Wednesday, April 02, 2008

2008 World Championships - The Scoring Lines

Last year I started with trying to predict the goalies and then the defenceman and I never got a chance to look at the forward groups, so this year I'll probably go in reverse order just so I mix up my speculation a little.

Now aside from Canada/World Cups and Olympics since 2002, Canada seems to favour an international team that is filled with 'roles.' What I mean by role player is that Canada doesn't just look at the top 25 scorers and throw them together on the team; partly it's by necessity, most of the time (especially in the World Championships) the top 25 scorers aren't available. In this case they're in the playoffs, or hurt, and in the World Juniors they're often playing in the bigs and the teams don't make them available.

The other way we can predict the makeup of this team is age: The World Championships are a young man's tournament. Most grizzled vets are too tired or lack the will to continue playing, not to mention there's a big incentive for younger players; Canada treats this competition as a proving ground for higher profile tournaments such AS the Olympics. Basically, put in your time representing Canada and you'll get a higher consideration for the Olympics.

Now, I must make one caveat on this team, and it could throw my system for a loop. This is the first World Hockey Championship to be held on Canadian soil, and there might be a greater likelihood that established veterans and superstars will accept invites, knowing it's not going to be a big deal to bring the family along for a couple weeks. It's a wildcard and I'll be sure to include wildcard picks on my shortlist.

Typically Canada goes with 4 lines, each having a specific role:

A first line scoring group: It usually consists of the highest profile players who have a good point total for their NHL teams, along with maybe one grittier guy. In the past I've seen Dany Heatly and Brendan Morrow centered by Daniel Briere, Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron centered by Crosby, and most recently it was Rick Nash and Shane Doan, centered in the end by Matthew Lombardi.

A second line scoring group: Tends to consist of guys that are high end 2nd line players and maybe 1 marquee player. This is the line a Mike Comrie type of guy would usually be on. Last year it consisted of Eric Staal, Justin Williams/Jordan Staal, and Mike Cammalleri.

A third line shutdown unit: This is where Canada puts the defensive players/shutdown guys who love to put it deep and cycle. Oftentimes it's Canada's most consistent line because their task is very straightforward, and it seems like most European teams don't know what to think when they see a good cycle, let alone what to do. Last year it consisted of Jay McClement, Jamal Meyers and Jason Chimera.

A fourth line energy unit: This line tends to be a bit of a defensive liability at times, but they're often the biggest momentum shifters for Team Canada. A lot of times it's made up of defensive NHLers but a it's also guys that haven't been able to fulfill a scoring role, or finally, made up of really young guys that are attending mostly for experience. Last year it consisted of Jonathan Toews, Colby Armstrong and Justin Williams or more often, Jordan Staal.

Here's a shortlist of guys I think would be a good fit for the top two scoring lines.

Rick Nash - His coach in the NHL is the coach of the team, he's one of the most skilled forwards in the league and he has absolutely dominated this tournament on multiple occasions. There is every reason to expect he will be asked, and every reason to think he will go.

Shane Doan - Last year's Captain Canada, has consistently played for Canada (and played well), plays for Wayne Gretzky who I expect will be part of the coaching staff...he's got all the credentials and he's put in his time, but Doan is as old school as it gets and I suspect when asked he'll accept. And he will be asked.

Brad Boyes - I didn't even realize this until last weekend but Boyes has quietly racked up 41 goals, which is a hell of an accomplishment, especially on a team like St. Louis. Has played in two World Junior Championships and played on a line with Bergeron and Crosby back in the 2006 World Championships so I would bet he'll be invited to play.

Derek Roy - The Buffalo Sabres forward has a dynamic mix of skill and grit, and I think you could put him in on any of the four lines with confidence. If it were up to me though, I'd put him on the second line as a support player. Won a silver medal with Team Canada in the 2003 World Junior Championship.

Andy McDonald - I think one of two recent Cup winners that will receive an invite. Has not had a great statistical year by any means, but also represented Canada in the Worlds in 2002, where he lead the team in goals and points. (Wikipedia). His two way reputation could make him very attractive to Ken Hitchcock.

Dustin Penner - Canada loves inviting recent Stanley Cup winners, so while his ex-teammates like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf continue on in the playoffs this year, Penner will benefit by bringing his experience, his size and yes, his touch around the net. The Oilers love their players going to this tournament, so I suspect if asked Penner will go and fill a 2nd line scoring role.

Eric Staal - If Carolina is eliminated he'll be asked. One day I believe we'll see the Staals as mainstays of team Canada but right now I don't think he's done enough to warrant a free pass. He was a bit inconsistent last year at times, going from average to a difference maker from game to game. If Carolina misses the playoffs, I believe Staal will be a top choice, whether he'll go is hard to tell.

Jonathan Toews - He played a very minor role last year, but Toews' place on Team Canada continues to grow. Starting as a 16 year old in the World Juniors winning a gold, to scoring several dramatic shootout goals as a 17 year old and winning the gold again in the World Juniors, to winning another gold medal at the World Championships. No one questions his skills, although a top line role might be a little too much for this young player. I do believe though he'll be on this team in some capacity.

Mike Cammalleri - Mike has been around team Canada many a times, and despite my consternation that he is invisible, he gets the job done. A bronze and a silver in the 2001 and 2002 World Junior Championships respectively, as well as a gold in the 2007 World Hockey Championships. Has had a poor season which will hurt his chances of selection, also someone I would not consider defensively solid.

Mike Comrie - think what you will of the diminutive Comrie, whenever called by Team Canada, he has answered. Won gold in 2003 when Anson Carter scored the OT winner against Sweden.

Martin St. Louis - he's a guy who has a legitimate shot at the 2010 Olympics, but is not a lock by any means. He might need to put in some extra team for Team Canada, and play well, to convince Team Canada officials (Steve Yzerman in particular) that he deserves to be on the team. The fact that the tournament is mostly taking place in Quebec city could be an incentive for this Laval QC. native.

Vincent Lecavalier - Despite having some sort of wrist surgery, apparently Lecavalier hasn't actually said he won't play...yet. There's every reason to think he won't play (hasn't played in the Worlds since 2001, has clearly turned down offers to play overseas the last couple of years), there's always the chance he'll decide to perform in his home province in Quebec. Has played for Team Canada at the World Juniors in 1998, World Championships in 2001, World Cup of Hockey (winning MVP) in 2004, and 2006 Olympics.

Now none of this speculation even includes guys on teams who are garaunteed to make the playoffs, and as the first round comes to a close, it's anyone's guess who gets named to the team. Looking at this list I feel that if Eric Staal doesn't go then the team does not have a true number 1 center, and in that case, I don't think one will be named until the first round ends.

If the Senators falter early I would expect Jason Spezza to get a call. He's played for Team Canada a number of times but this could be a great opportunity for him to step up and take a larger role and create a larger presence for himself on the national team game. This is a good chance for him to learn a lesson about playing defence as well.

If Colorado gets eliminated early, does anyone think Ryan Smyth won't get a call?

If the Penguins are the victims of an upset by some upstart team with a guy named Alex Ovechkin playing for them, there's a centerman there who will most likely get a call.

I predict 3-5 of six spots on the top two lines will be filled by the players I've outlined here. If I were to guess I would say:

Nash -???- Doan
Boyes - Toews - Penner


Scarlett said...

I'm thinking Sam Gagner will get an invite (or I'd be surprised if he didn't). Should be a good tourny...Canada has some good talent to choose from.

therealdeal said...

I originally had him slated on a first line, but I suspect he'll play on the fourth. Nonetheless, I agree that he'll be there in some capacity.