By Allan Muir
On Sunday, 47 players will gather in Calgary for Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp with 25 tickets to Sochi up for grabs -- though none of those tickets will actually be won during the four days of meetings. (The players won't even take the ice because of prohibitive insurance costs.) Officially, the competition is wide open. Unofficially, some spots are loudly spoken for.
“There are probably, conservatively, maybe 10 locks,” said Steve Yzerman, executive director of Team Canada. “We’re taking 25 players. Ten may be a conservative number, sure, but half of this team is available for guys to make. At least half.”
Those are welcome words for the kids who have something to prove, including Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and P.K. Subban, and for the veterans, such as Martin St. Louis, who hope to show that they still have enough left in the tank to contribute to another gold-medal run. And it may be even better news for such players as Jason Spezza, Joffrey Lupul and others who didn't earn an invite to camp, but who nevertheless hope to catch Yzerman's eye with a hot start when the NHL season opens, just as Patrice Bergeron did back in 2009.
So who are the 10 locks? Here's our best guess:
Sidney Crosby: The scorer of golden goals, he's the best player in the world.
Steven Stamkos: He's produced more goals and points than any other NHL player over the past three seasons.
Jonathan Toews: The Selke Trophy winner is Canada's top two-way forward, and the favorite to earn the captain's C in Sochi.
Patrice Bergeron: The game's top face-off artist is an elite defensive presence and, as any Maple Leafs fan can attest, a clutch scorer.
Eric Staal: This big-bodied veteran of the international game can bring his size down the middle or comfortably slide to the wing.
Claude Giroux: A fiery competitor and top face-off man, he's rehabbing a hand injury that required surgery so he's not going to this weekend's camp. That won't hurt his chances. But once he's healthy again, he'll likely be forced to move to the wing.
John Tavares: Another center who'll be pushed to the wing, but he has the shooting touch to adapt.
Shea Weber: He intimidates at one end with his physicality and at the other with one of the game's hardest shots.
Duncan Keith: A smart, experienced two-way defender, he can play big minutes against top forwards.