Friday December 11th, 2009

Steve Yzerman hasn't contacted me yet, but if the man entrusted to deliver on Canada's Olympic hopes and dreams decides he could use another voice in the selection process, well, I, like 30 million other would-be GMs, stand ready to help.

Heck, I'll save him the call and lay it out here for all to see.

Honestly, I don't think Yzerman needs much help. Sure, injuries could (and probably will) throw a wrench into his (and my) best-laid plans, but at this point, the handwringing is limited to depth players. With less than three weeks to go, there probably are no more than four, maybe five, jobs still up for grabs.

The goaltenders are set in stone. The defense? It's likely six of the seven are decided upon. There's a bit more wiggle room up front, but it's a good bet that nine, possibly 10, of the spots already have been claimed.

So, who will get the call? Like Yzeman, who has said he'll be looking at a nucleus of 23-to-25-year-olds, I leaned heavily on players who debuted during the last 10 years. This team will be young, fast, and far more offensive-minded than the ham-fisted bunch that failed so miserably in Torino. And they're proven winners. All have earned gold for Canada at previous events.

Past performance in the NHL and on the international stage were the primary factors for inclusion, but when push came to shove, I gave the edge to players who are at the top of their game now. That made for tough calls, but it leaves Yzerman with some solid options in case anyone is lost between now and the February start of the Games.

Here's how I think Team Canada's final roster should play out, barring injuries, when it is revealed on Dec. 30. (Team USA follows below.)

Hope it helps, Steve.

Martin Brodeur: Earned his record-tying 103rd career shutout against presumptive Team USA starter Ryan Miller. Think there was a bit of a statement made there?

Roberto Luongo: Has given up at least three goals in three of his last five games, but his name's written in ink. All that's left to be answered is whether he can hold onto the No. 2 job or if it will go to...

Marc-Andre Fleury: The meltdown of Steve Mason and long-term injury to Cam Ward mean there's no other real competition at this point. Fleury's proven his value over the last two postseasons. Doesn't necessarily make the most saves, but he has a knack for coming up with the big stop when his team needs it most.

Scott Niedermayer: He simply isn't the player he once was, but everyone remembers how deeply his absence was felt in Torino. He won't be expected to soak up heavy minutes, but his experience makes him invaluable in key moments. Should wear the C.

Chris Pronger: His play has slipped over the past couple weeks, but there's no chance he'll be overlooked. He'll be tasked with shutting down the opposition's biggest horses.

Jay Bouwmeester: Could join Pronger on the top pairing. His positioning and hockey sense allow him to play a nearly mistake-free game, but his ability to skate with the puck could be his most valuable asset in Vancouver.

Dan Boyle: His creativity and mobility will earn him significant minutes as Canada looks to generate more chances from the blueline.

Duncan Keith: A capable shutdown defender coming into the season, he solidified his claim to elite status by breaking out offensively. His 18 assists tie him for third overall among NHL backliners.

Shea Weber: That booming shot from the blueline and a hard rock physicality make for a menacing presence, but the brass should be just as impressed by his discipline. Weber hasn't taken a penalty in 20 games and counting.

Drew Doughty: Throw out his birth certificate and scant resume and simply watch this kid play. Then ask yourself: are there really seven Canadian defenders better than him right now? I don't think so.

Sidney Crosby: The NHL's hottest player over the last month, Crosby's the ideal remedy for an offense that was shut out three times in Torino. Now, if only Stevie Y would call Dan Bylsma and convince him to give Sid a couple nights off to rest that tender groin. . .

Ryan Getzlaf: The Ducks may be circling the drain, but Getzlaf has slipped into his offensive groove. He's settling for too many cutesy plays of late, but he's shown in the past that he knows how to switch to down-and-dirty mode when the importance of the games rises.

Joe Thornton: I still have my reservations, but he's making it harder for Team Canada's braintrust to overlook him. It comes down to whether Yzerman sees Jumbo as the guy who has wilted under the spotlight so many times in the past, or someone whose recent play -- and experience from previous failures -- sets him up for a breakthrough performance.

