Monday, December 05, 2005


The post I didn't want to have to write...

I'm very unhappy being a contrarian here, but the bandwagon on the "Dion Phaneuf is the top rookie in the NHL" train is officially over-full.

For starters, the statement that Phaneuf is being overlooked because he's in the West, and/or he's a defenseman, and/or he wasn't tabbed in the preseason as one of the favourites, is at this point complete garbage.

Don Cherry picked him as the Calder front-runner on November 18. Allan Muir of did likewise on November 25th ("Outside of Calgary, I'm probably alone on this call, but the transition this kid has made from juniors to a potential depth member of Team Canada is nothing short of phenomenal.").

He's been highly touted by guys who basically never use hyperbole:
Calgary GM/head coach Darryl Sutter called Phaneuf "the best 20-year-old defenceman I've ever been associated with, by a substantial margin."

And he's been (unintentionally) damned with faint praise:
Chicago head coach -- and former Flames defenceman -- Trent Yawney said: "He's 10 times better than I ever was."

Clearly the words "overlooked" and "underrated" do not belong in an assessment of Dion Phaneuf, especially now that he's been named November's NHL Rookie of the Month.

I'm not trying to be too grouchy: the assessments of Phaneuf's merits, as far as I've seen with my own eyes, are correct. He's solid in his own end (he's already better than his defense partner). He moves the puck well, and he'll attack when the opportunity presents itself. He throws big hits, usually without putting himself out of position. He's a terrific player: top-4 defenseman on the Flames (ahead of Hamrlik & Ference), as he would be on any team in the league. That's a remarkable achievement for a rookie.

But has he outperformed Crosby and Ovechkin? That's a hell of a stretch. Phaneuf shouldn't be punished for being on a good team, but The Show and A.O. are already the best players on their teams. Judging by Saturday night, the Penguins are awful--Crosby is doing it on his own.

And as for the Olympic issue: even if Phaneuf has been the better player thus far, Crosby would be a much better pick, because he brings things to the table that no other bubble players do. He should be selected to Team Canada.

The probable 7 D-men for Canada are: Scott Niedermayer, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr, Chris Pronger, Ed Jovanovski, Rob Blake, and Adam Foote. I think Phaneuf would hold his own in the Olympics nicely, but I don't see that he represents a noticeable upgrade over any of those guys (recall that Foote was a Top-4 guy both previous Olympics, and he was a 1st-team All-Star in the 2004 World Cup).

The guaranteed forwards for Canada are: Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley, Ryan Smyth, Joe Thornton, Brad Richards. Rick Nash if he's healthy, Mario if he wants to. That's ten.

The next tier is: Doan, Draper, St. Louis, Bertuzzi, Spezza, Shanahan, Morrow, Staal, and Crosby. Personally, I think you have to put Draper on there, but that still leaves two spots, or three if Mario bails. If Canada is down a goal in the 3rd, which one of that group would you most want on the team? I'm saying Crosby. What if there's a freaking shoot-out? Lecavalier, Heatley, Smyth, Iginla, and Crosby is a Murderer's Row.

I don't think it's overly controversial to say that Canada is more likely to have problems scoring goals than preventing them. Crosby, with any of those other guys, is instant chemistry. This must happen.

Meanwhile, Phaneuf can rest up a bit and look forward to 2010, where he'll be a no-brainer of a selection.


I agree, Phaneuf should look forward to 2010, that'll be the first time he'll get to play on a team that has a chance at winning something, ever since his World Junior Days I mean.

Poor Flames, always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

If the question is who would you rather have on your team now of that list of forwards - Lecavialier, Spezza and Staal without a question. Lecavialier is the most proven forward there whom you haven't down as a lock. While if Spezza and Staal aren't taken to the Olympics I'm going to officially declare Canada deserves to lose its gold medal.

The way Spezza is playing with Heatley you'd have to be crazy not to take both of them, and let them continue their play. Hell, I'd be trying to to change Alfredson's identiy to Jean Alfredfils or something like that simply to carry over that chemistry they have going.

Taking Crosby right now over Spezza, Lecavlier and Staal would be a travesty. Crosby is a good player right now, not a great one. He's not posting the numbers those players are, and has nothing to really recommend himself above them aside from an excessive amount of hype.

4 years from now that may be a different story, but that's 4 years from now and based on his current performance if I were Wayne Gretzki, he and Mario could both spend February in Pittsburg.

