Thursday Morning Leafs Round Table: The XXII Winter Olympiad

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Thanks to the powers that be, hockey fans from all around the world will once again be treated to 2 weeks of best-on-best hockey.  There really isn’t any thing else like it. As a kid, you often think of the All-Star game as THE event where all the game’s stars come together for some friendly hockey.  Well, the Olympics are just basically the All-Star game on stero… immune-boosting vitamins.

As national training camps announce their respective invitees, there has been considerable debate surrounding their compositions. Although regular season performance will play a big role in determining the team, we are already getting our first glimpses into what Yzerman & Co. are thinking. Apart from the returnees from 2010’s gold medal squad, new invitees include newly-minted superstars in Stamkos, Giroux, and Tavares, along with emerging elite defensemen like Letang and Subban.  On the other hand, goaltending is going to be an intriguing, albeit nervous, story-line for the Canadians. I expect this topic to get beaten to death by the MSM so we’ll move along.

Speaking of goaltending, Finland and Sweden are boasting potential pairings of Lundqvist-Fasth and Rask-Rinne. That’s frightening, especially when you consider that Finland possesses, what is essentially, two of the world’s top-three goaltenders.  Fans will also have the benefit of witnessing (hopefully) a healthy Erik Karlsson on international sized ice, and possibly the Sedin twins, Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Selanne’s final Olympic performances.  There is tons to look forward to and it just increases the anticipation for the beginning of the season.

In this week’s Round Table, I thought we’d pick our writers’ brains on what they thought about some of the Leafs‘ invitees and their prospects for making the cut.  A lot has changed since 2010 and of note is Burke’s dismissal from his prior role as the GM of the Free World.  The boys will also touch on this and explore what the change in managerial philosophy might mean for our American Leafs.


What do you make of Dion Phaneuf’s invitation to camp?

“If Toronto was going to have one player represent them at the Canada camp it probably should have been Reimer, but it’s hard not making a case for Phaneuf being there too when you look at who else is on the invite list. I won’t go into too much detail here because a later question sums up what I think Canada’s blueline will look like, but I can realistically see Phaneuf being near the top of the list for injury replacements once the NHL season takes its toll. Phaneuf’s versatility will also give him an advantage as he can play on either side and Canada doesn’t have the same depth on the left as they do on the right. In short, good for Dion and he deserves to get recognized for being as good as he is.” –Jon Steitzer (@YakovMironov)

“It’s good that Phaneuf is getting and invitation, but don’t read too much into it.  While I believe that Phaneuf is a top-20 defenseman league-wide, a lot of the players who are better than him just happen to be Canadian.  Add to that the fact that Phaneuf plays the right side (where the Canadians could already have any of Weber, Seabrook, Letang and Subban), and this looks like more of a courtesy by Hockey Canada than anything else. For the record, I think he’d be an option as the eighth defenseman, should the team carry eight. But the only way Phaneuf makes the team ahead of the games is if a couple of his betters sustain injuries that will keep them out of Sochi.” –Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)

USA GM Poile: “(In 2010) you heard Brian Burke talking about words like truculence…I’m not trying to say that’s not important, but maybe it’s  less important in 2014.” What does this change in philosophy hold for USA hopefuls like Kessel, van Riemsdyk, and Gardiner?

