P.K. Subban won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s Best Defenseman this past season, and was one of a few Montreal Canadiens to have a strong playoff. That being said, P.K. is far from a lock to make Canada’s Olympic roster.
Canada has tremendous depth at both forward and on defense, so excellent players will not make the cut at both positions, but is Subban doomed due to unfamiliarity with other elite Canadian defenders?
When Canada first sent NHLers to the Olympic Games in 1998, they did so with one NHL D pairing, in the form of Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, and five others from five different teams. Canada lost to the Czech Republic in the semi finals, and came home medal-less, following a loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.
Similarly, in 2006, Canada dressed seven defenders from seven separate NHL squads, and crashed and burned to a seventh place finish, an inexcusable travesty in the hockey crazed nation.
When Canada had success at the Olympics, most notably in 2002 and 2010, when they brought home Gold both times, there was instant chemistry among the defenders.
In 2002, Canada brought Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, a pairing with the Blues, as well as Rob Blake and Adam Foote, who had been playing together, and recently won a Stanley Cup, with the Colorado Avalanche.
In 2010, Canada had Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook from the Chicago Blackhawks, and had Scott Niedermayer playing with Pronger, who were among the NHL’s ice time leaders the three prior seasons as teammates in Anaheim.
Heading into the 2014 Olympic Games, there are plenty of options among the defensemen, and depending on what avenue the management staff takes, Subban could be on the outside looking in when the roster is announced.
For starters, Subban is among seven right shooting defensemen who have a legit chance of making the squad. Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators and Drew Doughty from the Los Angeles Kings, both have an inside track on the final roster, as they were members of the 2010 Gold Medal winning team, and have proven to be among the NHL’s best for years.
After that, Subban is locking horns with Seabrook and Dan Boyle, who play the right side, and are returnees from 2010, as well as high scoring Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues.
Mike Babcock, who will be the Head Coach of Canada once again, is on the record stating he would rather have an equal balance of left and right shooting defenders. This isn’t to say he will definitely select four from each side, but he also is not taking all seven of these right shooters.
With the tournament being held in Sochi, Russia, and Canada somewhat famously only being able to do ball hockey drills this week in preparation, an argument can be made to select D pairings that have built in chemistry from the NHL. Canada will only have a handful of practices together in February before the tournament begins, and having built in familiarity has proven to be successful in the past.
Where does this leave P.K.?
Well, if Canada decides to pick defenders that already have chemistry, you can be sure that Seabrook will be on the team alongside left shooting Blackhawk partner Duncan Keith. Also a strong contender for a spot on the left side is Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues. Pencil in Pietrangelo, who plays with Jay in St. Louis, and Canada has two pairings that play together every day. Add in the fact Doughty and Weber are near locks due to their experience and exceptional play, and your top six are already set. This leaves Subban battling Letang and Boyle to be the fifth right shot among the group of eight defensemen.
The only Canadian defender that has experience playing regularly alongside Subban at the NHL level, is Josh Gorges. With all due respect to Josh, who plays an excellent shutdown role for the Canadiens, his name has not been whispered as a potential Olympian.
This is all conjecture of course, the roster will not even be selected until December, and injuries, performance in the first three months of the NHL season, and under performance, will play the biggest role in who ultimately suits up for Canada in Sochi. But, if Canada is hesitant to bring a complete mixed bag overseas to play defense, it will greatly reduce P.K. Subban’s chances of representing his country in the Olympic Games.