Pittsburgh Penguins: Team Canada says “yes” to Chris Kunitz and “no” to James Neal

Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Chris Kunitz, Pittsburgh Penguins. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

OK. We’ve had a few days to relax and think things over. Team Canada though. They picked Sidney Crosby’s right-hand man – the beneficiary of his superb talents – yet, superstar James Neal was not chosen.

Most Penguins fans I’ve talked to (which has been two) since Hockey Canada’s half-hour roster announcement; they say both Chris Kunitz and Neal should’ve made Yzerman’s final cut. They may be right. But then again, they may just be homers.

Most non-Penguins fans I’ve talked to since Team Canada chose its final Olympic roster – which has been several – think that Neal should’ve made Team Canada, and Kunitz should be spending mid February on a tropical island, sipping margaritas, watching cricket or something.

And, every hockey fan I’ve talked to; they think Martin St. Louis should’ve made Team Canada, especially in 2010, but I guess you can’t nitpick a team that won a gold medal.

To all the anti-Kunitzians out there: he’s actually a pretty good hockey player. Top line forward on hockey’s most powerful roster? That’s debatable, but the powers that be think he is, so maybe he is.

Personally, I like Chris Kunitz. I’ve seen enough of him to know that yes his offensive statistics are inflated because he skates on a line with hockey’s most epic star, Sidney Crosby, but his overall game is solid. Solid hockey players win hockey games. Flashy one-dimensional hockey players play in the World Championships every year.

If the Americans are bringing twenty-goal-scoring grinders like Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan, why can’t Canada bring Kunitz? Keep in mind, Nikolai Kulemin made Team Russia and Victor Hedman didn’t make Team Sweden. It’s crazy out there!

I understand why Chris Kunitz was selected to Team Canada. He’s a fast skating, puck pursuing, net-front presence with bite, and tenacity, and ferocity. Chris Kunitz does the little things that are conducive with goal scoring.

They should’ve brought Milan Lucic, too.

I understand why Neal didn’t make Team Canada. He wasn’t going to play a prominent scoring role ahead of Stamkos, Crosby, Tavares, Getzlaf, or Perry. AND, he wasn’t going to serve as a defensive specialist either. Neal’s best qualities are his big shot and big frame… and a big centreman named Evgeni Malkin; the Crosby to his Kunitz.

IF, and presumably when, Team Canada need a goal, I’d imagine Kunitz will drop down to a line with Bergeron or Patrick Marleau, or even Getzlaf and Perry who were his line-mates with the Anaheim Ducks between 2006 and ’09. Tavares will move up to play with Crosby, and Babcock will shorten his bench – as coaches are wont to do late, in close games.

Neal, he probably wouldn’t have hindered Canada either; the guy’s a great hockey player with a mighty fine wrist shot. But he doesn’t have a resume like the depth players who made Team Canada: Jeff Carter, Marleau, and Rick Nash. And if you want to make Team Canada without possessing a tremendous resume, be Matt Duchene, not Evgeni Malkin’s right-winger who takes bad penalties sometimes.

If Canada don’t win a gold medal in Sochi next month, they will have failed in the eyes of many Canadians. The pressure to select the right Team Canada roster must’ve been overwhelming for Yzerman and his team. In the end, they seem to truly believe they’ve chosen a collection of players that will win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

If the goal was to name a team that would please most Canadians on roster announcement day, the squad would look very different right now. Thankfully, the ambition of Team Canada’s management was to select a roster that will please Canadians on gold medal day.