“The Americans rode timely scoring and piping hot goaltending towards a terrific overtime finish in the gold medal game in Vancouver.  But they won’t have Tim Thomas to save them this time around.  If Poile is to be believed, he’s trying to assemble a team that can compete skill-on-skill on the wider European ice surface.  If true, you’ve got to like the chances for all three of the Leafs hopefuls to make the team.  But I think it’ll only be two out of three, which ain’t bad.Phil Kessel is a sure thing.  The past 2-3 seasons, Kessel has been the most dynamic offensive threat in the Americans’ arsenal (or second-most after Patrick Kane if you’re a fan of not the Maple Leafs).  He’ll rock the stars and bars as he did in 2010, but he’ll be playing a bigger role and face tougher scrutiny.  He’ll be the prime scoring threat for the yanks, and he’ll need to improve upon his meagre 2-point showing from Vancouver.I also like James van Riemsdyk’s chances of cracking the Olympic squad, especially should he have a hot start to the 2013-2014 season.  He’s represented the United States countless times before and really grew his offensive game in Toronto this year.  He’s got a rare blend of size and skill, and wouldn’t look out of place on the second or third line and in front of the net on the power play.  The US can ill-afford to leave a 30-goal scorer off their roster, and JvR could become just that.

Through no fault of his own, Jake Gardiner isn’t ready for the Olympics.  While I’d rather have Gardiner on my NHL roster over most of the defensemen invited to the US camp, he’s still not a proven commodity at the NHL-level and is still a couple years away from reaching the peak of his career.  Not to mention the fact that defense stands to be the States’ greatest strength, with the likes of Suter, Yandle, Byfuglien, McDonagh, Bogosian and Johnson and Johnson.   Unless he plays as he did in the first round against Boston through the first half of the season, there’s no way Gardiner supplants all of them.” –Michael

Only good things are in store for the Leafs three American camp invitees. Kessel is a lock despite not being a huge factor in Vancouver. He’s the second best American winger after Kane, and possibly the third best American skater after Kane and Suter. Jake Gardiner’s skating on an international sized rink seems like he should be able to move ahead of more experienced defenders like Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, but Gardiner is still probably more of a taxi squad player as Yandle, Shattenkirk, McDonagh, Suter, Byfuglien, and the Johnsons are probably ahead of him. While van Riemsdyk also has a good shot at making the team he’s up against a lot of depth on the wing for Team USA, though his penalty killing experience could get him a nod for a third or fourth line role working with Kesler or Callahan. America ridding itself of the idiotic “truculence” mantra as the tournament moves to international ice only makes sense, but that being said someone needs to explain to me why they invited Trevor Lewis.” –Jon

Is there a player, from any country, who you felt should have gotten an invite, but didn’t?

“The list is long and plentiful for this question so I’ll do my best to limit my answer. For Canada there were a few obvious names absent (Benn, Spezza, Kane, Beauchemin, Reimer), but the player I would considered is Brent Burns. I think he brings a lot of useful elements and I wonder if his recent use as a forward hurt him in this consideration. For Sweden I was certainly disappointed that Gunnarsson didn’t get a mention, and there are several names on Sweden’s list that I consider Gunnarsson to be far superior to and I wonder if his name will creep back into consideration once the season starts. Also in the interest of reaching for an interesting name I’ll acknowledge the snub of Matt Moulson for Canada. Dude is a three time thirty goal guy and just off a point a game pace last year. If Crosby gets to bring Kunitz to camp then I think Tavares should get to bring Moulson.” –Jon

“Staying with the Americans, if they were trying to avoid truculence in favour of skill, then leaving Jason Pominville off their camp list is quite surprising.  On an American squad that could be hard-pressed to repeat their sterling performance in 2010, why on earth does Team USA not want Pominville? Here’s a guy who has recorded an 80-point season, a 70-point season, and three 60-point seasons through his career and will be just 31 years old at Sochi. Real head scratcher.” –Michael

Who is your tournament dark horse?

