Team Canada may come to miss Marc Savard in Vancouver

Publish date:

There is a truism that Canada could field two hockey teams at an Olympics and have swell medal chances with both, an adage that was reinforced when general manager Steve Yzerman announced on Thursday the 46 players who have been invited to the orientation camp in Calgary in late August.

Given the surfeit of Canadian hockey talent, which does not exceed Russia in dazzling high-end offensive skill but surely does in depth, the questions in The Land of 30 Million General Managers -- the motto is stamped on the $2 coin -- invariably revolve around not who gets invited to a camp (or the team) for the 2010 Vancouver Games, but who doesn't.

In 1998, Team Canada GM Bob Clarke rolled out his Olympic squad on a Saturday night in Ottawa to the strains of Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, which perhaps explains why Rob Zamuner was included but not Mark Messier. (You couldn't get any more common than Zamuner.)

An Olympic team can't be merely a collection of all-stars, but a semblance of an actual team -- hence Yzerman's invitations to banging Boston winger Milan Lucic, Detroit's useful forward Dan Cleary and, surprisingly, St. Louis center Andy McDonald -- but occasionally a management committee will go off the rails in its noble intention of getting a cohesive group. The guess is that Messier would have fit just fine in Nagano, thank you.

In 2002, Team Canada GM Wayne Gretzky left out an emerging Joe Thornton, who would play such a major role as a shutdown center in the victorious World Cup two-and-a-half years later. Gretzky, with expressed regrets, did not allow Sidney Crosby to tag along to Turin in 2006. (Todd Bertuzzi did, however, make the team. Sheesh.)

Canada seemed like it was trying to win the World Cup for a second time at those Olympics, but in making his decision then, Gretzky noted that Crosby surely would be the fulcrum of future Olympic teams. He was prescient. Crosby, who turns 22 next month, might even be in line for the captaincy, although Scott Niedermayer or Jarome Iginla would be safer veteran choices.

This time, as always, there are nits to be picked, cavils to be caviled. Detroit goalie Chris Osgood was one game shy of a Conn Smythe Trophy after turning his disastrous regular season into a near triumph in the Stanley Cup Final, but the goaltender who proved one goal better in the end, Pittsburgh's Marc-André Fleury, did get invited along with Martin Brodeur, Roberto Luongo, Cam Ward and rookie sensation Steve Mason. If the NHL ultimately does send its players to Sochi 2014, Fleury, Ward and Mason should be in the mix; Osgood will be happily retired.

Maybe defenseman Braydon Coburn deserved an invitation to this year's orientation camp. Maybe not. Jason Spezza, a taxi squad member in 2006, has fallen off the map and will stay home. Brad Richards, another center, has been supplanted. Two players who missed most of last season with injuries -- Joe Sakic and Brenden Morrow -- are properly here although Yzerman, who spoke with Sakic, did not know if the Colorado captain planned to return to the NHL next season.

There are three Staals going to Calgary -- forwards Eric and Jordan and defenseman Marc. I might have been tempted to invite two-time Olympian Paul Kariya to camp -- he is a natural left winger on a center-heavy team and is healthy after coming off two hip surgeries -- but in a group that seems to be looking ahead instead of looking back, unlike other iterations of Team Canada, no quarrel here.

There is only one important slight: Marc Savard.

Savard was the ninth leading scorer in the NHL last season (25 goals and 63 assists for the Bruins, the best regular-season team in the Eastern Conference), but he was the fourth-highest Canadian-born scorer behind Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and Iginla. Savard is not a well-rounded player by any stretch -- and coach Mike Babcock has an expressed preference for players who are willing to play all 200 feet -- but there were confirmed reports that Savard did block a shot in the playoffs.

No, Savard is pretty much a one-trick pony, but it is really kind of a neat trick. He is a superb passer, perhaps the most gifted in the NHL. He helped linemate Phil Kessel to a 36-goal season. He made the Boston power play work. To borrow a basketball analogy, like the Pistons' Vinnie Johnson, he is capable of microwaving an offense -- at least with the man-advantage. Rather than a defensive role player like a Zamuner, Savard might have been a quirky 13th forward, filling a role as a power-play specialist.

When I mentioned this possibility to a confidante's of Yzerman on Wednesday, he scoffed. "There's plenty of power play guys," he said as if I had lost my mind.

True enough. But in Turin, Canada stalled, missing the medal round because those very guys, including Rick Nash, were invisible. The team with oodles of offense was blanked by Switzerland's Martin Gerber and by Russia in consecutive games.

In a conference call on Thursday, Yzerman said Savard's omission had nothing to do with the center's past reluctance to step into the Hockey Canada tent -- by his own estimation, Savard has declined "four or five" invitations to represent his country at the world championships -- but because "at the end of the day, we wanted to bring in different types of players, not necessarily guys who were leading their teams in scoring but guys who can fill different roles ... That's why Marc's not on the list."

There is a long way to go to pare the roster from 46 to 23 for next February. The only way we will know if Yzerman picked the right team is if Canada wins the tournament. (In hockey, there is only one color medal as far as most Canadians are concerned.) But in conscientiously identifying role players, Yzerman might have omitted, at least for now, a one-way player who could fill the most elemental role in the game.