Allow me to kick this preview off with a depth chart I threw together:
Taylor Hall - Joe Thornton - Martin St. Louis
Brad Marchand - Tyler Seguin - James Neal
Eric Staal - Claude Giroux - Jordan Eberle
Evander Kane - Logan Couture - Justin Williams
Brent Seabrook - Mark Giordano
Brian Campbell - Dion Phaneuf
Kris Letang - Kevin Bieksa
Looks like a pretty solid squad, right? Well... this is a grouping of players who DIDN'T make Team Canada. After looking at the names that were cut from the team, any hockey fan, whether casual or diehard, can make the assumption that the actual Canadian roster is absolutely stacked. So how much heat are our neighbors to the north packing? A lot. A whole lot.
Forwards: Sidney Crosby, our very own Ryan Getzlaf, and John Tavares are currently the three leading scorers in the NHL. They are all also in Canada's lineup. The Kid will be wearing the ‘C' for the red and white, which is fitting considering his national hero status that he garnered from his most recent Olympic games.
Sidney Crosby's Olympic Goal (via Christie Ma)
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews also joins the offensive assault, as do big gunners like Rick Nash (NY Rangers), Matt Duchene (Colorado), and if he can make a good return on Saturday like he's hoping, Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay). Corey Perry and Getzlaf will likely be linemates as well, contributing that strong twin chemistry that has served the Ducks well this year. Speaking of chemistry, Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh) played alongside Perry and Getzlaf for four seasons, making him a great option on the left wing to round out that line.
Consider this thought: did you ever think Patrice Bergeron would potentially be a fourth-line center on any squad? I introduce to you the 2014 Canadian Olympic team.
Defensemen: To nobody's surprise, the Canadian blue line is loaded with playmakers that are just as capable of putting points on the board as they are at preventing them. Duncan Keith (Chicago), Shea Weber (Nashville), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis), and P.K. Subban (Montreal) are the top scoring D-men for their respective clubs, and their numbers are in all their teams' top 4 as well. In addition, Duck fans know Drew Doughty (Los Angeles) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose) well enough to realize that their point totals, though decent, still don't quite reflect the contributions that these two-way defensemen can make on this team.
There's only one blueliner on the Canadian roster with a negative +/- rating (Weber). Defensemen are on the ice on average between 17 and 22 minutes a night, so the fact that most of these guys play a full period every game and yet consistently don't get scored on nearly as often as their team lights the lamp is a testament to how stingy this unit is.
Goalies: I'm expecting Roberto Luongo (Vancouver) to get the starting gig for Canada. As much as people like to talk him down, he consistently posts solid numbers for the Canucks (currently with a 2.32 goals against average and .919 save percentage), and he definitely went above and beyond Mike Babcock's call in the 2010 Olympics after Martin Brodeur's underwhelming performance, posting a 1.76 GAA and .932 SV% in 5 starts.
Carey Price (Montreal) will join Luongo after trading in a Canadien jersey for a Canadian one. Price has been keeping Montreal in a competitive spot in the fight for positioning in the Atlantic Division with a 2.37 GAA, a .923 SV%, and is coming to Sochi on a hot streak that features two shutouts in his last four starts.
Rounding out the tendy trio is Mike Smith (Phoenix, soon to be Arizona for some reason), who adds just a little extra to Canada's seemingly bottomless scoring depth.
However, Smith has easily been the most inconsistent of the three as of late, more often than not having outings with a sub .900 save percentage.
X-Factor: The 2010 Canadian team, despite possessing one of the stronger rosters in the tournament, failed to clinch a first round bye after round robin play mostly due to poor play from Martin Brodeur. The 2014 team is absolutely loaded from top to bottom, but if any weakness within the team exposed itself and derailed Canada on their hunt for a repeat title, my money would be on the goalies in what would be somewhat of a repeat of the Vancouver games. I don't necessarily see that happening, but should Olympic Luongo regress to playoff Luongo, Price may be faced with the task of bailing out his country's squad.
Long story short, if the goalies play well, this team will be fine, and more importantly, the Canadian team management will dodge a bullet on their very surprising snub of Marc-Andre Fleury.
Projected Finish: Canada will begin pool play in Group B, facing off against Finland, Norway, and Austria. I never like to get past a certain degree of confidence when I prematurely call the end result of a sporting event, because it always comes back to bite me in the end. Regardless, this team looks so good on paper that I have to go for it anyway: the Canadians will run roughshod through their pool and, eventually, take the entire tournament. Game over. Canada repeats as gold medalists.
Hopefully though, the good old red, white, and blue prove me wrong as they knock off our ham and maple syrup loving friends in a 2010 rematch. USA! USA! USA!