NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If respected hockey analysts are correct, Joe Thornton's name is not going to be on the list Tuesday morning when Team Canada announces its roster for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Despite the fact that Thornton's 43 assists lead the NHL and his 48 points tie him for third in the overall scoring race, two other Sharks--Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic--are seen as more likely to represent Canada than the team's captain.
The likely rationale is that Thornton is up against too much tough competition at center--the one position he plays very well. There he's facing other skilled Canadians such as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks.
At least one hockey voice thinks it's a travesty not to include Thornton on the team. NBC analyst and former teammate Jeremy Roenick said as much after San Jose's 3-2 shootout victory Sunday night over the Chicago Blackhawks. He elaborated Monday.
"With the amount of talent that the Canadian team is going to have up front, the goal-scoring ability, you have to have a guy that can feed these guys at will," Roenick said. "I think it'd just be so much more powerful to have a guy who's there to play-make."
All season, Thornton, who has credited linemates Brent Burns, Tomas Herl and Joe Pavelski for his assist numbers being on pace to be better than the last six seasons, has played down the Olympics as any kind of extra motivation to do well.
"Never has been," he said last week. "Sure you want to go, but I really haven't thought about it at all. I've been to two, and it'd be great to go to a third."
In all likelihood, Thornton was on the bubble as Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman and his staff put together the 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies who will defend the country's 2010 gold medal won in Vancouver.
Four Sharks were on the 2010 team--Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Dan Boyle. While Heatley, now with the Minnesota Wild, is out of the picture this year, Marleau and Boyle have had their names bandied about.
Roenick, in fact, added Marleau--someone he has criticized in the past for lack of competitive fire--to his list of players who should be on the Canadian Olympic team.
"His level of play has vastly increased the last two years," Roenick said. "He's got 19 goals, he's in the top 20 in scoring, he's contributing every night. You see him battling."
Marleau was the only Shark under consideration not invited to a Team Canada orientation camp in August, and he has said that has motivated him this season. His 19 goals and 22 assists tie him for 15th in the NHL scoring race.
Boyle has acknowledged that his game hasn't been up to its usual level since his return from a head injury. But his skills might be enough to earn him a spot even if it's on the taxi squad, the same role he had when he was first chosen for the team in 2006.
All three Sharks were on the score sheet four years ago in Vancouver. Boyle finished with a goal and five assists in seven games, Thornton had a goal and assist, and Marleau finished with two goals and three assists.
The buzz that has been surrounding Couture and Vlasic increased after Bob McKenzie, the well-connected TSN analyst, had both on his Team Canada "educated guess" projections. McKenzie had Boyle on the taxi squad and mentioned Marleau as one of the likely players to replace someone on McKenzie's list.
If Team Canada approached Sharks coach Todd McLellan for a reference, Thornton would have gotten high marks.
"We have to appreciate what he brings to the team every day," the coach said. "His ability to set people up and create offense is maybe as strong as I've seen in my six years here."
--Goalie Antti Niemi also is expected to be named to Team Finland on Tuesday. The Czech Republic announced its team Monday, and injured Sharks forwards Hertl and Marty Havlat were not on the roster.
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