Monday, November 28, 2005


In defense of Stevie Y

I was listening to Live From Wayne Gretzky's Saturday afternoon, and heard the 10th iteration of a discussion that's been going on for months on talk radio: should Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman be on the Canadian Olympic hockey team? Here's the gist of the "problem", from Bob McKenzie:
Slice it however you like, the first 12 forward positions appear to be spoken for and we haven't even mentioned Mario Lemieux or Steve Yzerman, who because of their stature in this game, especially with Gretzky, get to call their own shot. They're on the team unless they say otherwise.

If Lemieux and Yzerman do speak up and bow out gracefully, perhaps one of Staal, Spezza or Crosby gets the call.

So the idea is this (and again, I've heard this from a dozen hockey pundits): they deserve to be on the team, and they don't deserve to be on the team. Apparently no one has the balls to just say, "I disagree with Wayne Gretzky--these two guys are no longer worthy of being on the team, regardless of what they want themselves." Why not? Why is everyone engaging in this surreal meta-commentary, instead of analysing what they think would be best for the team, then stating an opinion?

The thing that really gets me is this underlying wish that Stevie and Mario will "bow out gracefully". Here's the Yzerman half of the angle:
It is Lemieux and Detroit's Steve Yzerman who are most often mentioned as players who have been surpassed by Canada's young talent. But Gretzky has publicly promised both players spots on Team Canada.

Unlike Lemieux, Yzerman last week did not sound as if he was prepared to let Gretzky and the rest of Team Canada's brain trust off the hook by withdrawing.

"They're picking the team," said Yzerman, who has two goals and four assists in 14 games. "If my play between now and then merits a spot, I'll be there. If it doesn't, I won't."

Now pardon me, but that does sound like Yzerman is "letting them off the hook". How much more grace do you want? He's asking to be chosen, or not, on merit, with no references to any promises, or career contributions, or anything else. The disagreement, or controversy, here is simply this: McKenzie and friends don't think Yzerman can contribute as well as 13 other forwards, whereas Yzerman thinks he can. And as it happens, I agree with Yzerman.

Try thinking of it this way: what did Yzerman bring to the table in 2002 that he can't bring now? Very little, in my mind. He's still an excellent defensive forward who's won 3 Stanley Cups. He'll play whatever role Quinn wants him to. He's not as good offensively as he was 15 years ago, but he can still be dangerous skating in the direction of the opposing team's goal, and unlike some other checking centres, he can sure as hell bang a puck into an open net.

Steve Yzerman would not be a liability to the Canadian Olympic team in any way. (In contrast to (obviously) Mario, Spezza, or even Crosby, who hasn't proved himself (yet) to be very rigourous in the defensive end).

For all of Mario's good points, and past contributions, I don't think he would be a good selection. However, Gretzky has said that it's up to him, and so it shall be. Here's what I hope happens, and I think I'll use it as a prediction, too:

Lemieux bows out with the understanding that Crosby will be selected in "his place". Yzerman is selected to the team, amid some controversy (I'd guess Spezza is a definite No, and Staal is probably left looking in as well). Then Canada wins the gold, Yzerman plays well, and we wonder what all the fuss was about.

Note: Update-slash-reversal here.


I'm with you on this matt, Last Olympics were almost blown because they didn't play Yzerman enough at first. When they finally relied on him for face offs and playmaking the team made a big turnaround. He sacrificed a lot to be there and was in constant pain because of the substances banned at that time. If he cannot contribute, you can count on him to remove himself. He is one of those players, that when he steps on the ice, all the others play their 'A' game. Gretxky is just finally being recognized for his 'Hockey savvy'.

Keep in mind as well that Gretzky canned his own friend from Phoenix earlier this year (Brett Hull). He will do what is best for Team Canada, regardless of his friendship to a player. And they won't question him at all. He's Gretzky.

If people aren't going to bring their 'A' Game to play with Sakic and Jarome, what's Yzerman going to be able to do? Sprinkle fairy dust on 'em?

Not sure I understand your objection, Cosh, if it even is one. Of course no one can "magically" get their teammates to play better. But if there is such a thing as a good teammate, or a good guy in the dressing room (and that the presence of such players is a positive thing for a team), then Yzerman's at the top of that list of players.

If you're going to pick someone else over Yzerman, you have to be pretty confident that his contributions to scoring and preventing goals will be empirically better. I don't think you can say that about Spezza (confidently), and I'm not sure you can say it about Staal either, though I haven't seen him much.

Yzerman hasn't been a reliable 1pt+ per game guy for 5 years, if not 10. Again I ask, what is he lacking now that he had four years ago? One less naked finger, and that's about it, as far as I can tell.

Again I ask, what is he lacking now that he had four years ago?

Functional knees. Also the ability to earn ice time with his club team.

Under Matt's logic, we should just bring back the whole 2002 team quadrenially from now until they start to die on us. What's Theoren Fleury lacking that he had four years ago?

Well, fuck, you could do worse, but assuming you want to upgrade:

You start by ditching the guys who weren't that good last time - so long Brewer, Fleury, Lindros, and Peca. Then you ditch the guys whose desirable attributes have declined or disappeared in the four years since: that'd be Nolan, Kariya, and Mario for sure (plus Macinnis). There's spots for at least 8 new skaters.

You keep the guys who are still prime, or close enough: Iginla, Sakic, Gagne, Blake, Foote, Pronger, Niedermayer, Smyth, and maybe Special Ed.

That leaves Yzerman, Nieuwendyk, and Shanahan who, aside from durability concerns, bring you essentially the same (good) things they did last time. I understand the argument that we should ditch them in favour of guys who have had a tremendous 25 games, or even two seasons, I just don't agree with it. I think at least one of those guys should be on the 2006 team, and I think it should be Yzerman.

Keep Yzerman and the 9 guys above, and you have half the winning team from '02, and half "rookies". Maybe I can be convinced that there should be more than 50% turnover, but I'm skeptical.

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