Sochi Olympics 2014: Team Canada Roster Analysis

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

The eve of the World’s greatest international hockey competition is upon us.  As teams jet into Sochi, make their final preparations, and strategise for the tough road ahead, Ice Nation UK is going to break down each and every roster in attendance.

Keep checking in over the next couple of days as we bring you the very best in analysis, and you might learn a thing or two about how the best hockey nations on the planet stack up against each other “on paper”.

To kick things off: the perennial contenders and defending Olympic Champions, Team Canada.

THE ROSTER

Forwards (14):

  • Image courtesy of fanpop.com.

    Benn, Jamie

  • Bergeron, Patrice
  • Carter, Jeff
  • Crosby, Sidney
  • Duchene, Matt
  • Getzlaf, Ryan
  • Kunitz, Chris
  • Marleau, Patrick
  • Nash, Rick
  • Perry, Corey
  • Sharp, Patrick
  • St Louis, Martin
  • Tavares, John
  • Toews, Jonathan

Defence (8):

  • Bouwmeester, Jay
  • Doughty, Drew
  • Hamhuis, Dan
  • Keith, Duncan
  • Pietrangelo, Alex
  • Subban, PK
  • Vlasic, Marc-Edouard
  • Weber, Shea

Goal (3):

  • Luongo, Roberto
  • Price, Carey
  • Smith, Mike

Notable omissions?

  • Image courtesy of washingtonpost.com.

    Hall, Taylor – the 22 year old left-winger was in the conversation, just, but defensive deficiencies reportedly were his undoing.  There is no denying that Hall, even at such a young age, is one of the most dominant offensive forwards the nation has to offer, but Team Canada opted for more rounded players instead.

  • Seguin, Tyler – not many had Seguin as a possibility for the squad this time last season, but he has blossomed into one of the most dynamic centers in the game with Dallas.  Running-mate Jamie Benn made the squad, but depth and inexperience likely cost Seguin the opportunity.
  • Stamkos, Steven – the most electrifying sniper the country has had to offer since the days of Mike Bossy, Stamkos was on a tear before suffering a horrible injury early in the season.  He worked as hard as anyone to get back before the Games, but alas it was not to be, and team-mate Martin St Louis was named his replacement.
  • Thornton, Joe – Jumbo Joe was a somewhat surprising omission from the squad, though on the other hand Canada’s depth down the middle likely led to his snub.  Even late in his career, Thornton remains arguably the best passer in the game.
  • Seabrook, Brent – quietly one of the best top pairing defenders in the NHL, Seabrook offers elite two-way play, but lives in the shadow of flashier team-mate Keith.
  • Boyle, Dan – a favourite for the team for a long time thanks to his outstanding contributions to San Jose, Boyle ultimately didn’t make the cut on an exceptionally deep blue-line, possibly thanks to age and size.
  • Giordano, Mark – not even in the conversation prior to this season, Giordano has emerged as one of the league’s top blueliners, but was likely let down due to playing on an awful Calgary squad and not having the international experience of others available.
  • Fleury, Marc-Andre – followers of this blog will be aware I’m not Fleury’s biggest fan, thanks to his consistently mediocre play interspersed with flashes of brilliance.  He’s having an OK year, but is a famous name and was a member of the squad in 2010 (though he didn’t play).

FORWARDS

Team Canada Forwards Analysis – Scoring Stats

In order to analyse the forward selections, the first port of call is quite obviously their scoring numbers.  Hockey is won by the team that scores more goals, so what better way to evaluate the players whose job it is to do just that?

The following table displays each forward named to Team Canada, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

CANADA FWDS - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The depth at center is particularly apparent when looking at this table.  Six pure centers – each of them at or approaching their prime – including four of the best in the game in Crosby, Toews, Bergeron and Getzlaf, and two up-and-coming stars in Tavares and Duchene.  Add to this the likes of Benn and Carter, who can also play up the middle, and the versatility of this group is unrivalled.
  • This is an experienced group, with an average age of 29, and have seven returnees from that historic group of players from Vancouver four years ago:
    -Bergeron
    -Crosby
    -Getzlaf
    -Marleau
    -Nash
    -Perry
    -Toews
  • With four players who have averaged over a point-per-game over the last four seasons, and several others not far off, this is an elite offensive group with overall consistent success in the best league in the world.  Jeff Carter and Patrice Bergeron stand out in this group as non-elite point-getters, but Carter offers fantastic goal-scoring ability and Bergeron top defensive play.
  • Rick Nash tends to stand out to me as a player who has seen has play decline since Vancouver; he has never been a dominant offensive force, more a very good complimentary one, but his selection has conjured up accusations of favouritism from some quarters given Nash’s loyalty to Team Canada in the past.
  • Chris Kunitz may be a surprising addition to the squad, but his play over the last two seasons indicate it’s not entirely undeserved.  He may benefit from playing on the wing of the best scoring forward in the world, but to his credit he can keep up and with some amount of consistency too.  The guy can compliment skill.