“When looking at a dark horse, you’re looking at a team that probably has no right medalling, so I’ve got to go with Finland.  For years now, Finnish hockey has produced a bevy of top-level goaltenders.   Ahead of Sochi, the Finns will have five quality NHL starters (Backstrom, Rinne, Niemi, Rask and Lehtonen) battling for top spot in nets.  The Finns are incredibly shallow at forward save for the brothers Koivu; and hardly a fortress on the back end.  But if Rask or Rinne should catch fire during the short tournament, the Finns could finish on the podium under a heavy bombardment and some shocking upsets.” –Michael

“It seems like every time there’s an international tournament I start up with the “don’t count out Finland” talk. I’m going to do the same thing again here despite their blueline. Rask and Rinne splitting the net isn’t a bad place to start. The forwards are a collection of strong two-way hockey players who are familiar with international ice and rules, and there is also a part of me that wants to see Selanne do well in what will be his last Olympic appearance. If possible it would be nice to see Finland top Sweden on a Selanne goal with an immediate camera cut to a heartbroken Daniel Alfredsson. That’s good TV.” –Jon

Your projections for Canada’s line-up?

“The biggest problems I see with my roster below is that Duncan Keith seems to be my only left handed defenseman. I’d argue that this doesn’t matter that much, but it means that two very young defensemen will be playing on a side that they aren’t familiar with. In regards to the forwards I’d like to see two all out scoring lines with two shutdown lines. There is no need to carry an agitator like Marchand or a heavy hitter like Lucic when you can roll up their abilities into a more talented player like Corey Perry. I’d hope for a lineup that’s chosen for overall skill and not for trying to fit in unnecessary roles. While Sharp and Nash might not be the next best players the fact that they can both lineup on either wing gives options if some of the centres are struggling in adjusting to the side. Staal and Phaneuf provide left handed shot options if the higher skill right handed shooting players can’t figure out the otherside of the ice.” –Jon

“Gotta admit, this was a pretty agonizing task to complete.  Canada is so deep with talent, at forward especially, that there’s no possible ‘best roster’ that can’t be scrutinized up and down.  I apparently only care about faceoffs, because about 90% of the team is made up of centremen.  Oh well, enjoy.” –Michael

Olympic Roster ProjectionsOlympic Roster Projections

  • Dink

    huh

  • Burtonboy

    Good stuff Aaron . Think I will wait till Christmas before I start thinking about who makes these rosters or not

    • Aaron Chan

      Burtonboy Good morning BB. You know it’s the dog days when you’re reaching for something that’s 7 months away…

      • Burtonboy

        Aaron Chan Burtonboy That’s for sure. Good read though

  • Mattmark

    Looting up and down the timestream, just for fun, we come up with a Canadian squad that can’t be outshone offensively or defensively by anybody:
    Lemieux – Gretzky – Bossy
    Shanahan – Crosby – Iginla
    Nash – Toews – Gartner
    Messier – Sakic – Middleton
    Orr – Robinson
    Coffey – Bourque
    MacInness – Potvin
    Doughty
    Roy – Sawchuk

    • Optimustic

      Mattmark Nice roster, but I think I’d go with Dryden over Roy.   Could be a few other goalies in the mix also.

    • ClarkHitsBell

      Nash? No Esposito?

    • Dink

      Mattmark don’t understand the Nash love either

  • ClarkHitsBell

    Nash?

  • Mind Bomb

    Tanks Aaron, whats with the St louis Love, We can do better :)

    • Aaron Chan

      Mind Bomb Good morning MB! It’s mental masturbation and we all have different fantasies. I guess Jon likes the idea of Crosby between Stamkos and St. Louis…

      • Mind Bomb

        Aaron Chan Mind Bomb ha !  5 bucks says Kadri would do better there :) than that relic :)

  • Cameron19

    Ugh, Marc Staal on the back-end for Team Canada?  That would be a real joke. He’s probably the third best defender on his own team.

