It appears that Wayne Gretzky and company have a difficult task regarding the selection of players that will represent Canada in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Many writers and fans alike are beginning to question some of the decisions made by our hockey brass. Some cross-examine the merit of the first eight players named to the Canadian squad while others lobby for players who have shone during the infancy of this year’s campaign. Statistically, the “elite eight” have done anything but excel this year which leaves one scratching his/her head as these players have been consummate leaders both on and off score sheets for numerous years. One also must wonder if there is an upcoming group of individuals ready to challenge our definitions of excellence or whether there is another solution to this strange phenomenon.
With almost a quarter of this year’s schedule behind us it seems strange to see the likes of Iginla, O’Neill and Parrish topping sacred categories such as goals, assists and plus minus. To get the full flavour, lets delve deeper into the accomplishments of the players who have already been awarded positions on the Canadian roster. The following player statistics are of November 12/01.
Scott Niedermayer 12 gp 3g 2a 5p +9
Chris Pronger 16 gp 1g 7a 8p -1
Rob Blake 18 gp 3g 8a 11p -4
Owen Nolan 16 gp 6g 7a 13p 0
Joe Sakic 18 gp 7g 8a 15p -4
Mario Lemieux 9 gp 1g 7a 8p -4
Steve Yzerman 18 gp 4g 11a 15p +4
Paul Kariya 16 gp 6g 8a 14p +1
Totals: 123 gp 31g 58a 89p +1
These numbers fail to accurately represent the plethora of talent revealed on this list. Regardless, we need to acknowledge and congratulate players who have exceeded expectations. Iginla, O’Neill and Shanahan collectively have 71 points while accumulating an impressive +37 rating in a mere 54 games. Many other Canadians have also received a great deal of attention which takes us back to our original question; Are we experiencing a “changing of the guard” or are there alternate explanations? A dilemma indeed which lends itself to numerous opinions.
In October, there was not a great deal of controversy surrounding the first eight players named to the Canadian club and for good reason. These professionals have left us in awe for years. Most, if not all, General Managers from around the league would certainly covet every single name that is listed. This being said, we’re still left with the uncertainty of explaining what has transpired early on and identifying plausible hypotheses. I believe that a theory which has recently emerged warrants further discussion.
Could it be possible that the eight players guaranteed positions on the team have become somewhat complacent as a result of their early recognition? We have watched them for years and often forget that they are actually human beings who share similar emotions and traits as the majority of the population. Its widely recognized that in most fields younger, less experienced individuals often have to work harder in order to gain respect and acknowledgement. Could this be indicative of the early successes of players such as Iginla and O’Neill? Or what about Brenden Shanahan? Perhaps the thought of not making the squad has forced him to once again reach the level of play that we have come to expect. Many will argue that they are well paid professionals who should give their best regardless of whether they have been named or not. However, one must wonder how their mindsets and comfort levels have been impacted. Surely, there must be a feeling of content that has been reached by some if not all of the “elite eight.” If its affecting their consciousness then we must believe its influencing their performance. This possibility may ultimately fuel a debate regarding the selection process in the years to come.
Assuring eight players of spots on the roster may have contributed to a sense of complacency among them while inspiring others who appeared to be on the proverbial bubble. Regardless, if we hope to see gold this winter we’ll need these athletes to be at the top of their games both physically and mentally. I don’t understand the merit of this process as it presently exists. Shouldn’t we wait for camps to be held in order to get an accurate depiction of what’s best? Wouldn’t this intensify competition? There’s a lot to be said of the unknown as it often is a true test of one’s will and character. The present system could be detrimental to the psyche of players and may in fact make Gretzky and company’s job more difficult.