Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dear National Post,

I don't usually go out on limbs and make predictions. But damnit National Post, you've forced me into it.

Below you will read the piece you ran that Ed Willes wrote. To be frank. You're insane. I know it's not entirely your fault, Ed Willes writes for the Vancouver Province. But you still ran it in the national paper.

"Who out there can fill Gretzky's shoes? Who has the necessary experience to step in to the most difficult job in hockey?" you say. "Sure, you hear the name of Detroit general manager Ken Holland. And Edmonton's Kevin Lowe. And Montreal's Bob Gainey."

Who will fill Gretzky's shoes? It's not really about filling them, and more about throwing them the hell through a window and finding a new pair. As I've stated before, the 2006 Men's Olympic Hockey Team was probably the worst possible team you could have chosen. (Please see: leaving Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby at home = dumb, dumb, dumb.)

As I posted already, I think we've already found a new pair of shoes. Steve Yzerman.

You're only mention of Yzerman is, "A lot of people believe Steve Yzerman has been groomed for the job." No kidding Sherlock Holmes. There's a reason for that, he's managed the past two teams for the World Championships. Both have medalled. Already a better track record then Gretzky.

Of course, you've buried Yzerman down about half way through your article. For gawdsakes, you mentioned Bobby Clarke ahead of Yzerman. How much bourbon did you down before you sat at your typewriter?

The National Passtime

Canada won’t win hockey gold without proper management

Ed Willes, Canwest News Service Published: Wednesday, September 17, 2008

VANCOUVER -- Now that Wayne Gretzky has announced he won't head the management team for Team Canada in 2010, it appears Hockey Canada will be scrambling to find a suitable replacement.

Who out there can fill Gretzky's shoes? Who has the necessary experience to step in to the most difficult job in hockey? Sure, you hear the name of Detroit general manager Ken Holland. And Edmonton's Kevin Lowe. And Montreal's Bob Gainey.

But who, other than those three, has the necessary credentials to lead the Maple Leaf into Vancouver?

What's that? Well yes, one supposes Carolina's Jim Rutherford would be a good candidate. And Buffalo's Darcy Regier. And San Jose's Doug Wilson. But this is the Olympics were talking about. We can't entrust the national team to just anyone.

Can we?

Well, now that you mention it, Bob Clarke has done the job before. And Glen Sather has a ton of international experience. A lot of people believe Steve Yzerman has been groomed for the job. And there's Steve Tambellini.

So maybe there are competent hockey men around who could step in to Gretzky's position. And, maybe, when you come right down to it, the job of picking a hockey team from the extraordinary talent pool in Canada really isn't that difficult.

It's just that, sometimes, the men entrusted with the task make it look that way.

While we still have a way to go until 2010, this week's developments signalled the beginning of the public watch which has been part of the Team Canada selection process since 1998.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson will likely have his executive director in place by the end of October. Then the coaching staff will be named towards the end of the 2008-09 season. Finally, the roster will be submitted in December 2009.

There will, of course, be a familiar sense of intrigue and drama around the proceedings. You just hope whoever Nicholson chooses as executive director will do things differently this time because there's been something amiss with Team Canada in each of the last three Olympics.

It starts at the top. I mean, do they really need four men to run the team? In 1996 it was Nicholson, Clarke, Gainey and then-Ottawa general manager Pierre Gauthier. In ‘02 and ‘06 it was Nicholson, Gretzky, Lowe and Tambellini.

Gretzky has also said he wants to stay involved for 2010. That isn't going to make the group any smaller.

The wonder, in fact, is how they can fit everyone in the team picture. In Nagano there were five coaches, led by Marc Crawford. In Salt Lake, Pat Quinn had a staff of just four but, four years later, there were six coaches in Turin.

This, we might add, doesn't include all the Hockey Canada functionaries.

So were there too many cooks for Team Canada? Well, there was a seventh-place finish in ‘06 and a fourth in ‘98. They also won the gold in Salt Lake, for which they don't have to apologize. But they also received a massive break when Latvia upset Sweden in the quarter-final round.

Somehow, those results aren't consistent with the calibre of players available in Canada. Then again, you have to wonder if the best players were taken to the Olympics.

In Nagano, the team included grinders like Rob Zamuner, Trevor Linden, Shayne Corson and Keith Primeau. Not surprisingly, they had trouble scoring goals.

The ‘02 team, admittedly, was better. But in ‘06 they eschewed young flyers like Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Sidney Crosby for players like Todd Bertuzzi, Ryan Smyth and Kris Draper, and were shut out three times.

Were there other issues? Of course. But you wonder if they would have been as significant if we'd sent our best. Instead, the selectors seemed more concerned with filling roles and manufacturing chemistry than picking a team that would kick butt and take names.

This time around, you'd like to see the best GM, Holland, pick the best coach, Detroit's Mike Babcock, and the 23 best players.

It's a crazy idea but it might just work.

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