The Canadian Olympic team was announced on Wednesday. Picking the 23 hockey players to represent Canada is not an easy job. In fact you could make a good case that you could take players 24-46 from Canada and battle the Canadians for the Gold Medal.
But there were two surprises on the roster for me...the inclusion of Joe Thornton and the exclusion of Shane Doan.
Now naturally I am prejudiced about Doaner. I get to watch him play almost every night and he is relentless on the ice. I have never seen a 33-year-old player who works as hard on every shift. He is a polished humble presence that reflects the soul of Canadian hockey. And he's known as "Captain Canada" because of his many contributions to the national team in the annual world championships.
Shane Doan deserved to be on the Olympic team on merit. I've heard he was devastated by his exclusion. He should be.
But his absence is especially glaring given an analysis of the Team Canada roster. The two flaws I see in the Canadian team are a troubling leadership structure and a lack of sandpaper on the wings. There's no question that these are great players. And there's no question that they have great skills. But in a short tournament it's urgent for the team to come together quickly and establish a work ethic that produces victories. There's little room for error in a 10 day tournament.
Doan's leadership ability will be sorely missed. Scott Niedemeyer is the Canadian captain but he is a quiet leader who, while still very skilled, is clearly on the downside of his career. He has admitted to as much this year. Mike Richards and Chris Pronger are vocal leaders who seem to be at odds in Philadelphia. That's not the dynamic that the Olympic team needs.
Brendan Morrow and Richards will be counted on to provide grit to the Team Canada but you get the feeling that they are a little short in this area. Canadian players will be under a tremendous microscope and all are counted on to play hard. But some players are more equipped to play hard than others. Doan fits that bill.
One player who doesn't is Joe Thornton. Now I know Thornton's stats and there's little question that he is the preeminent regular season player in the National Hockey League. If that sounds a little sarcastic, then I've made my point.
No player in the NHL has choked in the playoffs with the regularity of Thornton. The Boston Bruins got sick of No-Joe after a series on no-shows in the playoffs. They shipped him to San Jose where his disappearing act has continued. You've got to give the guy credit -- he's consistent. Every year Thornton is teeing it up by the middle of May. There were many better options at center -- one that comes to mind is the surprising exclusion of Dallas Star Brad Richards.
A lot of times hockey fans are accused of picking players by statistics only. It's called the fantasy or rotisserie effect. Well that's exactly what seems to have happened here. What evidence is there that Thornton will be any better on hockey's biggest stage than he is every April?
The Canadian team has players for every eventuality. Right and left handed centers for defensive zone faceoffs. A shutdown defensive pair. Great power play specialists. But at the end of the day, they seem shortest on the two qualities that make Canadian hockey great -- grit and leadership. It would be a shame if the team wasn't successful because in their haste to fill every conceivable on-ice need, that Team Canada brass missed having the essence of their sport on the most important Olympic team in history.