A Big Old Speculation Filled Hockey Hug of Love

Hey you, how about a little speculation with that chilly brew you are enjoying?

We are Canadian. We speculate. It’s how we roll. It’s how we show love.

In this spirit of Hockey Day in Canada, let’s let our hockey hearts fill with joy by indulging in a good healthy dose of speculation. But let’s not speculate with  ‘who will be on the roster’-type speculation –  that’s been taken care of. Plenty. Instead, let’s think this through. Let our speculation efforts be of the ‘what questions might Yzerman and his crew consider’ variety. But let’s go further. Forget offensive potential, back-checking will, and shot velocity. Move beyond pure skating skill, physicality, and who can anchor the powerplay.

Let’s concentrate our rampant speculation energies on this query: with one year until the Olympics in Sochi, does Team Canada care who played in Russia last year? Is there a Russia-familiarity factor at play for 2014? Should there be?

Now. Deep breath. Don’t go rushing to close this article. I’m not suggesting that this should be a top consideration for Yzerman. I have a hockey brain too, you angry reader, and I know that posturing such a thing is outrageous. Any Russia-familiarity quotient is absolutely below skill and character and leadership and commitment and motivation on the shopping list – as it should be. But. Does that mean any prior experience a Canadian player might have in Russia is irrelevant? Or is this something we need to think through – might there be a little something to a Russia-familiarity factor at play when building a team for Sochi 2014?

Let’s go CSI/history professor/Bob McKenzie on this question. First, in a highly non-scientific Nicole directed way, let’s feel out what might support a Russia-familiarity factor. Then any evidence that blows it up. After that, let’s play with the plethora of potential rosters we’ve all drooled over the past few weeks and see how this Russia-familiarity might play out. To wrap (just before they deliver the witty punch line and arrest the bad guy on CSI), maybe we will be able to nail down a verdict on whether a Russia-familiarity factor matters.

Maybe there is something to this Russia-familiarity factor

Exhibit A: Joffrey Lupul’s Blog

Lupul isn’t going to play in Sochi. But, his blog is relevant – he’s a 29 year old Canadian NHLer. When playing in the KHL earlier this season, Lupul reflected that in his experience, playing hockey in Russia involves “different hockey and a completely different way of life”. It’s the same sport, but a different game. It seems logical to counter this point by reminding us that most potential Canadian Olympians have travelled before. They’ve played World Juniors in Europe. Lupul hasn’t. His WJC was in Halifax (and Canada won silver, Russia gold. Valid evidence to disprove a Russia-familiarity factor?)

Lupul goes on to say “I have always considered myself a traveler, and I have been all over the world, but there is no place you can truly compare to Mother Russia. It’s just a different way of life. And the language barrier is just the first obstacle… After being here for a month, I can tell you Russia is not Sweden, nor Finland, nor Germany. There are major cultural differences here.”

‘Major cultural differences’. ‘Different hockey’. Does this matter? It has to. It must.

Now, another counter: Lupul lived in Russia. The Olympic team will be visiting Russia. They will be surrounded by Canadian staff and traditions. Valid point. But, importantly, Team Canada will be playing hockey in Russia. Lupul was playing hockey in Russia. The way things are done around the rink, the pregame festivities, how the dressing rooms are built, how the kid who cleans the jerseys treats you – these things are different.

And how would a player learn to adapt to these differences? By playing in Russia. Score one for the familiarity factor.

Exhibit B: Olympics in Nagano and Turin

4th place and 7th place. Not great. Far from gold, which let’s be real, we all want. Now, of course it matters that there were suspicious managerial and coaching choices made in both tournaments.  Some years have a less-great talent pool than others. Very true. Obviously, there were lackluster performances by certain players that contributed to these showings.

But. Let’s focus on Turin, the most recent Winter Olympics to be held outside of North America. Canada’s roster wasn’t at it’s best, with Niedermayer and Jovanovski out. And adding McCabe was perhaps a controversial move. But, aside from that, can we agree this team was solid? Brodeur, Luongo, Blake, Foote, Pronger, and Redden in our own end. Up front, Iginla, Doan, Lecavlier, St. Louis, Thornton and Nash were at high points in their career production-wise. Sakic wore the ‘C’ – and we all love Joe. Canada reveres Mr. Sakic. So what went wrong?

