For most young hockey players, the ultimate dream is to win the Stanley Cup. It's hockey's holy grail, and it's also one of the most glorious-looking trophies in all of sports. Aside from the Stanley Cup, however, an Olympic Gold Medal is probably the second-most desired accolade for hockey players, both young and old.
There's a lot of pride that comes with representing your country at the Winter Olympics. I remember when the NHL was still debating whether to allow its players to participate in the 2014 tournament in Sochi, and the Russian NHLers pretty much said, straight up, that they were going whether they were permitted to or not. Needless to say, the NHL gave the green light.
Ever since the Olympics started allowing the world's best to compete in its ice hockey tournament, Canada has been one of the favorites to win every year; they've won three of the five, including the last two. Canada ices such a competitive team every tournament (2006 notwithstanding), that every year there are major snubs. Today's list will pay homage to all of the best Canadian hockey players who never got the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage.
To qualify, a player simply had to be Canadian, and never have played for the national team in the Olympic Games. They also had to have been eligible at some point during their playing careers (so, 1998 and beyond):
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15 Jonathan Cheechoo
No, Jonathan Cheechoo was not a dominant NHL player for a very long time, so his inclusion on this list does seem a little bizarre. However, team Canada had trouble scoring in 2006 in Turin, getting shutout in three of their six games.
Cheechoo, on the other hand, was sitting at home while his fellow countrymen battled in Italy. He was on his way to winning the Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy (he finished with 56 goals). Joe Thornton set up most of his goals in San Jose, and Big Joe was there in Turin without a solid triggerman.
14 Alex Tanguay
Alex Tanguay is by no means one of the elite Canadian players of his generation, but a good case can be made that Tanguay deserved to be on the 2006 squad and, perhaps to a slightly lesser extent, the 2002 team.
The 2006 team is the one I’ll focus on here, because that team, as previously stated, simply couldn’t score. They picked age and experience over youth when selecting that team, and in hindsight it’s safe to say they could have used Tanguay’s offensive prowess in Turin, as the winger scored 78 points in 71 games in 2005-06.
13 Mike Green
Scoring points is one of the hardest things to do consistently in the NHL, and that’s doubly true when talking about defensemen. Elite puck-movers are a high commodity, and Mike Green was one of the league’s best offensive D-men for several seasons between 2007 and 2011.
Team Canada won the gold in 2010, so it’s difficult to criticize their roster selections; but was there really no room for the player who led all NHL defensemen in points the previous season, and was amid accomplishing the same feat again in 2009-10?
12 Larry Murphy
The 1998 Nagano Olympic Games were the first to showcase the “best of the best” from each competing nation in the ice hockey tournament. All eyes were on Canada, and expectations were high because the Canadian men’s team hadn’t won gold since 1952, and now they were finally permitted to send their best.
The Canadians of course lost and failed to even medal in the tournament, so now we can look back at what poor decisions were made. I would argue not putting Hall-of-Famer Larry Murphy on the team was a mistake. He finished that season as the fifth-highest scoring D-man in the league with 52 points, as well as the second-best plus/minus in the league at plus-35, so the 38-year-old still had some juice left in the tank.
11 Marc Savard
His career has since ended early because of concussion issues, but prior to this injuries Marc Savard was one of the more consistent offensive producers in the NHL. In 2005-06 (yes, we’re talking about that dud of a year once again), Savard registered 97 points, which was more than everyone on Team Canada that year except for Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley.
The 2006 team is certainly a head-scratcher. That squad’s biggest problem was scoring goals, and they had some of the league’s most lethal offensive weapons that season watching from home.
10 Logan Couture
Unlike some other players on this list, Logan Couture wasn't snubbed from the roster, but just suffered an injury at the worst possible time. Couture found himself out with a hand injury, for which he needed surgery during the 2014 Olympics. Team Canada brass said the injury didn't affect their selection, but for a young player who has already emerged as a leader, it's hard to imagine him not getting a look for future Olympic games.
9 Brent Burns
Brent Burns finds his way onto this list for many of the same reasons Dustin Byfuglien is here: he’s produced consistent offense from the blue line for many seasons now, and he’s shown in the past that he has the ability to play both forward and defense.
Of course, when the 2014 rosters were announced, Canada decided it had no need for Burns. Again, fair, because they proved to be pretty darn good at shutting teams down without the help of Burns or Byfuglien, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are elite NHL defensemen who haven’t yet represented Canada at the Olympics.