Dany Heatley: Recent slump (one goal in seven games) can't last much longer, right? Even if it did, Heatley pretty much would have to go oh-fer the rest of the month to scuttle a job he's earned by being Canada's all-time leading international goal-scorer.

Jarome Iginla: Hitting his stride after a brutal October. He's a good bet to line up on the top unit alongside Crosby and Rick Nash and earn a letter.

Patrick Marleau: Will Yzerman keep the Sharks' top line intact? More important, will he add another player with limited high-pressure experience? Marleau's off to a sensational start, and he brings the speed and finish Canada lacked in 2006. Helps his cause that he plays left wing, Canada's least settled position.

Rick Nash: No one among the top-100 scorers has a worse rating than his minus-11, and he was a ghost in 2006. Still, his big body and 12 goals at the last two World Championships set him up for big minutes in Vancouver.

Corey Perry: Theoren Fleury played a sizable role in Canada's 2002 success, so expect Yzerman to look for someone who can keep the pot stirred. Perry brings that gritty edge, a history of coming up big at crucial moments, and a demonstrated chemistry with Getzlaf. And maybe he's learning how to play within the rules. Perry's taken just four minors in his last 10 games.

Brenden Morrow: Revived his flagging chances with a five-game goal streak, but needs a strong December to seal his spot. Canada could use the leadership and physical play that marked his 2008 playoff run, so a consistent effort down the stretch should earn him the call.

Patrice Bergeron: Darkhorse candidate has emerged as Canada's best option for the fourth line. Fully recovered from the concussion that severely limited him last season, Bergeron would bring a gritty, two-way game and elite face-off presence. (He's clicking at nearly 60 percent in the circle.) Don't be surprised if World Junior linemate Crosby campaigns for his inclusion.

Jonathan Toews: Tough to leave off Mike Richards, but Toews is simply playing a better two-way game right now. And when Canada gets in a shootout, is there anyone else you'd want at center ice with the game on the line?

Ryan Smyth: The upper-body injury that's sidelined him since Nov. 16 shouldn't derail his Olympic hopes for three reasons. First, he's a natural left wing, a that's quantity in short supply. Second, he's honored the sweater with an emotional and physical leadership every time he's slipped it on. Third, you simply can't underestimate the value of his net presence (see: Anze Kopitar's declining performance during Smyth's absence). If Smyth is healthy -- and admittedly, he's running out of time to prove it -- he deserves a spot on the fourth line.

Brad Richards: His return to Conn Smythe form might be overlooked by most Canadian fans, but Assistant GM Doug Armstrong has scouted Richards enough to recognize the impact he can have on this team. Not as versatile as, say, Patrick Sharp, but he brings that element of big-game experience (and remember, he was Canada's best forward in 2006). Plus, Richards gives the Canadians an alternative look on the point for the power play.

Mike Fisher: Enjoying a breakthrough offensive season. Center by trade can switch to the wing, where his right shot would be valuable on a checking unit. Could be called on if injuries hit the depth lines.

Marc Savard: Hasn't missed a beat since returning from the IR, but the lost time damaged his cause. Only real chance at this point is as an injury replacement for one of the top-three centers.

Steve Stamkos: Despite his eye-popping 17 goals, his game has dropped significantly over the last couple weeks. More to the point, he struggled against Boston and New Jersey, a pair of games scouted by Yzerman. The injury Stamkos suffered Wednesday night might curtail his ability to make a late push for a job.

Mike Richards: A mortal lock at the beginning of the season, but his game has slipped at both ends of the ice. Nobody should be surprised if he makes it, but if he does it will be on reputation rather than recent play.

Shane Doan: A proven commodity on the international stage and a tremendous team player, but does he bring enough to the mix? He's a safe choice, but Canada has more dynamic options.

Martin St. Louis: His speed could come in handy, but there's a growing sense that the team would prefer to go younger. Still, if the brass decide the team is shy on natural left wingers, he'll get a long look.

