SOCHI, Russia -- For all the interesting subject matter HBO's 24/7 has given us in the past years in the lead-up to the Winter Classic, can anyone imagine how gripping "Team Canada 24/7" would be?
Imagine a camera picking up every single conversation between Mike Babcock and Steve Yzerman and the rest of the brain trust as they deliberate lineup decisions or tell players when they're scratched.
As much as the NHL's Jan. 1 outdoor game is fun and all, it's more or less meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But these behind-the-scenes decisions in Sochi are among the most important in the careers of Babcock and Yzerman. Remember, this is Canada we're talking about. You've got Brazil and soccer and then Canada and hockey. Just check out the Twitterverse to know how passionate fans in the Great White North are.
And what they're debating on this off day for Canada revolves around the goaltending decision, which forward should sit next, whether Chris Kunitz should be given another chance on Sidney Crosby's line, and -- among Habs fan, especially -- how unfair they think it would be if P.K. Subban sits again, which seems likely given that Babcock has already said Dan Hamhuis is going back in for Sunday's game against Finland.
These are some of the same debates, concurrently, that Babcock and Yzerman and the rest of Canada's cream of the crop decision-makers were chewing on Saturday.
"Everyone has their own opinion, obviously. Everyone on the management team does and everyone on the coaching staff," Babcock said at a news conference Saturday. "The great thing about the process that we go through is that, as a coaching staff, everybody tells you what they feel. And then, when the game is over, I have an opportunity to talk to the management team and they have an opinion and they saw it from a different angle than you, so you bounce it off of them; they're a sounding board. Then you go to bed and you wake up in the morning and you talk about it again. And so, believe me, these decisions aren't easy. And they're personal because it's about a player, and, when you have interaction with players, that's personal. But it's not about them; it's about our country and making the right decisions. That's all we're going to do. We're going to keep trying to make the right decisions."
Babcock gave the players the day off Saturday, left them alone to go enjoy watching other events. It's been information overload since the players got here Monday, so much to absorb, so the sense was that decompressing Saturday would help re-energize the team before the tournament's first real test versus Finland after opening with wins over Norway and Austria.
In the meantime, as the Canadian brain trust took in Canada's curling team in action Saturday followed by the U.S.-Russia hockey tilt, the debating and decision-making would continue on and on into the night before a plan crystallized.
"The great thing about it, we don't have to make a decision yet; we can just talk about it, kick it around," Babcock said at his noon Sochi time news conference. "We spoke last night, Steve and I spoke this morning, I spoke to the coaching staff already here today, we'll kick it around all day. By tomorrow, we'll have a plan."
Yzerman had the weight of a nation on his shoulders four years ago while playing in a tournament being held in that very nation. From that perspective, perhaps, it's a bit more calming this time around in Russia, despite the same sense of needing to deliver for his hockey-crazed motherland.
"The majority of our work was done leading up to announcing the team on Jan. 7, watching hockey, meetings, discussing players, working with the coaching staff," said Yzerman, looking calm as ever at the news conference. "Now, our role is mostly being supportive and watching the games, we're there to give our opinion whether they want it or not," chuckling when he said that last part, glancing over at Babcock to his right.
Again, I say, how much would you pay to be able to sit in for those lineup debates the next few days? Consider those at the middle of these interesting debates. You have some big-time winners in Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, Peter Chiarelli, Ken Holland, Doug Armstrong, Kevin Lowe ... no one's going to shy away in that group. But nobody crosses the line, either, despite the pressure that's on these guys right now to get it right.
"There's a tremendous amount of respect for each other," Julien said Saturday. "I don't think it's about getting heated, more than it's about sharing your opinion and more being honest with yourself and telling them what you see and what you think. We all have our own minds and we all have strong personalities, but as far as getting heated, I haven't seen that at all."
The most intriguing decision, no doubt, is whether it's time to hand the keys to the net to Roberto Luongo or Carey Price. Entering the tournament, many of us were convinced this was Price's tournament to lose, that the brain trust favored him by a hair in part because he has had a better season at this point. Having said that, though, more experienced Luongo delivered a real confident performance in a shutout over Austria on Friday night, and you get the sense it certainly has made everyone on Team Canada think about things.
Luongo had a calm demeanor about him in net Friday. But what has Price done to lose anybody's confidence? Nothing, obviously. Tough call. Again.
"I thought both goaltenders were real strong," Babcock said. "I thought we gave up more opportunities in last night's game. And yet both goalies were real solid. I'm going to talk to the goaltenders tonight to let them know what we're doing tomorrow. I have a good bit of time between now and then to decide."
Asked whether the powers that be had a goalie plan coming into Sochi and whether they've seen anything to change their minds, Babcock was careful in his answer.
"That's a great question. We just talked about this. Yeah, we did [have a plan]. They've both been real good. Haven't changed our minds."
Well, not as of noon Sochi time Saturday they hadn't. Truth is, one source told ESPN.com Saturday that, as of Saturday afternoon Team Canada management still hadn't decided on a starting goalie. The debate would continue throughout the day.
Then there's the Kunitz question. Is it time to pull the plug on that experiment after just two games, or should he get another chance with Crosby?
"The first line in the last two games has generated a ton of scoring chances, point-blankers," Babcock said. "They haven't gone in. So, do we worry that much about that, or do we just know good players score in the end? Lots of times in the Stanley Cup playoffs, when your team goes a ways, your best players have no points in the first round. Someone else picks them up. And by the time it's all over, they're leading the thing in scoring. It's not about that. It's about finding a way to be the best team."
Decisions, decision... but it's fun, right?
"It's a fine line, and I try to tell people this all the time: We had to beat the Swiss in a shootout [in Vancouver]; Luongo made a save lying on his back against the Slovaks; we beat the U.S. in overtime; it's a fine line, it's a fine, fine line," Babcock said. "But we're excited about that opportunity that it is a fine line. If it was easy, it wouldn't be near as much fun."