Most of the talk about the team that will represent Canada at the Olympics in February has centered on who is going to play goal. It is a general consensus that Canada is in great shape on defense, is absolutely stacked up front, but many observers are nervous about Canada’s goaltending.
In the past Olympic tournaments that involved NHL players, Canada was in an enviable position, with either Patrick Roy, or Martin Brodeur to lean on in between the pipes. Brodeur ultimately gave way to Roberto Luongo in 2010, and with Luongo uncertain to start for Canada in February, will Canada’s crease in Sochi belong to Carey Price?
Price was among five goaltenders named to the Summer Orientation Camp that will take place August 25-28 in Calgary. On the short list to represent their country in February with Price are Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Roberto Luongo, and Mike Smith. Surprisingly not among those that will attend are Cam Ward and Martin Brodeur.
Corey Crawford is coming off a great season, where he posted a 1.96 GAA and .926 save percentage. Crawford was excellent in the playoffs as well, posting better numbers, and leading the Chicago Blackhawks to their second Stanley Cup victory in four years. Crawford had the best season of any Canadian goaltender this past season, culminating in winning a Stanley Cup, but it being his first elite season, he will have a lot to prove early next season to show he belongs on Team Canada.
Braden Holtby was definitely the surprise invite of the group. He has been stellar for the Washington Capitals, but boasts a short sample size, hardly enough to push Brodeur aside. This was Holtby’s first year as a starter in the NHL, after taking over the Caps crease in the 2012 playoffs. He helped lead Washington past the Boston Bruins in a seven game upset, before losing in seven to the New York Rangers. He started 36 games for the Caps this season, winning 28 of them and posting a 2.58 GAA and .920 SV %. He was good again in the postseason, but Washington was knocked out in round one by the Rangers once again.
Roberto Luongo had a bit of a down year this past season, but that was mostly due to terrible management on Vancouver. He was told he lost the starting job to Cory Schneider and would be moved in the offseason. When the season began, he was still a member of the Canucks, and used sparingly, never afforded the chance to get in a rhythm. However, Luongo certainly boasts the most impressive resume among Canadian goaltenders. He has been among NHL wins leaders for the last decade, and helped guide the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Luongo was also a member of the previous two Canadian Olympic teams, posting a perfect 5-0 record in 2010, en route to backstopping Canada to a Gold Medal. Having taken over the crease in Vancouver once again with Schneider in New Jersey, Luongo has the inside track on Canada’s crease in 2014.
Mike Smith is another Canadian goaltender entering this camp with only one excellent season on his resume. Smith was a great backup in Dallas before being moved to Tampa Bay, where he was given every opportunity to take over the number one role. In three seasons as a member of the Lightning, Smith failed to prove himself as a top netminder. After signing in Phoenix, Smith was excellent in his first season, posting a 2.21 GAA and .930 SV %. He had a hard time matching those totals in the shortened season, crashing back to earth with a 2.58 and .910. Smith may earn his way onto Team Canada, but much like Crawford and Holtby, he will have to be one of the league’s top goaltenders early in the 2013-14 season.
This leaves Carey Price as the final goaltender participating in the orientation camp. Price had a brilliant start to the shortened season before falling apart down the stretch along with the rest of the team. His numbers in the previous two seasons, 2.43 and 2.35 GAA as well as .916 and .923 SV %, show a goaltender who has been more consistent over the past few seasons, than any of his competition, aside from Luongo.
Although Martin Brodeur was left off the invite list, his name stays on the short list of potential goaltenders to play for Canada in February. Brodeur has done as much as any goaltender in the history of hockey. He has been to the Olympics four times already, and has the record for most games, wins and shutouts in a career. As recent as 2012, Brodeur led the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals with an excellent performance, showing he still has what it takes to put a team on his back and carry them.
Price has never led his team to a Cup, like Crawford, nor has he put together a Vezina-nominating performance, like Smith did in 2011-12, but he remains as polished as any of his peers. His ability to play in a pressure situation, like he does every game in Montreal, shows he is not a risk to crumble under the pressure of an Olympic Tournament.
Price has only wore the red Maple Leaf on his chest once in his life, during the 2006 World Juniors, but he was named the tournaments top goaltender, en route to winning a Gold Medal.
If I were to venture a guess at who would be the choices to represent Canada right now, I would pick Roberto Luongo to start, backed up by Price, and Brodeur to be the third stringer in a mentor role. However, with the competition so close, it will all come down to who is playing hot to begin next season.