Eric Staal: Great size, skill and versatility up front, but that groin injury pretty much wiped him off the map. Has to prove he can be a difference-maker over the next couple weeks or he'll be watching the games on TV with his brothers.

Vincent Lecavalier: Unless Crosby disappears in the Mystery Spot, Getzlaf takes an overdose of nerve tonic, and Thornton gets punched out by Barney Gumble, Lecavalier has no chance.

Jeff Carter: If he was showing the ability that made him a 46-goal man last season, he would be hard to pass up. At this point though, Canada has four better options at right wing.

Dustin Penner: Four goals in his last six games keep his hopes alive, but there's still a sense that his game could fall off the map at any minute. His hot start may not be a fluke, but Canada doesn't need to take that chance.

Brent Seabrook: How highly does Canada's staff value instant chemistry? Seabrook has that familiarity with shoo-in Keith, and brings a nice physical game. Wouldn't be a shock if a risk-averse policy led to him getting the nod over Doughty.

Dion Phaneuf: Simply makes too many bad decisions to be a reliable option at this level.

Mike Green: No one doubts his ability to contribute on the power play, but Canada has plenty of options with the extra man. So has he done enough this season to dispel the defensive concerns raised by his misadventures in last season's playoffs? Unlikely.

And now for Team USA....

GM Brian Burke may have an even tougher job than his Canadian counterpart. He has more talent than any previous Team USA architect, which is a nice problem to have, but the trick comes in determining the personality of this squad. There's a growing sense that he'll go with two offensive lines and two checking units up front, backed by a defense that's physical first and transitional second.

Burke will reveal his final decision on Jan. 1 during the Winter Classic. Barring injuries, here's who I see him bringing to Vancouver.

Ryan Miller: The most dangerous player in the world right now. The Americans might not rank among the truly elite teams, but he could take any one of them down by himself.

Tim Thomas: Not quite up to last season's Vezina standards, but still has that ability to steal a game.

Jonathan Quick: Craig Anderson had the edge last month, but Quick has the advantage of his summer camp experience and a nice steady season with the Kings. His age also helps him -- he won't have to play in this tournament, but the experience could speed his development into a significant player for the Americans in the future.

Brian Rafalski: Lacking an ideal No. 1 defender, Rafalski assumes the role. Reliable veteran will give valuable minutes in all situations.

Ryan Suter: Hard not to notice his decline in production, but his international experience and game management skills will be valuable.

James Wisniewski: A smarter bet right now than regular partner Ryan Whitney. As long as he stays healthy, Wisniewski is more physical and has a bomb from the blueline.

Erik Johnson: The Blues' leading scorer will be counted on to key the transition game, but he also brings a reliable, physical edge to his own-zone responsibilities.

Paul Martin: Don't worry about that injury that's kept him sidelined since late-October. Martin is a do-it-all type who ranks as the best bet to skate alongside Rafalski on the top pairing. He may be the most underappreciated blueliner in the East

Andy Greene: Excels at both ends of the ice, but his emerging offensive game should appeal to Burke.

Brooks Orpik: The value of his physical game was apparent during Pittsburgh's consecutive runs to the Final.

Zach Parise: Most valuable American outside of Miller will lead the offense.

Paul Stastny: Quietly developing into one of the top set-up men in the game.

Phil Kessel: Proving in Toronto that he can create -- and finish -- chances all on his own, Kessel will be even more dangerous playing with high-end linemates capable of getting him the puck on the fly.

Patrick Kane: His current goalless streak of seven games (already his third of five-or-more this season) raises concerns that he's developing into a streaky scorer, but that won't keep him from a top-six job. Still, the Americans are counting on him to light it up in Vancouver. He needs to arrive hot.

Ryan Kesler: Finally broke a 14-game scoring drought on Wednesday night, but he could have been blanked for the rest of December and still earned a spot. He'll be counted on for his defensive game.