It is pretty clear that the team is relying heavily on their ability to put out high-scoring forwards on every shift.  Is the forward group really as one-dimensional as it appears on first glance?

Team Canada Forwards Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each forward on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players like Bergeron are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams, or the way coaches share out ice-time — but it does give some indication as to how Team Canada might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

CANADA FWDS - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • The abundance of elite talent just keeps showing up, on the offensive side of things anyway.  Every single forward is top three in at least one discipline, eight are top three in two disciplines, and Toews, Marleau and Getzlaf have the distinction of being among the most trusted players in all three disciplines by their NHL coaches, speaking to their versatility.
  • That latter trio, along with Bergeron, will likely form the basis of the penalty killing groups, but St Louis and Carter also have some ability in this area too.  In fact, it’s likely that several of these players are capable, but don’t receive the ice time due to coaches wanting to rest them for when they can contribute on offense.
  • Coach Mike Babcock is going to have some fun running the powerplay, that’s for sure…

Team Canada Forwards Analysis – Underlying Numbers

Finally, let’s dig a bit deeper and explore these players’ underlying numbers.  Thanks to Robert Vollman’s Player Usage Charts, we can track how players are doing in terms of their possession game, as well as the kind of competition they are taking on.  The following chart displays this information for the Team Canada forwards.

CANADA FWDS - PUC

  • The bluer the bubble, the better the player’s Relative Corsi number; the x-axis displays the offensive zone start percentage, and the y-axis is the quality of competition.
  • This chart only further displays the outstanding ability of the group.  Each player is creating far more than they are giving up, relative to the rest of their team, all are playing above average competition, and several are doing so while starting less than 50% of the time in their own zone.
  • Make no mistake, these guys can play hockey, not just score goals.  Players like Marleau, Bergeron and Getzlaf can really saw-off the opposition’s attack with their two-way ability, and the likes of Benn, Perry and Getzlaf also add an element of snarl to the line-up.

The following table displays each forward, their individual Fenwick For Percentages (shot attempts) and PDO numbers (on-ice shooting and save percentages added together, an expression of “luck”), the FF% and PDO numbers for their respective NHL clubs, and their clubs’ NHL Conference rank at the time of writing.  All numbers are for Even Strength play.

CANADA FWDS - ADV

Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  •  These players by-and-large reside at the supreme end of the scale when it comes to driving play and puck possession.  The systems in which they play can’t be ignored, with LA, Boston, Chicago etc. all playing very strong two-way hockey, but these players are a massive part of that success.
  • Patrice Bergeron makes it clear here why he is a part of the team.  The man is a freak in the NHL, rivalled perhaps only by Pavel Datsyuk in his ability to completely take over the game when he is on the ice.
  • Several plays are receiving a certain amount of luck, most notably Ryan Getzlaf, when it comes to their success this season, their PDO numbers reflecting inflated on-ice shooting and/or save percentages, but each player has a strong history of consistent success so that shouldn’t be so much of a worry, particularly in a short-form tournament.  Having a player in the midst of a hot-streak isn’t necessarily such a bad idea, particularly when he’s still elite when not on a hot streak.

DEFENSE

Team Canada Defense Analysis – Scoring Stats

The following table displays each defender named to Team Canada, followed by their position, age, their statistics for each of the four seasons leading up to the Olympics, their totals, and the averages.

Seasons coloured GREEN are those spent entirely or partially in a league other than the NHL.  Scoring totals include those obtained while playing in other domestic leagues around the globe, both professional and junior (if applicable).  Click the image to enlarge it.