    A couple of the defenders that are considered amazing, and locks by common fans actually have significant question marks next to their names in my opinion.  Doughty for example, is a guy that people often only remember the best of (Olympics, his playoff run), and conveniently ignore all his struggles.  Even the LA media criticized him last year, and fans were calling him fat and lazy.  I think he actually has to play like Doughty can in the season to merit an invite back to the team, to be honest – but you’ll never hear anything like that said about him in the major hockey media (largely because these guys don’t watch enough hockey to make that kind of evaluation). Suffice to say though, there is a reason his point totals continue to lower, and it might be more noticeable if he played in a hockey market.
    Pietrangelo, too, makes it to a lot of lists, but to me he’s like a less experienced Phaneuf.  Got nominated for a Norris, fans league-wide fell in love with him because it was a great achievement for a 22 year old, and then he struggled to repeat that kind of performance despite his defensive groups improving by leaps and bounds around him.  But unlike with Phaneuf, this again happened away from the critical eye of the hockey media, so it’s as though it never happened. 

    I would focus more on making 4 effective pairings:

    Hamhuis – Weber
    Keith – Seabrook
    Subban – Doughty
    Phaneuf – Letang

    • Mind Bomb

      Cameron19  I am so sick of seeing Subban, holy overrated !!!!!

      • Cameron19

        Mind Bomb Cameron19 Yea, big time. A lot of these guys have glaring warts that you just never hear about though.  Letang and Subban don’t play against top forwards.  I thought Keith was horrendous in a lot of the playoffs this year.  But I doubt they leave the reigning Norris winner at home.

        • Mind Bomb

          Cameron19 Mind Bomb Oh Aye, I understand why you have him there, the MSM will ensure enough smoke is blown up his ass for him to get there, He just wouldnt be on my team, Hell his own team mates dont like him lol

    • B_Leaf

      Cameron19 
      Mark Staal is an excellent shut down defender with good skating, big frame. He didn’t look as good when he first came back from injury, but if he is better and progresses I bet he plays on the team. Should be well suited for big ice.

      • Cameron19

        B_Leaf Cameron19 Pass.  I’d take Girardi over him.

        • B_Leaf

          Cameron19 B_Leaf 
          He is good too. And I will acknowledge that last Olympics it seemed the mobile defenders with offensive upside seemed to prosper…Neidermyer, Doughty, Rafalski…but I think Mark Staal (if he progresses) could be a guy who could excel as a shutdown guy on big ice. it’s not like he has stone hands either. He is a good player and would love to have him.

    • Dink

      Cameron19 Marc Staal does suck

    • rustynail

      Cameron19 yup Pietro did not play as well last season

  • DWCMLHS

    Phaneuf prefers the right side, but he can play on the left. Canada is RD-heavy. This should be the team’s D, imo:
    Keith – Weber
    Letang – Doughty
    Phaneuf – Pietrangelo
    Bouwmeester

    3 left-shooters and 4 right shooters. Seabrook, Subban, Boyle, Campbell, Girardi, Hamhuis fighting for the taxi squad spot.

    • Cameron19

      DWCMLHS They get to take 8 D this year. I doubt they leave Subban off the team, and I’d take Hamhuis before Bouwmeester.  In fact, I’d take all of those guys before Bouwmeester.

      • DWCMLHS

        Cameron19 DWCMLHS They probably will take Subban, they just shouldn’t. I put Bouwmeester on there to add a more defensive guy, and being an left shooter helped him. Hamhuis or Beauchemin could take his place, though.  I forgot to mention Beauchemin.

    • jcg_4

      DWCMLHS Actually, Phaneuf prefers the left side but the coach makes him play right.

      • Cameron19

        jcg_4 DWCMLHS You’ve got it backwards.  He has played right side his whole life until Carlyle switched him to left this year.  He has played left internationally though, with Brent Burns.

        • jcg_4

          Cameron19 jcg_4 DWCMLHS my bad; you are right

      • Dink

        jcg_4 DWCMLHSshoulda stayed on left in game 4 overtime

      • DWCMLHS

        That’s wrong. He prefers the right side, and has player there his whole career. Caryle forced him to play on the left side with AHLers for over half of last season, but he’s more comfortable on the right side. Always has been. Fortunately, he can play the left side as well, and being a left shooter, would likely have an easier time making the adjustment than guys like Pietrangelo or Subban.