With regards to Phaneuf, he is a hell of a defenseman for a 20 year old. I personally think that Ovechin has been the impact player among all the rookies, but that's not to say that there is a fairly deep field. I've also thought Seabrook in Chicago has been a very impressive defenseman, although he hasn't generated the same buzz..but then again he is on a terrible team. New York's rookie goalie Luvbquist (yea..that's not even close in spell but I don't feel like looking it up) has also been extremely sharp, and deserves some recognition. He seems to be playing with the sort of consistency that precludes his being written off strictly as having been on a streak.

I think it needs to be clarified the difference between an "Olympic" team, and an "All-star" team. Perhaps Matt or Sacamano could explain it to everyone. But the gist of it is this: you simply cannot put 4 four "Number 1 lines" on a team and call it an Olympic team. You just can't do it.

Look at why Canada was successful in Salt Lake City, it was because Gretzky was smart enough to put together a team with "role players", he had 2 top lines, a checking line, and a solid 4th line that didn't play much, but contributed here and there. So don't look at team Canada as a depth chart, Gretzky will form units and lines, and so unless you think Crosby is a solid 4th line player who will thrive by playing 8 minutes in a game, don't expect to see him in Turin. Staal and Spezza neither.

erk just reread that and saw Lecavlier in the lock category. Still, I think offensively that Spezza and Staal are playing better than Crosby and the last player would likely be a defensive specialist to kill penalties like Draper or Morrow to the preclusion of Crosby. Also there is a strong possibility Doan gets taken along because Gretszky needs to sell some tickets in Phoenix and its good PR.

I just read what Bing wrote, and have to admit that I never thought of it that way, but I think he's totally right. Everyone is so hign on Staal, Spezza and Crosby, but we're not talking an all-star team, we're talking about an Olympic team. So I think people should expect to be shocked at some of the names of players who don't make it.

Spezza and Staal should be going over Nash whom has barely played this season with nagging injuries, and Mario who would go for sentimental reasons rather than productivity at this juncture of his career. I don't disagree that there will likely be some sort of checking line, although its quite possible that they will be solid two way players and score a few goals.

Actually, I'm going to disagree with Bing on the "allstar" vs "olympic" team thing.

Canada fell into trouble on the World Stage when they tried to avoid the "allstar syndrome" by drawing up a "Ghost Roster" composed of a #1 line, a checking line, an energy line, etc. and then filling it in. It didn't work.

For the Olympics and last World Cup they went with the best players, period. This meant that some players who were used to playing big minutes on their own team were shifted to playing small minutes in a checking role. It was without question the right way to go.

I'd be interested in knowing, for example, who you considered to be a "role player" as opposed to an "allstar" on the Salt Lake team.

Especially compared to the 1998 Olympic team, which clearly had some "role players". Rob Zamuner? Trevor Linden? C'mon.

I would take Phaneuf over Foote in a heartbeat. Foote is old, and slow. Gretzky and Lowe also have a habit of taking a couple young kids along for the ride. Why not take Phaneuf as the seventh guy and let him learn from the best? Might Team Canada even take 8 defenceman, considering potential injuries? Then you can afford to take a young kid who has played in international hockey before. If I had 8 guys, I would drop Foote off of your list, and add Phaneuf and McCabe. Plus, wasn't it Phaneuf who took out Ovechkin in the World Juniors last year? I always like a guy who depises Russians on my team.

You also missed Marleau, Savard and Tanguay on your second tier of forwards. I would take Marleau and Tanguay over St. Louis and Morrow. And then there is Yzerman, who I would put on my team. He is a team guy, a great leader, and won't care if he only plays five minutes a game. I would put him on a 4th line with Draper. Which begs the question: what are the best line combos?

I don't want to get too deep into the All-Star v. "Team" discussion, simply because I think Crosby belongs either way. What are his limitations? Maybe you don't want to play him much when you're protecting a one-goal lead?

So what. Regardless of who's on the roster, in that situation, Quinn is probably rolling three lines, with maybe some of the other 4 guys getting spotted in on occasion. Crosby is one of those 4 guys. So's Mario.

Again, I think Crosby should draw in before Spezza and Staal. He certainly wasn't "behind" them on the depth chart in August. Since then, Spezza and Staal have scored a few more points on vastly better teams. I'm not that impressed. I suspect Crosby can make all the passes Spezza can, and "go get the puck" even better.


Throw in Shanahan or Morrow (or, who cares, Jason Wiemer) and you got yourself a pretty good team there.

And Sacamano, Linden scored the tying goal in the '98 semi vs. Czech with less than a minute to go; otherwise, there would have been no shootout lineup for us to criticize.

