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2014 Sochi Olympics: Can Dion Phaneuf make Team Canada?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent 5,802 words here at EIL projecting the rosters for seven countries for a tournament that won’t take place for another five months. We did it because the offseason is boring and who doesn’t love playing General Manager once in a while? Heck, that’s basically what we do 24 hours a day, seven days a week as hockey fans. Of course we’re smarter than those bozos that run hockey teams! We all have an inner Don Cherry inside of us just waiting to break out and yell at our favourite team’s players to cover the “POINTS!” This is what we do.

But really, I understand if you’re a little Olympic’d out at this point. I’m pretty Olympic’d out at this point. I now write “February 2014” whenever I write the date and for some reason I can’t stop wondering if Tomas Tatar can fill that crucial first-line centre role for Slovakia. I’ve turned into a monster. But there’s one more Olympic-related topic we’ve yet to examine in full detail, and it’s one I probably would have laughed at my futuristic self a month ago for trying to write, but nevertheless, here we are. Keep laughing, old Tim. You’re the old Tim; I’m the new Tim, so I’ll write what I want, when I want, thank you very much.

When I first heard that Dion Phaneuf was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp, my reaction was probably very similar to most Leafs fans. “Ehhhh, it’s a nice gesture, I guess. But there’s no way he’s making that team.” Since then, some interesting information has come to light. These two paragraphs are from a Canadian Press piece from August 27:

Subban — last season’s Norris Trophy winner — is a righty, along with Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Brent Seabrook, Kris Letang, Dan Boyle and final-roster long shots Mike Green and Travis Hamonic. Canada will have eight defencemen on the team in February, and while Yzerman said an even split of left- and right-handed shooters isn’t the “end-all,” he prefers balance.

Figuring that Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks is a lock if healthy, the idea of balance is good news for fellow lefties like Jay Bouwmeester, Marc Staal, Dion Phaneuf, Dan Hamhuis, Karl Alzner, Marc Methot and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

As you can see, Phaneuf counts himself among one of the left-shooting lucky ones, and since Yzerman has made the case the team should be looking for balance on the blue line, he might have a better shot at making the team than I first realized. But whom would he have to beat out to make the team?

Let’s assume that Doughty, Weber, Keith and Seabrook are locks to make the team in some capacity. Pietrangelo and Letang aren’t locks, but I’d be very surprised if they weren’t in Sochi. You could probably throw P.K. Subban in the mix as the reigning Norris Trophy (the NHL’s best defenseman award) winner. Out of those seven defensemen, only one shoots left.

That leaves only one spot open for another left-shooting d-man, but if Yzerman is serious about his balance thing, you’d think he’d at least choose three left-shooters altogether. With one of the spots going to Keith, that leaves two spots for one of Bouwmeester, Staal, Hamhuis, Alzner, Methot, Vlasic and of course, Phanuef.

Just for fun, let’s see how these seven guys stack up in terms of quality of competition (Corsi Rel QoC), shot attempt differential relative to their teammates (Corsi Rel), minutes per game and points per game from last season (Corsi data compiled from behindthenet.ca and minutes and points data from hockey-reference.com):

Corsi Rel QoC

Corsi Rel

MPG

PPG

Bouwmeester

1.655

-7.0

24:38

0.47

Staal

0.329

-4.4

24:27

0.52

Hamhuis

0.819

6.6

23:23

0.51

Alzner

0.479

0.8

20:57

0.10

Methot

0.933

-4.8

22:14

0.23

Vlasic

0.790

6.5

20:49

0.15

Phaneuf

2.144

-7.3

25:11

0.58

I should point out that Marc Staal only played 21 games last year due to injury. Bouwmeester and Phaneuf faced the toughest competition out of these seven, and their Corsi numbers suffered as a result. They also played the most minutes per game. All of these guys play quite a few minutes and face tough competition, so they all seem to be used to a shutdown role on their NHL clubs, and that’s likely the role they would play in Sochi.

If we’re going to pick just two out of this group, my votes would probably go to Hamhuis and Vlasic. Hamhuis faced the toughest competition on his team but was still in the positive ledger in shot differential, and he has some scoring ability as a bonus. Vlasic is another guy who drives play against tough competition. Phaneuf probably deserves more props than he’s been getting, because he faces some of the toughest minutes in the league. But I think his main value is in an offensive role, and Canada will have enough of those kinds of players in Sochi as it is. At any rate, it will be interesting to see whom Yzerman and Babcock choose out of this group to complement the “locks” on the blue line for Team Canada.

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Tags: 2014 Sochi Olympics Dion Phaneuf Team Canada Toronto Maple Leafs

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