CANADA DEF - STATS

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • If you thought the forwards were the sparkling jewel in the crown of Team Canada, think again.  This group represents some of the most gifted all-round defenders of the last 15 years, and truly is a marvel.
  • Between them, this group has two Norris Trophies and two Stanley Cups, four of the highest scoring D-men in the league this season, and an enviable blend of youth and experience.
  • Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo and PK Subban will likely dominate the NHL scene on defense for the next decade, putting up top-offensive numbers from the blue-line and probably seeing countless Norris Trophy votes along the way.
  • Shea Weber and Duncan Keith remain elite defenders even into the mid-point of their careers, perennial contenders for the league’s best defenders and on every fan’s list of wishful-thinking trade ideas.
  • Vlasic, Bouwmeester and Hamhuis might be unexpected names to some, but they are more than worthy of taking that plane to Sochi.  Bouwmeester has seen a revival of fortunes in St Louis (it’s amazing what playing with good players can do), and both Hamhuis and Vlasic can move the puck somewhat in addition to their defensive poise.
  • This isn’t the most physical group beyond Weber, but in international competition physical play isn’t nearly as important as puck-moving ability, and this group has it in droves.

Team Canada Defense Analysis – Deployment and Usage

The next table displays the usage of each defender on their respective NHL teams, including their relative ranking on their team in terms of Time On Ice.  Those who are top 3 on their respective teams in any of the disciplines can likely be considered to be highly trusted and valued players by their coach.

This is not a perfect measure by any means — players like Bouwmeester are probably unfairly punished due to the depth on their teams, or the way coaches share out ice-time — but it does give some indication as to how Team Canada might be expected to use them.  Click the image to enlarge.

CANADA DEF - TOI

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  • Wow.  Just… wow.  Every single player is a top-pairing man at even strength for his NHL team, and most are highly-desirable powerplay quarterbacks.
  • PK Subban stands out for his lack of penalty killing play this season, and it’s true that he likely won’t be in the heart of the order thanks to notions about his defensive play, but the guy is a gamebreaker offensively, which could come in extremely handy against teams like Sweden.
  • Bouwmeester could be the dark-horse of this squad, his sublime skating ability and underrated defensive conscience likely to make a high-impact on the larger ice-surfaces of Europe.
  • The thought of a Doughty/Weber pairing likely has many observers drooling with anticipation, two monsters of defensive play at work against the best the world can throw at them.  I’d be shocked if they weren’t up to the challenge.

Team Canada Defense Analysis – Underlying Numbers

CANADA DEF - PUC

  • Shea Weber’s poor CorsiRel numbers here are likely explainable by the fact he faces by far the toughest competition of the group, and with a fairly extreme zone-start percentage to boot.  Playing on a better team than Nashville, I expect him to break-even in shot attempt differential.
  • Dan Hamhuis is an absolute gem, that’s about all there is to say on him.  Just look at the positioning and colour of his bubble – great stuff.
  • Subban is surprisingly not getting a push from his coaches – he’s playing with sub-50% offensive zonestarts and against above-average competition, and is still ruling the field.

GOAL

To evaluate goalies, the number most indicative of actual ability is likely even-strength save percentage.  By removing their numbers on the powerplay or while shorthanded, we remove the wildly fluctuating numbers, year-to-year, of special teams play and can focus instead on the discipline at which the vast majority of each game is played.

CANADA GOAL - SV%

 

Statistics courtesy of NHL.com; table created by Chris Hext.
  •  Much has been made of Canada’s apparent decline in goaltending dominance over the last few years, and certainly they no longer have a Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy in net.
  • Roberto Luongo does however remain a very good NHL goalie, despite the criticisms emanating from Vancouver, having remained remarkably consistent in his play.  There are many problems with the Canucks, and Luongo should not be considered the worst by a long shot.  He was a natural choice for this team.
  • Carey Price is having something of a bounce-back year following a couple of lean ones.  We haven’t seen what Price can do behind a truly elite team, so it will be interesting to evaluate his play if and when he does get a look in, though it will likely come against one of the lesser-threats in the competition.
  • Mike Smith is unlikely to see playing time, but has performed well when playing behind good defensive squads, and this team has one hell of a defensive squad, so if he is needed to play the team should be able to put their trust in him.

Conclusion

Image courtesy of proicehockey.about.com.

There is little doubt that Canada are once again the team to beat at the 22nd Winter Olympics, even away from the comfort of a North American rink.  There is lingering doubt though, over the ability of their goalies and the team’s ability to adapt to the large ice surface and play a more European style of hockey relying on efficient puck management and smart positional play.

They certainly have the talent, but Canada’s record away from North America has been somewhat lacking;  the team finished 7th in Torino in 2006, and 4th in Nagano in 1998.  They have also not reached the podium since 2009 at the World Championships.  These are legitimate concerns given the difficulty players often have switching to the larger rinks.

At the end of the day however, Canada is undoubtedly the favourite to win Gold at the Games, thanks to their seemingly never-ending supply of high-level talent at all positions, and at the very least should place for a medal.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Follow Chris on Twitter, and whilst you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk.

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