Is it possible that there was a we-are-in-a-wildly-different-culture (and hockey way of life) component to their meltdown? Switzerland beat us 2-0 and finished ahead of us in Group A. Hmm. There were no Canadians in the top 10 point-getters. Hmmm. Gold and silver went to Sweden and Finland. Hmmm. Worth considering a familiarity factor?

Exhibit C: Salt Lake City and Vancouver Olympics

Let’s start by agreeing that the way things were done around the rink in Salt Lake was essentially the same as in Vancouver, which is essentially the same as an NHL way of hockey. Can we agree that this is a familiar breed of hockey to all the Canadian players? And in Salt Lake, let’s be completely blasphemous and forget about the Lucky Loonie for one second (even though we all inwardly agree the loonie was crucial).

In Salt Lake, Canada’s team was probably better than in Turin. But only slightly, and we had many of the same players (Iginla, Sakic, Smyth, Pronger, Gagne). Who won gold? Canada. Who won silver? USA.

Then, Vancouver. New team for Canada. Lots of relatively unproven talent, Olympic-wise. No Sakic, no Lemieux, no Shanahan, no Yzerman on the ice (no Gretzky. Scandalous). Gold to Canada. Silver to the USA. This deserves a big fat chunk of contemplation.

I’m starting to buy into this familiarity-factor thing.

Nicole, go to bed. This Russian-familiarity factor is ridiculously irrelevant

 Exhibit A: World Junior Hockey Championships

 The WJCs are all over the map. From 2005 to 2009, the legendary 5 Canadian gold medals in a row, the tournament was in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Czech Republic, and Canada. That’s 3/5 in North America, but 2/5 abroad. This neither supports nor refutes a Russia-familiarity factor.

But, let’s not be so selfish and look at teams other than Canada (which I guess there are. And people cheer for them? I’ve heard that’s a thing?). In 2010, WJC was in Canada, USA won. 2011 was in the USA, Russia took the gold. Canada hosted again in 2012 and Sweden won. Finally, in Russia in 2013, the USA won. There is no logic here, no pattern emerges.

So maybe, WJC is a totally different tournament. Or perhaps there might be nothing to this familiarity business.

Exhibit B: 1976 Olympics through to the 1998 Olympics

Well before my time, the Soviet Union won in Austria. Then, the USA won in the USA. Next, Soviet Union won in Yugoslavia. Soviet Union in Canada. Then, the Unified Team (aka Soviet Union) won in France. And in Norway, Sweden won. Aside from the fact that the Soviet Union was really dominant there for a while, there’s no pattern there. No familiarity-factor was at play. Great teams won. Full stop.

Go away, familiarity factor.

Exhibit C: Malkin, Ovechkin, and Datsyuk (plus an ounce of Yakupov)

Datsyuk, Ovechkin, and Malkin all started out as hockey babies in Russia. They all played at least one season in the KHL or Russian Elite League. And, let’s be entirely honest – all three are great players. Perhaps Ovechkin’s season isn’t great so far (look how nice I am being. How mature), and maybe Malkin isn’t always on fire, but can we all agree that these three men are good players? They all have skill. You can’t fight it. Just accept this.

In his first NHL season, Datsyuk had 35 points and after the lockout, (where he played in Russia), he chalked an 87. Malkin tallied 85 as a freshman. Ovechkin netted 106 points in his rookie year. These are solid numbers. And, more importantly, they refute any familiarity factor. All these Russian players were new to North America and North American hockey culture in their rookie seasons. And all these players performed in an above average way in their first seasons (or a far, far, far above average way). If they were adjusting to a new hockey way of life, wouldn’t it stand to reason they would have had lackluster rookie campaigns?

Now, Yakupov. He didn’t play pro in Russia before coming to North America, but his rookie year in Sarnia was his inaugural season in North America (he played Russian minor hockey prior to this). Oh, that first year in Sarnia? 101 points.

Yeah, nope. Doubting this familiarity-factor thing.

Say we accept this Russia-familiarity business momentarily. How does a potential 2014 Team Canada stack up?

            After scouring the internets for projected 2014 rosters and making a lovely excel spread sheet, I have a list of potential Canadian Olympic candidates. Remember, we are talking Russia-familiarity. This means we are excluding experience in other non-North American nations.

  • If a player has never played in the Olympics, WJC, U18, Super Series, or World Hockey Championships in Russia, or played pro in Russia, they get 0 points.
  • Playing only in the (or any combination of) Olympics, WJC, U18, Super Series or World Hockey Championships in Russia nets a player 1 point.
  • Playing pro in Russia is worth 2 points. This includes the KHL and Russian Elite leagues.

