I knew some of you wouldn't take it very well. But honestly, I was surprised by how many of you did.
"It's about time someone recognized that Team Canada should steer clear of
That pretty much mirrors the thought process that went into the decision to leave Thornton off
But there's something about the way he works his magic on the perimeters that tells me Canada has better options in a short tournament requiring as many good bounces as it does skill. And you create those bounces by going hard to the net, not noodling around the half-boards where Thornton seems most comfortable.
Still, you can't argue with his production. And that's why dozens of you questioned how long I'd been baking my skull in that Texas sun with emails like this:
Funny you mention Yzerman, an MVP-caliber player who routinely was cut from Team Canada during his prime -- not because he wasn't world class, but because Canada simply had better options much like the 2010 team will. And while Yzerman was willing to play a checking role for the Canadians, he already was accustomed to that style of play after having his game reshaped in Detroit by
You can't say that for Thornton. And it's not that I think he's incapable of checking. It's just that Canada's depth gives it more appealing options. Guys like Morrow and Richards and Doan aren't the same as Zamuner, a ham-fisted defensive specialist enlisted in reaction to the 1996 World Cup loss who looked woefully out of place in Nagano. Richards and Doan led their teams in scoring, while Morrow finished second on the Stars. These are dangerous men.
But when I look at those three, I don't see numbers -- I see three elite players who will pay whatever price is required to give their team a chance to win. These guys are battle-tested. Look back at Morrow and Richards in last season's playoffs and you saw them emerge as legitimate superstars who could beat you with skill or will. They are warriors.
Say what you want about Thornton's immense gifts, but his reputation speaks for itself. The more important the game, the less prominent his presence. Still, that's not to say he'll be watching the games on TV when 2010 rolls around. As one NHL executive said to me on Thursday, "They'll probably take him, but there are guys I'd rather have if it was up to me."
Thornton's omission wasn't the only Olympic talk the column generated.
Ruff hasn't been ignored. In fact, his name has been whispered among those on the short list for the job, along with
I think Babcock's a lock, not just because of his success with the Red Wings, but also because Yzerman is likely to be part of the management team. Having a strong advocate in the room gives him a leg up on other worthy candidates. That became obvious when a couple of NHL insiders took me to task for including
Any time you do a speculative list like this, you work under the assumption of health. No reason to think, for example, that Crosby will be sidelined two weeks before the Games by a massive gunk infection, so you include him, right? But Bergeron's a different cat. Having missed virtually all of last season with a devastating concussion, we really have no idea what kind of shape he'll be in come September, let along February of 2010. If he's healthy and playing like he was pre-injury, Bergeron will be in the mix to play a depth role. But until I see him play, I'm a skeptic. Here's hoping he proves me wrong.
With its program in transition, the American roster is much more difficult to project. They'll have the benefit of their deepest talent pool to date, but they'll be relying heavily on youth as the old guard from the 1996 World Cup era finally is shuffled out. The ability of those youngsters to make the strides expected of them will determine not only whether they make the team, but whether the Americans will be a force at these Games.
Championships are built from the blueline back, and that's where the strength of this team should lie.
The goaltending will come down to
With two reliable vets at the front end, the final spot likely will go to a youngster...if one emerges as being worthy of the job.
Depth isn't a problem up front. At issue is who'll be most ready for the task at hand. It's safe to assume a top six of
The difference for the Americans, at least compared to previous squads, will be obvious in a bottom six that will feature far more élan than the usual collection of checkers and bangers. Look for
If they take a three-man taxi squad as in 2006, look for Stuart to be joined by