When Team Canada's roster for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi was announced on Tuesday, it was clear who the ultimate face of the franchise would be.
The bottom line is this is Sidney Crosby's team. The native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia scored the game winning goal for Canada in overtime of the gold medal game in men's hockey at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, and Crosby will once again be expected to give Team Canada the offensive spark required to win hockey games.
Crosby currently leads the NHL with 65 points, which is 11 more points than American Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. Other top Canadian forwards include John Tavares of the New York Islanders, who is second in NHL scoring with Kane at 54 points, Crosby's linemate Chris Kunitz, who is fifth in NHL scoring with 48 points, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, who is 1-2 in Anaheim scoring with 49 points and 46 points respectively, Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, who is second in the NHL with 25 goals, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, who leads the Stars with 22 assists, Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had 14 goals in only 23 games before breaking his leg against Boston in November, Matt Duchene, who leads the Colorado Avalanche with 38 points, Patrick Marleau, who leads the San Jose Sharks with 20 goals, Jeff Carter, who leads the defensive-minded Los Angeles Kings with 15 goals.
The selection of Rick Nash of the New York Rangers is interesting because he has struggled this season with only 18 points in 27 games. But Nash has been great for Team Canada in premier international competitions in the past. He has 53 points in 54 international games.
Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins was selected for his defensive play. He won the 2012 Selke Trophy for the best defensive forward and his 61.7% in faceoffs, is second in the NHL.
Meanwhile there is growing speculation that Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks might be named captain to shoulder some of Crosby's responsibilities. Toews has 15 goals and 29 assists for 44 points, and like Bergeron, has won a Selke Trophy.
The high level of talent for Team Canada was something Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock was very aware of.
"I think we have an excellent team. What I really like about it is we have a young group with a ton of experience. So Stanley Cups, Olympic Golds, World Championships, World Juniors, wide international experience, players on good teams, high quality individuals who play good with or without the puck. The team has really good speed...and we have good depth up front. It made for a really tough process in trying to come up with a group but we are really excited about our group."
Among those players who statistically who have had fine seasons this year but were left off Team Canada included Joe Thornton and Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks, Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Thornton might have 48 points this season, but 43 of his points are assists, meaning he has become a little too one-dimensional. His other fault is he doesn't shoot the puck enough. Couture meanwhile has 35 points, but had a poor December after a great October. There is also speculation he could be out longer than expected with his hand injury. St. Louis meanwhile is 38 years old, and Giroux had a poor start to the year (only six October points) after injuring his finger golfing in the summer.
At the end of the day it really seems like speed was a major reason why Duchene and Benn were chosen after being on the bubble heading into Tuesday.
"Speed is definitely a factor," said Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman. "Ultimately the best players can read or react. Whether it's with the puck, without the puck, offense or defense. They make split second decisions without a lot of thought and that is hockey sense. (Duchene and Benn) are really good skaters and the ability to skate fast is important. They play very well. They're dynamic players. Both have flexibility of playing wing and center. We like their skill and we like their skating."