On Team Canada, probabilities and possibilities

Scott Lewis

After months of speculating, debating, and rosterbating, Team Canada finally unveiled its Olympic hockey roster on Tuesday. So naturally, it’s time for more debating. While the arguments over how someone like Chris Kunitz, Dan Hamhuis, or Marc-Edouard Vlasic  would get the nod over say Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, Eric Staal, Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, Dion Phaneuf, Brent Seabrook, or -insert favorite Canadian player’s name here-, are many and in some cases legitimate concerns, this is the roster until injury dictates otherwise.

Taylor Hall is my personal glaring omission. I want him there for his speed and I want him to land a shot to play with Sidney Crosby. I am neither heartbroken, surprised, nor enraged that this will not be the case.

After a look over the roster, I started thumbing through my copy of Lee Clarke’s Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imagination. Clarke, a sociologist at Rutgers, has written and spoken extensively about how we weigh probabilities versus possibilities. In his fantastic narrative non-fiction work About a Mountain, essayist John D’Agata cites Clarke’s theories in his writings about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. “It’s dangerous to concentrate so much on probabilities that we forget about possibilities,” Clarke has written. Of course, Clarke’s approach focuses on the chances of entirely negative outcomes. Hockey couldn’t be more far removed from the threat of terror or nuclear disaster, although there’s probably a metaphor for Hockey Canada in there somewhere. Still, his approach can be applied in a reverse-like approach to Canada’s roster selection.

Kunitz wasn’t necessarily competing for a roster spot like everyone else. He was in competition for the opportunity to play with Sidney Crosby. Steve Yzerman could not enter a throng of reporters and admit that Kunitz was awarded a spot based on his success playing alongside Crosby, but it’s rather obvious that Kunitz’s inclusion, while no one in Hockey Canada will say it, is at last partly based on his experience in Pittsburgh.

Thus it’s Kunitz, not Hall, or Richards, or whomever else may have been in the running to skate with No. 87, who lands the gig. This is where I believe some of Clarke’s message, albeit in a reverse manner focusing on the positive side of possibilities, can be applied. The selection of Kunitz was the safest play for Hockey Canada. Why risk breaking up a good thing? Crosby and Kunitz have effectively dominated some of the world’s best competition night in, night out, for parts of the past six seasons. Mike Babcock and the Canadian coaching staff have to play Kunitz with Crosby, at least out of the gate. The probability of Kunitz and Crosby finding success on Olympic ice, whether it’s with Steven Stamkos, Jeff Carter, or any other sniper-type ends up on the right side, is high. The possibilities that a player like Hall, who plays like a younger, faster, more skilled Kunitz, playing with Crosby will be left to our collective imagination. That’s not to say that Kunitz couldn't flop on the big stage, thus giving us a look at someone else with Crosby, but it speaks to the safe approach that Hockey Canada took with handling the best player in the world.

It comes down to opportunity, and Kunitz has had the opportunity to play with Crosby and prove that he is an adequate linemate. One can only imagine Taylor Hall skating with Crosby for an 82 game season could possibly generate the greatest offensive totals of this generation.

I don’t have an issue with Kunitz on the team. I do have a problem with his selection representing a fracture of sorts compared to the rest of the roster’s construction. Yzerman et al had no problem breaking up Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, or Stamkos and St. Louis,  or Patrick Marleau and the rest of San Jose’s Canadians despite the proficiencies they have all demonstrated while playing together. Maybe we’ll see Jay Bouwmeester pair with Alex Pietrangelo, although the former would be my nomination as a press box dweller.

The Crosby-Kunitz connection may flourish in Sochi, which is all the more likely when we consider the uptick in talent that they’ll be flanked by. Still, it would be interesting to see how Crosby fares with the likes of Matt Duchene, Patrick Sharp, or John Tavares. However inexplicable some may find the inclusion of Kunitz, it’s still the safest play. It’s just not in line with Hockey Canada’s approach to the rest of the roster.