Canada in (Hockey) Crisis...but Garth's Rebuild Keeps Chugging Along

Editor's Note: BC checks in with a WJC recap -- and draft implications, of course. Much more after the jump/poll if you're viewing this on the LHH home page.

Has any nation's identity ever been so linked with a game as Canada's is with hockey? It is hard to say. Last year, we were just returning from New York when the US beat Canada and the sense of gloom was palpable even among those who did not impress me as sports fans.

This year all over the TV, the blogosphere, and in every Canadian town there has been a sense of the need to put things right. Many were resentful of the US being anointed pre-tourney favorites. The outrage heightened when the Swedish coach disrespected Team Canada after his team's skills competition victory relegated Canada to a quarterfinal tilt against Switzerland.

The sun seemed restored to its rightful place in the firmament when Canada beat a tough Swiss team and walked all over the US. Beating Russia in the Gold Medal game after the way Canada handled them in the first round seemed like a given. This sentiment seemed confirmed as Canada built up a 3-0 lead going into the third period. Redemption was just twenty minutes away, baby!!!

And then the sky fell in.

TSN's announcing team called it the worst collapse in the history of Canadian junior hockey. It may be the worst collapse in the history of Canadian international hockey competition. I have seen the loser look after a championship match ends many times and in many sports, but I am not sure if any athletes ever looked as devastated as Ryan Ellis, Brayden Schenn, and the rest of the Canadian team.

Ellis, Schenn, and US goalie Jack Campbell were clearly the best players in the tourney and were acknowledged as such. As I have said before, no 2011 prospect emerged as a dominant player. Ryan Nugent Hopkins was not even on Team Canada's roster. Gabriel Landeskog was lost for the tourney after the first game against Norway when he aggravated an ankle injury suffered in his last junior tilt before the break.

That left Adam Larsson and Sean Couturier with the stage to themselves as far as the draft was concerned. Both played well.

The first video of Larsson's goal against the Russians in the semifinal round shows how devastating his shot from the point is. The second begins with a highlight reel goal by Couturier to open the Canada-Sweden match and has some embarrassing moments for Larsson in that same game.

In general, however, both players played well and showed that they merited consideration for the top pick, but neither dominated as John Tavares did in 2009 and Nino Niederreiter did last year. It may be a matter of personality. Both JT and Nino ARE that kind of special character who wants the puck on his stick and tries to lift his team to victory by sheer force of will. Maybe Larsson and Couturier are, ala Patrick Marleau, very talented players who do their jobs well but rely on others to lead. I just do not know.

There is no doubt that any of the four top picks would make the Islanders a better team. Either Couturier or Nugent-Hopkins could be the playmaker John Tavares needs to ignite that top line. I know I have complained before about Nugent-Hopkins' lack of size, but what if he IS really as talented as Marty St. Louis? He is actually three inches taller than MSL and only 14 pounds lighter. In a year or two, he will probably be bigger than MSL.

Then there are the two Swedes. Landeskog, with his physical presence, could be JT's Gillies on the top line. And Larsson would certainly complete the Islander defense, especially with the addition of Ty Wishart.

On the latter score, I had a little back and forth with Damian Cristodero, the Bolt beat writer this morning. Seems Wishart was underwhelming in his one brief callup in January, 2009. He clearly was not ready. Things got worse when the Bolts drafted Big Victor that summer. In spite of improved play with Norfolk last year and this, Wishart never got a callup.

Cristodero does not seem to be familiar with Wishart's play with the Admirals and I have not been able to identify an Admirals beat writer per se. Presumably he will be called up for a stint in March and then we will see. My assumption, however, is that if Garth does draft Larsson, eventually Travis Hamonic will be second pairing and Wishart third. If not, they will likely be first and second pairing guys. Whether that will happen as early as next year is unclear...especially with the extension of Milan Jurcina.

Of course, all of this may be moot. Who knows where the Isles' recent resurgence will lead them, especially once Kyle Okposo and Mark Streit return? The Isles are eight points up on the Devils, have two games in hand on them, and will be getting their best injured players back while Zack Parise likely will not be back this year for the Devils. The Devils would appear to have pole position for the #1 overall sewn up.

So if the Isles' floor is the #2 spot, what is the ceiling? With 15 points between the Isles and eighth place Montreal, a serious playoff run is out of the question.

My guess is that the team will rise no higher than the #6 spot. Florida, in the #7 spot, has 8 more points, six more wins, and is 2-0 head to head already. The Isles do have games in hand over Ottawa and Buffalo, seven points ahead in the #5 and #6 spots respectively, but would likely have to win all of their three remaining games against Ottawa and four against Buffalo to catch them. That seems doubtful.

That leaves Toronto and Edmonton. They are two and one point(s) ahead of the Isles respectively, but with the Isles having a game in hand on both teams, it could be argued that the three are effectively tied. Thus tomorrow's tilt against the Oil Islanders vs Oilers coverage The Copper & Blue and the remaining three against the Leafs will likely be critical in determining what the Islanders' odds are in the April lottery.

With some real lottery love, the Isles might yet get the #1 overall. Even if that does not happen, however, odds are that either Sean Couturier, Adam Larsson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Gabriel Landeskog will be standing next to Garth at the podium in June. One more critcal piece in the erector set that is the Garth Snow rebuild now in its third year.

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