The NHL accomplished a rare feat Friday, finalizing a deal for their players to play in games before those games were scheduled to begin. They don't usually do that.
And, with the formal announcement that the league's players would be headed to Sochi, now seems a good time to revisit the powerhouse Team Canada team that I constructed back in early February -- primarily to marvel at its unyielding indomitability and objective superiority to Ryan Lambert's unexceptional Team USA (his update is coming next).
But also to see if five months of hockey have exposed any room for the perfecting of near perfection.
They have. So let's take a look at February's team and make some tweaks based on a season of new information.
Jonathan Toews - Sidney Crosby - Steven Stamkos
John Tavares - Claude Giroux - Martin St. Louis
Taylor Hall - Logan Couture - Eric Staal
Jamie Benn - Patrice Bergeron - Corey Perry
Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash
CHANGES: Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton out; Taylor Hall, Logan Couture in.
The first thing I'm going to do is pat myself on the back for picking Martin St. Louis the first time around. I caught some flak for that because he's old, but then he wound up winning the Art Ross. Way to go both of us.
The second thing I'm going to do is politely uninvite Jarome Iginla to Sochi. After I selected him, several people questioned his footspeed on the larger ice surface, and his performance in the postseason served to illustrate that, unlike Mr. St. Louis, they were right to do so about Iggy. Maybe he'll prove me wrong with the Bruins come fall, but Jaromey-rome no longer seems fast enough to be an elite forward, and non-elite forwards need not apply.
In his place, I'm adding Taylor Hall, who would have been a member of the second NHL All-Star team if Alex Ovechkin wasn't such an icehog. A player as speedy and as fearless as Hall on the larger ice surface? Yes please. I wasn't fully convinced he was at this level yet, but after his 2013, I don't see how you can leave him off this team.
And speaking of players that I don't think have the footspeed for this anymore: I'm pretty sure I picked the wrong Sharks centre. Joe Thornton remains a creative and skillful guy, but he too is no longer the impact forward he used to be and I think he might be exposed a little in this tournament.
Logan Couture, on the other hand, needs to be on this team. C'mere, you.
Drew Doughty - Shea Weber
Duncan Keith - Alex Pietrangelo
Francois Beauchemin - P.K. Subban
Dan Hamhuis - Brent Seabrook
CHANGES: Jay Bouwmeester, Marc Staal out; P.K. Subban, Dan Hamhuis, Francois Beauchemin in.
Marc Staal was my seventh defenceman in February, but things haven't gone so well for him since, what with that whole eye thing. It's possible that, come time to pick this club, he's back in top form and he makes the team, but I have to pick my Team Canada today and as it stands, he's no longer on it.
Same for Jay Bouwmeester, who I picked primarily because he was a skilled, big, mobile left-handed defenceman and Canada's top guys all seem to be righties. But after the way fellow lefty Francois Beauchemin played last year, I'd much, much rather have him. Consider that a straight swap.
One big change that happened between when I made my selections in February and now: P.K. Subban won the Norris. He needs to be on this team.
Finally, the eighth spot, because teams can have 25 guys and the February team had 24 for some reason, goes to Dan Hamhuis. This will be a divisive pick, since Kris Letang is the big snub, but Letang's defensive issues are scary to me, especially in a tournament with so many skilled forwards. You can't have a defensive weak link. In addition, he's another right-side guy, and in a short tournament like this, I'm wary of asking too many of these defenders to play out of position. Hamhuis is one of the league's steadiest lefties. I'd much rather have him waiting in the wings.
CHANGES: Martin Brodeur out; Corey Crawford in.
If Canada has a question mark, it's in goal, where there's no de facto number one guy, so to speak. But I still think, despite everything that's gone on since 2010, Roberto Luongo is that guy. He also remains the sole guy, outside of Martin Brodeur, who has gold medal-winning experience in net. There are some questions about where his head is at right now, but I think he's the guy.
Especially since I don't even think Brodeur should be on this team anymore. He's arguably the best goalie to ever play on the team, but he's also arguably the second-best goalie on his own team now. That's no slight against him, but it's time for him to pass the torch.
The guy I'd add is Corey Crawford. I've heard some people suggest he should start, and I think that's silly. He's good, and he just won a Stanley Cup, sure, but he won it with the powerhouse Blackhawks. Ray Emery was 17-1 with the Blackhawks. Ray Emery. Crawford was as good as he needed to be but he wasn't and has never struck me as a game-stealer.
He's an above-average goalie, but I don't think his Cup win cements him as Canada's best. I'm willing to say third-best, however.