It’s not the Olympics, but Canada’s medal-less showing at the IIHF World Championships should be an eye opener for Steve Yzerman and the selection committee as well as Canadian hockey fans with the 2014 Sochi Games less than nine months away.
Sure, Canada was missing key pieces to their roster with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and others still competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but so was every other country including Sweden, who won gold without Henrik Lundqvist and Henrik Zetterberg, two players who will likely play major roles in Sochi.
Canada’s Olympic roster (of course if the NHL goes to Sochi) will undoubtedly be more powerful than the one that took the ice at the World’s, but they may actually be somewhat of an underdog heading into Russia as the other four international hockey powerhouses are stronger between the pipes.
Sweden, Finland, Russia and the United States (sorry, Switzerland, whose silver-medal effort at this year's world was of the shocking type) all have at least one goaltender that was considered to be one the top five in the NHL in 2013. It would be tough to argue the same for Canada.
Heading into the shortened 2013 NHL season Carey Price was seen as the favourite to lead the Canadians in goal and though he was strong in the first half of the season, he put up a 2.86 goals against average and an .891 save percentage in the latter half of 2013. Those numbers aren’t exactly Olympic worthy.
Cam Ward is another name that’s been thrown out as as a potential starter for Canada, but he only played 17 games this season due to a knee injury and his career statistics – a 2.74 GAA and .910 Sv% – aren’t necessarily what you’d want to put the country’s gold medal hopes behind.
And then there’s Roberto Luongo, the goaltender who helped Canada to gold in 2010 (and it’s important to use helped and not led, as many would argue that Canada won in Vancouver in spite of their goaltending. Cue up the sequence that led to the Americans tying goal late in the third period of the goal medal game in 2010 for more on that point) and the one who’s likely the favourite to win the job for Sochi. Much of that decision will be based upon how well he plays with what will likely be a new team to begin the 2013-2014 NHL regular season.
Outside of the three aforementioned names there are a handful of goalies, ranging from veterans like Martin Brodeur, Mike Smith and Marc-Andre Fleury to younger names like James Reimer and Corey Crawford, who could make a push for one of the goaltending roster spots depending on, like Luongo, how they play in the early stages of next season. In Crawford’s case, should he lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup this season you’d have to think he’d suddenly be a much more attractive candidate for Yzerman and Co.
There was a time when Canada’s goaltending would have been considered the strongest in the world, but as Steve Simmons pointed out in a column for the Toronto Sun in January of 2012, that time has come and gone. Of the last 18 Vezina Trophy winners only seven have been Canadian, and Brodeur had four of those.
Other than Price and Fleury, there are no star-calibre Canadian goaltenders in the NHL right now and that’s if you even consider Fleury, who isn’t currently starting for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, a star anymore.
There doesn’t appear to be any up-and-coming Canadian goaltenders who can take the torch from the likes of a great like Brodeur and carry Canada through the next decade of international competition either.
Malcolm Subban and Matt Hackett are perhaps quality prospects, but neither have proven anything at the professional level yet and it may be years before they do so.
It’s won’t be an easy decision for the selection committee to make and the first few months of the 2013-2014 season will likely only make that decision more complicated, but the goalie who Canada goes with in Sochi could prove to be the difference between a gold medal repeat and disappointment.