        • DWCMLHS

          played’

        • Cameron19

          DWCMLHS It probably matters less on the big ice though.  You have the extra half second to reposition yourself and think.

    • MaxwellHowe

      DWCMLHS IMHO, Phaneuf does not have the mobility required to play for Team Canada on Olympic sized ice.  Maybe the honeymoon will limber him up a bit, who knows, but I do not see him making that team.

      • Cameron19

        MaxwellHowe DWCMLHS More mobile than Weber…

        • MaxwellHowe

          Cameron19 MaxwellHowe DWCMLHS No way we can settle that.  No available stat for that debate.  Phanuef can be beaten wide by fleet skaters, s’all I know.

        • Cameron19

          MaxwellHowe Cameron19 DWCMLHS So can Keith.  in fact, it happens about 3 times a period for Keith, and no one ever remarks on his lack of mobility.  And I don’t need the stat to tell you it happens to Weber more than Phaneuf.

        • DWCMLHS

          So can all Dmen. Weber, Chara, etc. all get beat on the outside. It happens to every Dman, especially big-minute shut-down guys. People just like to pick on Phaneuf when it happens to him, because, y’know, Toronto.

        • Dink

          DWCMLHS speaking of Chara, lots of Bruin fans wondering about him ..it is amazing, it is like they blame him for the loss to Chicago

        • DWCMLHS

          Which is dumb. Chara is still the best Dman in the league, IMO. The biggest, strongest, most dominant shut-down Dman in the league AND a 40-50 point scorer.

        • Cameron19

          @Dink DWCMLHS Much like the Leafs, they wouldn’t even make the playoffs without their #1 D.  They fed him to the wolves a few years ago, too, and the media almost ran him out of town.

        • MaxwellHowe

          DWCMLHS Well, when he doesn’t make the Olympic team, you can blame it on the rampant Toronto self-hating movement within Hockey Canada and Yzerman’s head.

        • Cameron19

          MaxwellHowe DWCMLHS Can and will. You can’t pretend that selecting him wouldn’t create an unnecessary media distraction, or that Hockey Canada hasn’t actively tried to avoid the politics of involving themselves with the Toronto media at all. 

          Kadri got dumped on for being selected to the WJC team just because he was a Leaf.  Rielly got relegated to bottom pairing minutes despite being probably the best on the ice. Hockey Canada has no balls, and don’t want to do anything that would be unpopular.

        • wiski

          Cameron19 MaxwellHowe DWCMLHS Here it is I knew I would find some 😉

      • DWCMLHS

        Phaneuf isn’t some stone-footed defensive Dman. He’s a much better skater than people make him out to be. He has played on the big ice multiple times, and has never had a problem.

        • Cameron19

          DWCMLHS Sometimes I wonder if people are watching the same games.  Phaneuf was always regarded as a mobile offensive defender before coming to Toronto.

        • Dink

          Cameron19 DWCMLHS I think he is a fine defenseman and I think he would be better if he was not captain…

        • MaxwellHowe

          Cameron19 DWCMLHS Yeah, I can only say that I don’t see it.  He has many gifts, he is a very good steady dman, but mobility and puck movement are not his forte at this point in his career.

        • Cameron19

          MaxwellHowe Cameron19 DWCMLHS lol, He’s 28.  He’s only improved all those aspects.  You just see him getting beat wide and think “he can’t skate”.  But that’s nonsense.  Like DWC said, it happens to literally everyone – even the most mobile guys like Keith. We just don’t comment on it when it happens to other guys because they’re not Leafs.

        • DWCMLHS

          He’s a good skater for his size. And his puck movement is good. He’s more of a shooter than a passer, but he doesn’t end up near the league lead in points by Dmen almost every year by just scoring goals.

        • MaxwellHowe

          Cameron19 MaxwellHowe DWCMLHS Its not necessarily a matter of just skating, its a matter of lateral mobility and quickness.  Didn’t mean to imply he is old – but you had said he was considered a mobile offensive dman before he came to TO, and I just don’t see it now.