And if Marc Savard makes the Canadian Olympic team, I think I'll swallow my tongue.

He was also -14 on the season in 1997-1998. Hardly an "allstar".

I may have to take issue with Jovocop being considered a "lock" for the Olympic roster. Sure, he's been putting up offensive numbers...but he has been absolutely horrendous defense-wise for the entire season thus far...

Sac, are you nuts? It was common knowledge that Nieuwendyk was put on the team solely for his face-off prowess, in fact, I got tired of hearing the announcers comment how Joe would win a face-off and then sub off.

Also, I'd classify Peca, Smyth and Shanahan as role players.

However, your point is acknowledged, in fact I was thinking more of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey when they had the Draper-Maltby connection. That was what was in my head. Sorry, just my youth talking!

I can't really say I'd be all that optomistic if you were icing our team Matt.

I'd sooner see

Spezza-Heately - Staal
Thorton - Doan - Smyth

I think they Smyth, Doan and Thorton line could check as well as any and you might as well get a scoring threat while your checking or you're giving up a lot of ice time.

I'd probably take Tanguay over Crosby to Turin if Nash is still injury riddled by February.

I hope Peca is on the team! he deserves to be there.

My line combos, based on a 23 man roster:


Extra: Kariya


McCabe- Pronger
Jovanovski- Blake

Extra: Phaneuf



Andy, the way I understand it, Regehr is pretty much a lock, based on his pairing with Niedermayer as the shutdown pair at the '04 World Cup. Plus, he is still a better player than Phaneuf, I think.

Also, I get a sense among the pundits that they're almost hoping Nash is too banged up to be named. I think this is crazy: isn't he Canada's best goal scorer?

1. Didn't watch, but I hear he was The Man at the '05 Worlds
2. He led (tie) the NHL in goals last season, despite playing for probably the worst offensive team in the league.
3. He played his first game back from his ankle sprain against Cgy in October, which I watched in full. He was running at maybe 60%, and he had C-Bus' five best (only?) scoring chance.

He's a goal machine, and he's huge. We should all be hoping he's available.

The team has to be made up of the best players. The thing is, there are more second tier players than spots. I think this is where you look at who can only play 5-8 minutes, and still have them make an impact, as well as being good for the "team" well being.

Crosby was by far the best player for the Pens on Saturday. If he plays like that every night, then he should be a lock. How many times did Mario and Recchi get beautiful set ups from Sid? Put some younger/hungry players with Crosby and look out.

Didn't know that about Regehr. As for Nash, he has barely played all season. I can't see them giving him a spot based on last year's performance if he isn't up to speed right now. Of course, that would invalidate some of my own choices, including Yzerman, Draper, Lecavalier and RIchards. I guess the gist of this is that we will have no idea until the 22nd, when some great players will be left off the list. Does anyone think that Quinn won't fight for McCabe to be on the roster, though?

I'm firmly in the send an All Star team camp. A lot of the best Canadian forwards are pretty good at taking care of business in their own end as well (Iginla and Smyth being two particularly notable examples) and the culture for Team Canada has changed a bit. Anyone who is called is happy to be there now and happy to get 8 minutes if that's the role they are given. I'm not so sure that was the case for earlier iterations of Team Canada. I don't think there is a place for the Zamuners and Drapers anymore. There are elite guys who will do the same job and bring a bigger game to the table (ice?). I'd love to see Spezza, Sid the Kid and all the other guys who are lighting it up this year. There is no reason Team Canada should not have tons of scoring depth and be threat to score at any time.

Also, I'd classify Peca, Smyth and Shanahan as role players.

Ryan Smyth was 11th amongst NHL left wingers in scoring in 2002-03 (66 GP) and 6th last year. He's currently 15th. He plays a lot of minutes against the other side's top guys and as much as I love the Oilers, it's not they're weighed down with offensive talent to get him the puck. He's hardly a role player.

Shanahan, a similar story although I think he's getting a little long in the tooth myself. He certainly wasn't a role player in 2001-02.

Peca's the only one of those guys who you can legitimately make a case for being a role player, in my opinion. He was at the absolute pinnacle of his career though, finishing 24th in NHL centres in scoring in 01-02 and being one of the better defensive forwards in the league. We can debate how high his defence moves him, but I'd be comfortable saying he was probably a top 10 NHL centreman at that point.

I'm a big believer in teh all-star model myself. Take the best talent you've got and beat up the foreign kids.

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