Roy, Crosby, and Hull: Looking Back on Team Canada's Biggest Snubs
I always thought Hockey Canada's ridiculous and arrogant "experience is worth more than skill" stuff was only recently controversial, but apparently it's been stupid for, like, 40 years.
And you can see the needle weave its way through history, too. What happens once has consequences for the future.
(Big props to veteran reporter Ian Mendes, by the way, for his list of the Top 7 all-time Team Canada snubs. That list is the basis for this "article" and was published on January 6, just a day before Canada's 2014 men's roster was unveiled.)
For example, what about when Canada passed on Brett Hull for the 1986 World Championship and then watched the greatest goal-scorer of that generation fill nets for the Americans for the next 16 years?
Or there's Steve Yzerman, who was snubbed both in 1987 and 1991 (wait, seriously?) and now is in charge of picking the nation's Olympic teams. You don't think there's isn't a 'Billy Beane thing' following him around with every choice he makes now?
Anyway, here are my thoughts on Mendes's list...
When I was growing up (I was 14 when Canada won gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the country's first since 1950) everyone hated Brett Hull. We thought he was a traitor – the one-knee-on-the-ice, slapshot-from-the-slot maestro was as automatic around the net as anyone the NHL has ever seen, and he played for the United States despite being once Canadian – but his "Belinda Stronach crossing the floor" move actually makes sense.
And, dare I say, Canada's hockey brass was asking for it.
Hull was passed over for the 1986 World Championships, and I assume Hockey Canada (or whatever it was called then) did this out of arrogance – its now-standard practice of keeping someone out as a way of teaching them a lesson or telling them they need to be older and suffer a little first.
Instead, Hull went to Team USA. According to Mendes's article, he put up seven goals in 10 games during the 1986 World Championships. But Canada also missed out on Hull's services for the next 16-plus years.
If it wasn't for Martin Brodeur's right foot, this would be even stupider than it already is.
(And, now that Hull isn't actually playing for the Americans anymore, can we really blame Hull for fleeing? I mean, he did what was best for him at the time, and he did offer up his allegiance to Canada first. They decided they weren't interested, perhaps foolishly thinking they had all the time in the world. But, more than likely, they thought anyone and everyone would want to play for Canada and nobody else.
Hull took his shot and decided to play for a country that actually wanted him, and on a team where he would actually play his own game. If we think Hull's so bad, then we have to give back Donovan Bailey's gold medal, too.
(Also, Steve Nash was born in South Africa and Dany Heatley was born in Germany.)
Not so sure Bobby Hull's exclusion from the 1972 Summit Series team was a snub. Technically, he just wasn't allowed to play, because he signed with the WHA and therefore "the best forward on the planet" (according to Mendes) wasn't allowed to participate because of some silly, NHL-only rule.
But Hull wasn't really passed over. (And what's with all the Hull boys on this lit?) If that's a snub, then Bobby Orr missing that same tournament due to injury was also a snub. (But how about that, the world's best forward and the world's best defencemen both missing the country's most important-ever tournament?)
Instead, I'd put Wayne Gretzky's 1998 shootout snub somewhere in this list. Marc Crawford did a terrific job coaching that Nagano Olympic team, but his decision to leave The Great One out of the team's semifinal shootout against the Czech Republic left us all wondering "What if?"
That is, until Gretzky was handed the reigns to Canada's 2002 team and won gold. But, oh well.
I truly can't believe Steve Yzerman was passed over for both the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups. I actually had no idea that ever happened, partly because I didn't think it could.
I mean, that's just completely embarrassing. Especially since Yzerman was one of the best players in the world ahead of both of those tournaments. But maybe winning the World Cup in 1987 made Canada's brass think it wasn't really a mistake, and then they decided to do it again.
But, again, that's inexcusable. That would be like leaving Martin St. Louis off both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics rosters nowadays.
Well, funny story...
Yup. As boss of his own team, Steve Y left his Tampa Bay Lightning star – Martin St. Louis – off the 2010 Vancouver roster, and then off the 2014 Sochi roster.