Dustin Brown: A force in the dressing room and a physical on-ice presence, Brown is the ultimate Burke-style player. Likely will play a bottom-six role, but has the offensive ability to add a nasty dimension to a scoring line.

Ryan Malone: Crease-crashing winger will pose a challenge for opposing defensemen down low. Though he's generally being regarded as a depth player heading to Vancouver, don't be surprised to see him in a top-six role when the Games start.

Jamie Langenbrunner: Devils' captain is having another strong offensive campaign, but it will be his leadership -- and his ability to slot almost anywhere in the lineup -- that guarantees his job.

Joe Pavelski: Easily overlooked due to early-season injury and Canadian star power in San Jose, Pavelski plays a 200-foot game at a high level. He's smart, he's reliable, he's a winner.

Bobby Ryan: Burke draft pick in Anaheim lacks experience, but has that big body that'll be a challenge for opposing defenders to handle.

Tim Connolly: Burke could go for the more defensive-minded Paul Gaustad, but my money's on Connolly. If he's healthy -- knock on wood -- he can impact the game with his speed and world-class hockey sense.

David Backes: Still not the player he was when he scored 31 goals last season, but Backes brings the size and requisite pugnacity to play a bottom-six role.

Mike Modano: Burke needs a veteran hand to help ride herd over the Acutane set, even if his on-ice impact will be minimal. Modano's speed gives him the edge over fellow 1996 World Cup holdovers like Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin.

Craig Anderson: The neck injury that cost him four games hurt his cause, but not as much as allowing at least four goals in five of his last seven appearances.

Mike Komisarek: Since returning from the IR seven games ago, he's rediscovered the form that made him Burke's prized free agent signing. The thundering hits that pump up his teammates are back, and he's delivering them without the dumb penalties or taking himself out of position. But is that enough to take a job away from a more multi-dimensional player? Unless Burke takes eight D, probably not.

Zach Bogosian: The ease with which he's adapted to the NHL has this gifted two-way defender in the mix. But at 19, his lack of experience, especially in the big games, can't be overlooked. His time is coming, but it won't be in February.

Jack Johnson: Arguably the top defender for the Americans at last spring's World Championships, but he's been a minus player in 14 of his 33 games this season (minus-9 overall). Burke has safer options.

Matt Carle: Maybe if he could convince Chris Pronger to come along with him...

Ryan Callahan: Gritty forward would make for an aggravating presence on a checking line. He'll be a tough name to scratch off the list.

Dustin Byfuglien: If Burke goes with 12 forwards and eight D, Byfuglien's versatility might give him an edge. He's big, fast and a decent finisher, but honestly, he doesn't assay either position well enough to displace a more established player. Just four points in his last 19 games doesn't help his cause.

R.J. Umberger: Not sure I buy into the conspiracy theories surrounding his absence from the summer camp, but as a bubble player he didn't do himself any favors with that minus-four performance last week against Toronto.

David Booth: If his recovery was something the Americans could timetable, they might include the big winger sight unseen. But the nature of his injury -- a concussion sustained from that hotly debated hit delivered by Mike Richards -- makes it unlikely he'll be available. His scoring touch will be missed.

Paul Gaustad: The American braintrust sees plenty of the Sabres from Toronto, so the knee injury that knocked him out of action in November probably didn't kill his chances. Still, the big center only began skating this week, and there's no ETA on his return. The Americans could use a dominating presence in the circle and another strong figure in the room, the betting here is that they'll value the speed and veteran leadership of Modano more.

Scott Gomez: Burke might be able to overlook his limited offensive output, but it's hard to blow off his propensity for soft puck management. The American's don't need a turnover machine.

Chris Drury: Just a shadow of the player he used to be. Hasn't scored since Oct. 19 and has just two goals on the season.

Jason Blake: Has speed and experience, but Burke and Wilson barely trust him on the Maple Leafs.

Brian Gionta: Still no timetable for his return from IR. Safe to assume he's out of the picture.

Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin: No age discrimination here. Neither veteran has made much of an argument for inclusion.

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