        • Cameron19

          MaxwellHowe Cameron19 DWCMLHS I honestly don’t believe you’d see it anyone save maybe Karlsson if you don’t see it in Phaneuf.  The only guys that put up more points than Phaneuf are guys that are on the 2nd pairing (Subban, Letang, often Pietrangelo).  It’s a lot harder to look like that type of player when you’re playing against Crosby and the like,

  • B_Leaf

    Wow, I can’t believe we would go with either Price or Luongo…just mind blowing to me. I also think Giroux has really fallen back. And considering Thornton…just wow, no chance he makes it IMO. 
    Canada’s best players will be Toews, Tavares, Keith, and Getzlaf. The next tier will be Bergeron, Crosby, Webber and Perry. Couture could surprise a little. On D Mark Staal might surprise some, he is pretty solid, depends how he progresses.
    Our goaltender I have to think is Crawford.

    • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

      B_Leaf Luongo possibly, but Price has done zero to attract any consideration in my opinion. I’d be fine with Crawford and Luongo.

      • B_Leaf

        ingy56 B_Leaf
        Just imagine we are in the final and its about to start…and we have luongo in net…how do you feel now?

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          B_Leaf ingy56 It worked last time, but yes…I’d feel uneasy. What else is out there though? I’d feel better with Luongo than Red-Light Price. Reimer won’t get a sniff because he’s a Leaf and he’s unproven you know.

        • B_Leaf

          ingy56 B_Leaf 
          Well I think Yzerman and Armstrong did an incredible job last time, I expect they must have some concerns so lets see how the first half of the year shakes out. 
          I don’t know how anyone could feel comfortable with Price or Luongo right now. Crawford OK.

        • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

          B_Leaf ingy56 Contract issues aside, Luongo’s not a bad goaltender. With a better team in front of him he’s probably not a bad choice. Hard to believe the lack of top quality Canadian goaltenders right now.

        • Dink

          ingy56 B_Leaf just hope there is no shootouts

        • mcloki

          B_Leaf ingy56 Luonogo in net in the final. I feel great. Last time it was a gold medal. Remember this is the Olympics and people who know how to score are playing infront of him. The twins take the playoffs to mean vacation time.

        • rustynail

          B_Leaf ingy56 I feel great

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/FriedgeHNIC
    Hearing that Ludwig Karlsson — who just left Northeastern University — is going to sign with the Ottawa Senators

    • Aaron Chan

      Burtonboy Ludwig…what a handle that is

    • Dink

      Burtonboy wonder if he is related to Precious?

      • Komas Taberle

        @Dink Burtonboy His boyfriend, not that there is anything wrong with that.

  • Aaron Chan

    How many of you played the Draft Street Fantasy Hockey $300 Freeroll last year? Did you enjoy it? Any feedback would be much appreciated :)
    http://www.draftstreet.com/nhl/scoreboard.aspx?game_id=1550720

    • 2minutes

      I got 2nd place in the first MLHS free roll.. So ya. It was a good time lol

      • Aaron Chan

        2minutes That’s sweet! It seemed like there was a considerable amount of interest so maybe it’s something we’ll do more often going forward.

        • ProfessorRance

          Aaron Chan 2minutes I came in third one time as well. Love playing those.

    • Mind Bomb

      Aaron Chan   i enjoyed it Aaron, do it up again !

      • Aaron Chan

        Mind Bomb 2minutes  
        We had around 300 players in the freeroll I posted above so I guess people were interested. We might have some surprises up our sleeves for you guys this upcoming season 😉

        • Mind Bomb

          Aaron Chan Mind Bomb 2minutes  Cool Surprise me with a Cup please :)
          lol

        • wiski

          Aaron Chan Mind Bomb 2minutes I tried but was geographically blocked.