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Depth charge

Debate starts as many talented players go uninvited

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2001 8:28 PM
  Theoren Fleury Theoren Fleury had one goal and three assists in the 1998 Winter Olympics. Rick Stewart/Allsport

By Randy Sportak, SLAM! Sports

Gentlemen, start your hot stove lounge debates.

The 34 players invited to an orientation/mini-camp in Calgary in September were named yesterday, and there were a few surprises.

Eric Lindros, the oft-concussed Philadelphia Flyers centre who hasn't played since the spring of 2000 and is still awaiting a trade, made the list.

So did former Flames star Theoren Fleury, who abruptly left the Rangers before the season ended to check himself into a substance abuse program.

Bruins' Allison the most shocking ommission
By Bruce Garrioch, SLAM! Sports

It may have been a list of Who's Who, but everybody wanted to talk about Who's Not going to be on Team Canada.

As the mercury was close to hitting 34C, Canadian executive director Wayne Gretzky was taking heat yesterday as the list of 34 players to attend a pre-Olympic camp in Calgary Sept. 4-7 was released.

While the likes of Eric Lindros, Theo Fleury and Michael Peca were on the list, Gretzky spent a 30-minute conference call explaining why Boston's Jason Allison, Carolina's Jeff O'Neill and Detroit's Brendan Shanahan weren't.

"When you make this kind of list there's always going to be controversy," said Gretzky. "That's why Canadian hockey is so great. There are so many great players to choose from. We've got some difficult decisions to make.

"When we sat down we basically had a list of 45 names that we had written down and discussed. There are guys that we're going to come back to. Nothing is written in stone. Thirty-four players is a number our coaching staff felt comfortable with. These are not final decisions."

It's obvious the look of Team Canada is about to change, but you have to wonder how a guy like Allison, who had 95 points last season with the Bruins, could be left off the list which includes Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman.

As a matter of fact, only Sakic earned more points (118) than Allison among Canadians in the NHL last season.

Surely, there must be a place for Allison, who'll now need a strong showing in the first half of the season to be named to Team Canada.

Of course, there's a strong possibility Allison, who is a restricted free agent, could be a holdout, which means he can't do anything to change Gretzky's mind.

"The first half of the season is going to be important for a lot of these players," said Gretzky. "We're not holding what you'd call a tryout camp here. There's no way it's going to be anything like that.

"What we want to do here is prepare these players for what they might expect in Salt Lake City. We want them to understand the accommodations and this should make the process easier for them. What's going to matter is what these guys do in the first half of the season."

Canada doesn't have to name its final roster until Dec. 22.

It was made clear that if Lindros wants to play for Canada, he'd better get back into the NHL or he won't be welcome. Fleury is coming out of a rehab program and has to show he can get the job done.

"You're always going to have difficult decisions to make," said Gretzky. "I know that guys like Lindros and Peca haven't played hockey [in 18 months]. For them to try to jump in and compete wouldn't be fair to them or the team.

"We hope that both of those players will be playing next season. As for Fleury, we've spoken with his agent Don Baizley, we've talked to Theo and we've talked to [Rangers president/GM] Glen Sather. According to everybody, he's ready to play next year and he's looking forward to the challenge."

Gretzky can understand the frustration from people who think this player or that player should have been invited to the camp, but he tried to leave the door open for the likes of Allison, O'Neill, Shanahan, Joe Thornton and Vincent Lecavalier.

Unlike other countries, the Canadians simply have too much talent to choose from. If Gretzky wants to promote team unity, he's not going to stray far from the 34 players selected to go to Calgary.

Once the final list is announced, Gretzky is going to get heat again for not selecting somebody who is having a standout season. That's the difficult part of the job. But he knew what he was getting into when he took the job.

The Olympics don't start until February, but the road to gold is being paved right now. Some think this was a rocky start. 

Adding to the surprise factor were a pair of Dallas Stars, forward Brenden Morrow and defenceman Richard Matvichuk. Among those not on the list were 1998 members Brendan Shanahan, Rob Zamuner, Rod Brind'Amour, Shayne Corson and Trevor Linden. Nor were Jarome Iginla, Jason Allison, Jeff O'Neill, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, John Madden and Brad Stuart -- players who have legitimate cases to be there.

"It says a lot about Canadian hockey in the sense there's always some controversy," technical director Wayne Gretzky said yesterday. "The real training camp runs October through December and obviously we'll be watching quite a few other players, not just the 34 guys on this list.

"Just because you're not on this list doesn't mean you're not going to be on the team. We hope that we're proven wrong."

Eight players have already been named to the team, forwards Mario Lemieux, Paul Kariya, Owen Nolan, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman and defencemen Rob Blake, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.

Flame Derek Morris is one of nine other defencemen invited to the camp, joining Matvichuk, Eric Brewer, Eric Desjardins, Adam Foote, Ed Jovanovski, Al MacInnis, Wade Redden and Scott Stevens.

Other forwards invited are Jason Arnott, Anson Carter, Simon Gagne, Joe Nieuwendyk, Michael Peca, Keith Primeau, Mark Recchi, Ryan Smyth, Alex Tanguay and Pierre Turgeon.

The four netminders selected are Ed Belfour, Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph and Patrick Roy.

The fact Lindros and Fleury were invited shouldn't come as any surprise.

Both are truly elite players, despite their circumstances, and were big parts of the 1998 team that finished fourth.

Gretzky had previously said Lindros, who missed all of last season while demanding a trade from the Flyers, must be playing at a high level of hockey, either in the NHL or in Europe, to be considered for the team.

He reiterated that yesterday.

"We know how great of a talent Eric is. We know what he can bring to our hockey team. We feel that with his experience in '98 he'll be an even better player for this 2002 team," Gretzky said.

"But as we said both publicly to people and privately to Eric, that if he's not playing next year he would be almost two years with no hockey action it would be unfair not only to him, but for the rest of the players, to throw him into that situation."

As for Fleury, Gretzky said the diminutive dynamo proved while he was playing last year he was still among the best in the league, shown by the 30 goals and 44 assists in 62 games, though you know he will be under the microscope to ensure there's no potential for disaster in Salt Lake, such as a failed drug test.

"We felt he was very close to being one of those eight players named (in March)," Gretzky said. "Unfortunately for Theo, he went through some personal problems and personal situations but up until that time there was no question he was one of the best players in the National Hockey League.

"We talked to Don Baizley, his agent, we talked to Theo, and we talked to (Rangers GM) Glen Sather to see what his status was. We've been assured by everyone that he's fine, ready to go and excited about coming back and proving himself again.

"I'd like to thank Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe, Bob Nicholson, Pat Quinn and the coaching staff for the confidence they've shown in me," Fleury said.

More hockey from SlamSports    

Related information
Gretzky invites Lindros to Olympic camp
Team Canada Scouting Reports
Young Flames defenseman Morris among join Canadian hopefuls
Like Team Canada, Lindros could use more ice time
Gretzky insists regular season will make final Olympic decisions
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