Steve Yzerman and the rest of Hockey Canada spent months looking at the country’s top players, trying to figure out the best way to blend talent into a team good enough to win Olympic gold.
The Hall of Fame player and Hockey Canada executive director kept asking himself the same question as months turned into days and then hours before decisions had to be made.
“I’m trying to cram 17 bodies into 14 spots and I couldn’t do that,” Yzerman said Tuesday about all those talented forwards.
Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, Joe Thornton – all among the NHL’s scoring leaders – didn’t make the cut.
“It came down to fit,” Yzerman said, declining to say exactly why some standouts were snubbed.
Sidney Crosby, of course, was a lock to make the star-studded team, and the Penguins’ standout will have plenty of help when Canada tries to win a second straight gold medal next month in Sochi, Russia.
Crosby, who scored the gold-medal winning goal in 2010 against the U.S., will be joined up front by Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews.
Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Marc-Édouard Vlasic and Shea Weber will be on defense. Roberto Luongo, Carey Price and Mike Smith will be in goal.
“It is something you dream about as a kid, playing for your country,” Weber said. “It’s something you don’t take for granted.”
Giroux was perhaps the most surprising omission. No one born in Canada has more points, entering play Tuesday night, than the Philadelphia Flyers standout since the 2011-12 season. He has bounced back from a slow start this season to rank among NHL leaders in points.
The most painful call Yzerman had to make probably was the one to let St. Louis know he wasn’t on the team.
St. Louis, who plays for Yzerman in Tampa Bay, didn’t make the cut for the Olympics for the second straight time after playing for Canada at the Turin Games in 2006. St. Louis ranks fourth in NHL scoring among Canadians the past two-plus seasons.
“For me personally, yeah, that’s a difficult decision,” Yzerman said.
Thornton was leading the league with 43 assists through Monday night’s games. The San Jose Sharks star trails just four fellow countrymen — Giroux, Tavares, Stamkos and St. Louis — in scoring since the 2011-12 season.
Other players who could have made the cut include James Neal, Eric Staal, Milan Lucic, Taylor Hall, Brent Seabrook, Mark Giordano, Dan Boyle, Corey Crawford, Marc-Andre Fleury and Logan Couture, who is scheduled for surgery this week to treat an upper-body injury.
The current team includes 11 players from the Vancouver Games. Thornton, Seabrook, Boyle and Fleury are among the players who were not given a chance to return after being on the team four years ago.
Stamkos has not played in nearly two months because of a broken right leg, but he’s on Canada’s team – for now. Yzerman, who is Stamkos’ general manger with the Lightning, said Stamkos is scheduled for X-rays later this week.
“If he’s healthy, he’s one of the 25 best players, obviously,” Yzerman said at a news conference in Toronto. “If we didn’t name him today and no one is injured, we wouldn’t be able to announce him later.”
Injured players can be replaced before the final rosters are set on Feb. 11, the day before the first games are played.
Yzerman said several players are under consideration to replace injured players such as Stamkos, but wouldn’t name any of them.
“You can speculate for yourself,” Yzerman said.
While Canada will likely be favored to win gold again, the host Russians will be among the tough teams to beat in the 12-country field.
“What other team do we worry about? Every one,” Yzerman said. “I’m nervous about them all.”