Players are in alphabetical order.

Forwards

Jamie Benn   –   0
Patrice Bergeron   –   0
Jeff Carter   –   1
Logan Couture   –   0
Sidney Crosby   –   0
Jordan Eberle   –   1
Ryan Getzlaf   –   1
Claude Giroux   –   0
Taylor Hall   –   1
Scott Hartnell   –   0
Jarome Iginla   –   0
Milan Lucic   –   1
Patrick Marleau   –   0
Rick Nash   –   1
James Neal   –   0
Ryan Nugent Hopkins   –   0
Corey Perry   –   0
Mike Richards   –   0
Tyler Seguin   –   0
Patrick Sharp   –   0
Eric Staal   –   1
Jordan Staal   –   1
Steven Stamkos   –   0
Martin St. Louis   –   0
John Tavares   –   0
Joe Thornton   –   0
Jonathan Toews   –   1

Defence

Jay Bouwmeester   –   1
Dan Boyle   –   0
Brian Campbell   –   0
Braydon Coburn   –   0
Michael Del Zotto   –   0
Drew Doughty    –   0
Mark Edouard Vlasic   –   0
Dan Girardi   –   0
Dan Hamhuis   –   1
Duncan Keith   –   0
Kris Letang   –   0
Tyler Myers   –   1
Alex Pietrangelo   –   0
Justin Schultz   –   0
Brent Seabrook   –   1
Mark Staal   –   0
PK Subban   –   0
Shea Weber   –   1

Goaltenders

Martin Brodeur   –   0
Corey Crawford   –   0
Marc-Andre Fleury   –   0
Roberto Luongo   –   0
Carey Price   –   0
Mike Smith   –   0
Cam Ward   –   1

Uh. So?

After reviewing this potential training camp list, I’m hoping there isn’t a lot to this Russia-familiarity factor. Canada isn’t great at it. There are no players on this list who have played professional hockey in Russia. There are players who have played in Switzerland, Germany, and Sweden, but, as Lupul reminded us, there is something about Russia that differentiates it from these countries.

So. Pretend we are all little Steve Yzermans. Do we care? At this point, I’m thinking maybe. It’s far down the list of qualifications, for sure. For sure for sure. But, it’s on my radar. If both Cam Ward and Roberto Luongo are at their best next season, and are essentially equal in regards to other factors I am considering, knowing that I could have a goalie who has played in Russia in a major tournament might be a tipping point.

Might.

Not will be. Might be.

This situation is unclear. I’m really undecided. But maybe, just maybe, there might just be something to this Russia-familiarity thing.

Or not?

It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Irving Chong

Ever come across something that you’re completely under qualified to comment on?  This is how I feel with this post.  Sure I could throw out names of who should represent Canada in 2014 but it would just be me naming perennial All-Stars.  However, the idea of building a team that has always been an interesting topic of discussion.  What Nicole brings up here is no different than a General Manager asking if Player X could play in their market.  If you don’t think this matters I need to point you in the direction of Dwight Howard moving from Orlando to the bright lights of LA.  Quick tangent, I hate how much I’m talking about the Lakers but their season has been tragic comedy.  That being said no team that’s sub-.500 should be getting this much attention.  I don’t care how much Kobe’s been running  his mouth.  I’m done with Laker talk for the week.

The emphasis I always like to point out when people speculate these teams is we want a team, not a collection of the best players.  A team.  So that means people should think about their chemistry, intangibles, and how their games mesh.  And ignore such things as, “How do we sell the most jerseys?”  I have no doubt the people (are their females in this committee?) of Hockey Canada have thought about all these things way more than me (understatement of the year).  I’ll let them handle this and besides it’s not like they can screw up right – we’re Canada, some kids wear skates before shoes right?

Like I mentioned before I am way under qualified for this discussion, I wouldn’t have even thought that being in Russia could potentially affect a team but now thinking about it, why don’t we take this into account more?

Irving Chong (@Irving_Chong) and Nicole (@_nicoliooo) are co-creators of This is Why we Can’t Have Nice Things even though it doesn’t make sense why they’re friends

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One thought on “A Big Old Speculation Filled Hockey Hug of Love

  1. We Aren’t Any Closer to Having Nice Things: 50 – This is Why we Can't Have Nice Things

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