Over the years, Canada has iced some strong teams for international tournaments and hockey fans have engaged in passionate debates over which Canadian team was the best.
Discussions usually center on the 1972 Summit Series team, the 1987 Canada Cup team, the 2002 Olympic team and, my personal favorite, the 1976 team that won the original Canada Cup (the 2010 Olympic team has yet to be put into historical perspective). I will make an in-depth comparison of these teams in a future blog.
I honestly believe the star players who should be available for the 2014 Olympics (if the NHL decides to attend the event) have the potential to form the greatest Canadian team in history. All championship teams are rounded and polished by dedicated role players at forward and reliable defensive defensemen. Powerhouse teams have a foundation of dynamic offensive players who force the opposition to react. It is these skilled offensive players I will discuss at this time.
Like any team, this Olympic entry must be led by highly skilled players in the prime of their careers. Let's start with the forwards and look at how old some of the players will be come 2014. Undoubtedly, several of today's aging top players will still be considered. However, we cannot count on Jarome Iginla (37), Martin St-Louis (39), Joe Thornton (35), Patrick Marleau (35) or even Brad Richards (34). Youth must be served, especially with the young high-end talent that will be available.
Just take a look at the potential core members who have already enjoyed remarkable success at the international and NHL levels. Sidney Crosby will be 27, Ducks teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and Flyers teammates Mike Richards and Jeff Carter will all be 29, while Eric Staal will be 30. Jonathan Toews will be 26 and will be looked up to as a seasoned veteran by Steven Stamkos, who will be 24. Dany Heatley could be a legitimate "old-timer" at 33.
This potential core group will likely be supplemented by a number of young offensive forwards who are just hitting their stride at the present time and most of them have a proven background of success at the international level already. The Edmonton duo of Taylor Hall (22) and Jordan Eberle (23) could be joined by the likes of John Tavares (23), Matt Duchene (23), Jordan Staal (25), Evander Kane (22), Jeff Skinner (21) and Tyler Seguin (22). It is easy to imagine prospects such as Ryan Johansen and Brett Connolly competing for roster spots in 2014 after watching them at the world juniors - both of them will be 21 at the time.
The potential Team Canada defense will also generate plenty of offense. Scott Niedermayer, the 2010 team captain, has retired and the chances Dan Boyle (37) and Chris Pronger (39) will make the team appear to be slim. The Chicago duo of Duncan Keith (30) and Brent Seabrook (28) will certainly be in their prime, as will hard-shooting Shea Weber (28). Youthful Drew Doughty will just be entering his best years at age 24.
Other prime-aged defensemen will be readily available to supplement the offense from the blueline. Mike Green has been one of the top-scoring defensemen for the past few seasons and he will only be 28. Young Tyler Myers took the NHL by storm last season and he will only be 24. Both Dion Phaneuf and Brent Burns have been sidetracked by injuries recently, but now appear to have regained their health. Both have been stars at the international level and both will be 28 in Sochi. Two other world junior heroes for Canada, Marc Staal and Kris Letang, will only be 26 and 27. Maybe there is room for three members of the Staal family on this team.
All in all, Canada is in good shape for international hockey for the next several years. Not only should Team Canada be a championship contender, the country should also be icing teams that will be a lot of fun to watch - and 2014 might turn out to be the best yet.
Tom Thompson worked as head scout for the Minnesota Wild from 1999-2001 and was promoted to assistant GM in 2002, a post he held until 2010. He has also worked as a scout for the Calgary Flames, where he earned a Stanley Cup ring in 1989. He will be blogging for THN.com this season.