It's a stupid move, really. St. Louis has been one of the country's highest-scoring players since 2003 (a timeline spanning 10 NHL seasons) and he's coming off a 2013 season where he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's points leader... an award he picked up while playing for Yzerman's Lightning.
St. Louis has never been able to live down being a part of that putrid 2006 Olympic team in Turin, even if he was one of Canada's best players during that tourney. It has plagued Joe Thornton, too, but Big Joe had the advantage of playing with Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley in San Jose in 2010, which assured all three of them places on that Vancouver team.
The Steven Stamkos stuff is interesting, as was Sidney Crosby's rejection from the 2006 Turin team.
Canada's hockey minds have always seemed to have this stupid allegiance to experience. It's an important qualifier, no doubt, but can a guy who's young and talented and has the world at his fingertips really be faulted for just not being as old as someone else?
Crosby finished third in NHL scoring in 2006 and missed the Olympics because he was too young. Then, Canada lost in that year's quarterfinals to Russia, in a game where Russia's goal-scorers included NHL rookie Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who was so young that he hadn't even played in the NHL yet.
Crosby would go on to score the Golden Goal in 2010.
But then there's Steven Stamkos, who was left off that Vancouver team even though he was in the middle of a 51-goal season, giving him a share of the NHL's Rocket Richard trophy with – you guessed it – Sidney Crosby.
Stamkos is, of course, on the 2014 Sochi squad. As is 22-year-old Matt Duchene and 23-year-old Alex Pietrangelo.
But the fact remains: when you win a gold medal, nobody really cares about the snubs. Was the case in 1987 with Steve Yzerman (again, so META!) and it's still the case today.
May be a weird one, but it's fitting considering the point I just either made or failed to make...
What about 2002? Were there any snubs from that team?
Well, Wayne Gretzky and Co. decided to include Jarome Iginla on the team, and he ended up scoring two goals playing with Joe Sakic in the tournament's gold medal win over the United States. Canada's roundtable simply couldn't leave Iginla off. That year, in 2002, he led the league in both goals and points despite playing for a quite terrible Calgary Flames team.
But Todd Bertuzzi and Joe Thornton were both passed over that year.
Neither player was a household name yet and both were in their breakout seasons. (For that last sentence to make sense, you have to remember that Bertuzzi was the most dominant power forward in the NHL from 2002-2005, counting the lockout).
Bertuzzi finished 3rd in league scoring with 85 points in 72 games and Thornton was stop the NHL's scoring list until an injury cost him the end of his season, finishing with 68 points in 66 outings.
But, of course, Canada won gold. So who cares, right?
Number 4 on Mendes's list is Patrick Roy, who was left off the 1996 World Cup of Hockey team for a trio of Curtis Joseph, Martin Brodeur, and Bill Ranford.
Seems stupid now, of course. We know Roy went on to win the Stanley Cup in '96, the Stanley Cup in 2002, and changed the course of his career by fleeing Montreal for Colorado. Roy retired as one of the greatest goalies in league history.
But there are a couple takeaways from that 1996 World Cup choice:
1. If we're judging based on hindsight and "who had a better career in the end", then the decision to start CuJo over Martin Broder in Canada's final game loss to the United States was just as baffling.
2. Roy would start for Canada in 1998 Olympics in Nagano, where they would ultimately finish fourth after losing their last two games to the Czech Republic and Finland. But he removed himself from consideration for the 2002 team that went to Salt Lake City, leaving the duties up to Joseph and Brodeur. Maybe he wanted to give his all to Colorado, or maybe he got sick and tired of Canadian politics. (A Roy never forgets.) Either way, the move allowed Brodeur to have a shot at the crease, and Marty went on to reaffirm his place atop the league's goalie food chain. He'd win another Cup just over a year later, with the Devils in 2003.
An extra spot should be made for whichever coach of general manager was left off in favour of Kevin Lowe, who was useful in 2002 when his playing career was still a visible memory but has become the league's newest version of Mike Milbury.