeur’s on the outs, leaving Luongo as the go-to goaltender with Gold Medal Game experience. Where he fits into the top three is anyone’s guess, but it’s hard to imagine him not being on the team.
Cam Ward is used to wearing Canada’s red. He’s done so many times in World Championships of yesteryear. He failed to make the 2010 Canadian Olympic team, even though many thought he should have been there. Lately, he’s battled injury problems that have tarnished his reputation a little. But Ward is good when he’s healthy and playing. There is stability and trust in Ward that just can’t be found in newcomers like Holtby or strugglers like Fleury. It’s a safe bet, if Cam Ward can stay healthy and start the season strong, he has a very strong shot at Team Canada’s final roster.
If there is one Canadian goaltender who should be the starter, it’s Carey Price. The Habs stopper is phenomenal when he’s at the top of his game. Price has won with Canada before, as a Junior. He’s consistently stolen games for his Montreal Canadiens, while under the spotlight and constant scrutiny that comes with being a highly drafted goaltender in the city that grew up on Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy. Price is raw skill, and pure talent. Unless he starts the season 0-20, Carey Price is probably going to make Team Canada and play in the top two.
It’s got to be Price. He’s too talented to not be there. If any sort of foresight is used, and obviously it will be, Price is easily projected as not only this year’s best Canadian goalie, but also Canada’s best puck stopper in 2018. They can ease him in with Luongo playing steady backup, setting Price up to be the experienced guy in 2018.
If Team Canada enter the Olympics with any combination of the seven goalies from this post, it may not matter. Since NHLers have been going to the Winter Olympics Canada has done poorly when the tournament is hosted outside of North America. This time, in Russia, it will take something extraordinary to defeat the highly charged European teams on their own soil.
It will be interesting to see how injuries and bad starts to the season alter player rankings. Conversely, maybe a Canadian goaltender will play their way onto the team out of nowhere. The Blues’ Brian Elliott, Maple Leafs’ Jonathan Bernier, and Flyers’ Steve Mason all fall into this category. Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman has some tough decisions to make, none tougher than, choosing his three goaltenders.