It didn’t come as a surprise when Hockey Canada announced today that Steve Yzerman would head up the management team for the next few years leading up to Sochi 2014 for Team Canada.
But the one thing that did make people's ears perk up a bit was the stipulation, if you can call it that, which stated that the players would have to make to the team. The World Championships are held annually during the NHL playoffs, so the players that make the post season rarely participate. Therefore, the rosters are made up from the non-NHL playoff teams as well as other teams round the world
This is where things are changing somewhat. Yzerman, Bob Nicholson and Kevin Lowe stated during their press conference that they are not looking for a one-time commitment from players when it comes to wearing the maple leaf. This group does not just want players who are committed to the team for the Olympics and nothing more; they want a long-term pact.
This is similar to what USA Basketball implemented after embarrassing themselves at the Athens Olympics. They made players commit to the program for more than just a year. It involved World Championships in the summer and training camps throughout the year. Hockey Canada intends on implementing a similar type program to have players committed for the long haul, rather than just a few weeks in Russia. While this will be somewhat more difficult for Hockey Canada then it was for USA Basketball. The majority of star players in the NHL usually qualifies for the playoffs and therefore will not be available for the World Championships. It is obviously tough to get players to commit to your program if they are always in the post season and not available to take part in the annual tournament.
What will be interesting to see if whether the players who are able to make it to the World Championships every year (say the Oilers young trio) are picked ahead of players with similar skill sets are passed over due to their lack of playing time in such events. While an argument can be made that Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins will be playing at a level that will make them hard to pass over no matter what comes in the next few years it is interesting to think about nonetheless. Additionally it will help all three players’ chances to make the squad since Kevin Lowe will be heavily involved in forming the team.
Another thing to consider is if the NHL will even be showing up for the Olympics. Participation and league compensation will likely be solved during the CBA talks in the next calendar year. It is not secret that the IOC makes money hand over fist off of the players that are paid by the NHL. While athletes do not get paid to take part in the Olympics, the league and the players association have some reservations about taking a month out of the season to take part in a tournament that is not at all sanctioned by any parts of the league.
But enough about the “could be” and “should be” scenarios. Hockey Canada is concerned about the on-ice performance of the team at international competitions. They have slipped to fourth in the international rankings, which are used for Olympic seeding. Players who don't make the second season will no longer scoff at the prospects that represent Team Canada at the World Championships. Instead, they’ll look to jump into the action in hopes of grasping that goal medal down the road.
Canada won gold in Salt Lake and Vancouver while they lost in Nagano and Torino. North American ice has been more favorable than European ice. It is difficult for players who have spent their career playing on the smaller ice to make the jump to the larger surfaces. What better way to get a sense of cohesiveness established amongst players on an unfamiliar area than getting them to play together a few times before the big test?
Much of the electrifying young talent in the league is Canadian. Tavares, Eberle, Duchene, Giroux – the list goes on. In the next few years, we’ll see how far this talent takes them and how committed they are to the program.
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