Only 25 players will travel with Canada’s national men’s hockey team to Russia next February for the Winter Olympics, but Hockey Canada’s 47-man original roster is still subject to relentless scrutiny. That smattering of uber-talented Canadian NHLers is set to gather in Calgary at the end of August for their first crack at the Olympic team, with numerous snubs left to prepare for a season without Sochi.
With the preliminary roster needing to be culled in half, no decision can truly be “wrong” as it relates to the camp invitee list – it’s not as if any legitimate superstars were or would ever be dismissed, and those that didn’t make the preliminary roster probably wouldn’t rank near the final 25, anyway.
That said, with an abundance of talent comes an equivalent number of tough calls, and Jason Spezza stands out as the most striking omission. He finished fourth in NHL scoring just 15 months ago. He thrived on international ice during the lockout, netting 30 points in 28 Swiss League games on a team with career AHLer Robbie Earl as the leading scorer. He’s a faceoff maven that has historically torn up the NHL with talented linemates. Somehow, he’s not one of Canada’s top 25 forwards.
The country’s glut of centres works against Spezza, as does his lack of international experience (zero Olympics and two World Championships) and chronic back problems. Still, it appears he was left off the camp list due to recency bias more than anything; the bottom end of the invitee list seems limited to players that emerged from a lockout-shortened season unscathed. Take Jeff Carter, a centre that’s never been as productive as Spezza and who missed much of the 2011-12 season. He’ll be at camp, while Spezza is punished for sustaining a more recent injury.
A more egregious example is Jordan Staal, who’s never topped 50 points in a season and missed a combined 60 games from 2010-12 (but suited up in all 48 this year). He’s a relative grinder by Canada’s standards, worse offensively and defensively than traditional two-way centre Patrice Bergeron. Staal is obviously better suited to fill a bottom-line role than Spezza, but with the scope of potential talent to choose from, why not take a chance on a better offensive player at the end of the invite list?
Spezza’s omission isn’t even on the same level of that of Jamie Benn, a 24-year old left wing starring for the mediocre Dallas Stars. Canada apparently didn’t take the relative strength of NHL rosters into consideration, instead favouring Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Boston’s Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, among others. Replace Kunitz with Benn on Sidney Crosby’s wing and you’d likely see the downside of Canada’s decision.
Prioritizing recent results above past ones is fine in determining the final roster, when a single hot streak could vault a country to the podium. That logic doesn’t apply to the preliminary invite list; the very best players should be invited to camp to further trim the team down to those who stand out. It’s irrational to ignore a career point-per-game player just a year removed from one of his best seasons, especially when a lack of prodigious talent has hamstrung Canada at recent world junior championships.