The 2014 Olympics are over. It's time to put it away, and to start looking ahead to the next thing.
No, not the final quarter of the NHL season. The 2018 Olympics.
In case it wasn't clear that Canada is dumbly obsessed with hockey, especially Olympic hockey, only two days after Canada won the gold medal, the articles projecting the 2018 team began pouring in. The Toronto Star. The Toronto Sun. Sportsnet. Bleacher Report. Slam. The Canadian Press. And so on, and so forth.
This is a country so singularly obsessed that we can't even let 2014 sit for a week before we start building the next team. It's asinine.
I thought it was ridiculous to project the 2014 team two years in advance, so you'll forgive me if I opt out from projecting the complete 2018 team now. It's a fool's errand, for one thing. You simply can't see that far ahead (as Back to the Future II proved when they claimed to give us a vision of 2015, and got the double-necktie and the hoverboard way wrong.)
Four years is a long time, and a lot can change.
Heck, a lot changed in one year. In 2013, Jamie Benn wasn't on some people's Team Canada. Few had Jeff Carter or Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Heck, Chris Kunitz wasn't on my Team Canada the day Team Canada was announced.
Things change in a hurry, let alone a full presidential term.
For example: looking back at the 2010 team, I think most of us assumed that Dany Heatley, Mike Richards, Brent Seabrook, Marc-Andre Fleury, and even Chris Pronger were going to be in Sochi. But that didn't happen, due to marginal and precipitous drops in impact (Richards and Heatley, respectively), the rise of other, better defenders on your side (Seabrook), a few bad postseasons (Fleury), and a career-ending injury (Pronger).
Heck, there was a time when people thought Crosby might be finished. But by the time the Olympics came around, he was back to being the best player in the world. In other words, we really can't know what Team Canada in 2018 is going to look like. We don't know what the NHL will look like.
More interesting, to me, than projecting the 2018 team with any real conviction, will be looking at who looked like a lock to return in 2014 and isn't there once we get to 2018. Canada has so much young talent to choose from, and one can only hope that their careers maintain the trajectory they're currently on, but for some guys, that's just not going to happen.
All that said, Canada did return a great deal of players from the 2010 team, and there's no doubt they'll be returning a few to go for three in a row, should the NHL return for South Korea. Looking at the way things are now, I'd be comfortable saying Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, and Shea Weber are all going to be back in pursuit of gold number three, barring a truly shocking turn in their careers. That's one hell of a veteran core.
Either way, Canada will remain a formidable Olympic opponent. We can expect one or two guys to fall by the wayside, to age out of relevance, or to suffer an injury, but there's simply so much talent to choose from that Canada has to be the early, early, incredibly early favourite to win gold in 2018.