8 Jason Spezza
Jason Spezza made the taxi squad in 2006, meaning he went to Turin as one of three potential injury replacements but never played. At that point, we all thought Spezza was about to become a mainstay on the Canadian Olympic rosters for years to come.
Those expectations weren’t met, as Spezza has still yet to play with Team Canada on the biggest stage. Spezza has had some really strong seasons since 2006, but he was never good enough in the selection years to warrant a spot on the world’s toughest roster to crack.
7 Mark Giordano
Mark Giordano wasn’t even invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but he had a breakout year in 2013-14, scoring 47 points in an injury-shortened campaign and finishing the season plus-12 on a non-playoff team.
Giordano would certainly figure into the picture if the Team Canada were to hold another camp today, and there’s little doubt that he’ll be on the World Cup squad this fall, even when you consider the depth Canada has on the blue line.
6 Taylor Hall
Perhaps because he plays on a poor team in a small market city, Taylor Hall didn’t make the 2014 Sochi Olympic team. That’s the only reason we can think of, because he’d already proven that his offensive abilities are among the NHL’s elite.
In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Hall registered 50 points, one of only nine players to do so that year, and more than everyone on Team Canada aside from four other skaters. The following season (2013-14, the Sochi Olympics year) he finished with 80 points, one of just seven NHLers to accomplish the feat. Smart money has Hall representing Canada at the World Cup this fall.
5 Tyler Seguin
Much like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin had just established himself as an elite NHL scorer when the time came to pick the 2014 roster for Sochi. He already had a 67 point season under his belt, but he struggled in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, his last in Boston, and only got 32 points in 48 games.
That regression is likely why Seguin was left off the roster, but the chemistry he has showed with Jamie Benn since then is reason enough to consider Seguin a snub for the 2014 Olympics, and a lock for the 2016 World Cup.
4 Claude Giroux
When the time came to select the 2014 Canadian Olympic Team there were a lot of questions heading in. Who would be the third goalie? What will the defense look like? Will they take Kunitz to play with Crosby? One thing that wasn’t even a question was: will Claude Giroux make the team? It wasn’t a question because Giroux was one of the NHL’s most lethal offensive weapons, and had been for several seasons. Of course he was going to make the team.
In fact, between 2010-11 and 2013-14, Giroux had more total points (303) than any other skater in the NHL. Giroux was still left off the team though, and many people think it’s because Crosby and Giroux don’t get along too well. Remember that nasty 2012 first round playoff series?
3 Adam Oates
Adam Oates was one of the best playmakers of the 1990s. From 1989-90 to 1998-99, he is second to Gretzky in both total points (927) and assists (693). Oates was past his prime when the NHL finally started allowing its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998, but to say he didn’t deserve a spot on the roster in both ’98 and ’02 is erroneous.
In 1997-98, the disappointing Nagano year, Oates finished 13th in scoring and tied for fifth in assists. In the Salt Lake year he was even more impressive, finishing tied for 7th in scoring and notching more assists than anyone else (64). Why Canada twice snubbed a top-three playmaker of his generation is still a mystery.
2 Ron Francis
Ron Francis’ spectacular NHL career started in 1981 and ended in 2004. Francis is currently ranked fifth on the all-time points list, and he has more assists than anyone not named Wayne Gretzky. Still, that wasn’t enough reason to give Francis a spot on either the 1998 Canadian team or the 2002 version.
It’s not like Francis was just going through the motions, playing out the remainder of his career during these seasons. In 1997-98, he finished the season fifth in NHL scoring with 87 points—the only Canadian who finished with more was Gretzky. In 2001-02, he’d lost a bit of a step for sure, but he still finished tied for ninth in points with 77. He was fifth among Canadian skaters, and his career resume was quite impressive. It really doesn’t make sense that one of the NHL's best playmakers in history was never good enough to crack the Canadian Olympic team.
1 Mark Messier
When the NHL finally started allowing its players to participate in the Olympic Games, excitement levels in Canada were through the roof. There was a huge media event for the announcement of the roster, and fans who remember that fateful day are still perplexed at the exclusion of one Mark Messier.
Messier, as we are all aware, is the second-highest scoring player of all time. Sure, his elite years were in his past, but Trevor Linden made the squad and the same things could have been said of him.
One of the biggest head scratchers was Tampa’s Rob Zamuner making the team over Moose. Rob Zamuner! He scored 26 points in 77 games in 1997-98, and he was minus-31! He didn’t even finish his pro career in North America! And they picked him over Mark Messier! Unbelievable.
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