There has been talk of Taylor Hall pushing for a spot on this Olympic roster since the day he was drafted in 2010. He has been making a solid case for himself over the last eighteen months, but not one that has many fans convinced heading into tuesday’s big reveal. I’m going to quickly run-down the factors for and against bringing the flight-footed winger to Sochi next month.
Bad news first: Hall’s performance at the World Championships this past summer was sub-par at best. What I saw from Hall he had a difficult time adjusting to minimal minutes and playing with higher skilled forwards, which ultimately led to his benching in certain situations. The key here is that the selection committee may have been paying more attention to this tournament than any regular season NHL hockey, which puts Hall at a major disadvantage. By this reasoning, Jordan Eberle has a better chance of making the Olympic roster, who played much better than Hall this summer and has an extensive resume when it comes to international hockey. Another issue is that this Canadian team can’t afford to bring any players who have any burrs on their record. Amongst the players whose names are revealed tomorrow, very few will have a negative +/- statistic, and fewer still will have little experience in the NHL playoffs as Taylor Hall.
As unfortunate as it is, Hall’s record in the Memorial Cup is not enough to launch him onto the roster and as much as we know Taylor Hall is an Olympic calibre player, the selection committee will be less certain.
The final nail in the coffin is the perception that Taylor Hall has. As a player who has a fairly combustible personality who has struggled along with a losing team for the past four years, he doesn’t have the track record that you would need to play on the top two lines of this Team Canada. For the record, that is where I believe he should play. Unfortunately, a team coached by Mike Babcock and selected by a committee of NHL brass isn’t exactly who I believe would take that risk.
Taking Taylor Hall would be a risk. That is my honest opinion.
Now, the argument for taking Hall. In the NHL all-star voting, Taylor Hall finished the year last season as the leagues second best left-winger behind Chis Kunitz. Yes, Ovechkin was awarded the spot on the NHL all-star team, but he’s not a left-winger and I’m specifying that Hall was the left-winger that got the second most votes amongst left wingers, which is true. With the amount of centre men the Canadian team will already be bringing, having players in their natural position seems only logical. Another argument is the international ice debate, where the speedy Hall would have an advantage over players such as Getzlaf, Bergeron, Lucic and Thornton.
The best argument I think is that Taylor Hall is a world class talent. Speaking as a fan who has watched his every move since the summer of 2010, this is a player who deserves a shot at top six minutes on this team. His hands are stiffer than one would expect with the stat lines he puts up, but his speed, his shooting ability, his ability to drive defencemen insane in their own end are all good arguments for bringing him. His drive and determination are second to none and his ability to will himself into games is comparable to Toews, Stamkos, Crosby and Tavares. Of course, many players on this Team Canada roster will have some of those qualities, but I believe that Halls combination of skills and mindset are a perfect fit for this roster playing top minutes with players of similar quality.
In my mind, with the statements that Team Canada has been making about the need for speed, skill and endurance on this roster, I believe Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle should all make this team on a third line similar to what we brought in 2010 with Thornton, Marleau and Heatley. This simply is not a widely accepted or agreed upon opinion and will not be the case tomorrow. Here is who I believe the Canadians will announce in tomorrow mornings unveiling.
Duchene, Crosby, Stamkos – Tavares, Toews, Nash – Sharp, Getzlaf, Perry – Couture, Bergeron, E. Staal
Extras – Benn, Kunitz
Weber, Keith – Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo – Doughty, Vlasic – Subban, Hamhuis
Luongo, Price, Smith
These players are ordered in the lines that I would use in the tournament only because I believe the committee will be selecting players with lineup chemistry in mind, not simply by taking the best players available. Kind of like how I wish the Oilers had been built.
P.S. I cannot describe in words how much I hate that Logan Couture is on this list. This guy has been stealing Taylor Hall’s thunder for the last four years and makes a fool of Hall every time they hit the ice together, outscoring Hall almost exclusively by exploiting the fact that Devan Dubnyk doesn’t know how to raise his arms.