Gretzky faces tough choices

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 12:37 PM ET

Picking a team to represent Canada never is easy, simply because of the calibre of the talent.

For the 2006 Olympics, said Wayne Gretzky last night, it will be harder than ever because the talent is now spread over every position.

Gretzky, the executive director of Team Canada, was in town last night to do some scouting prior to Friday's initial selection meeting in Philadelphia.

"I think the biggest change on our team today compared to 2002 and over the years is that we could take centremen and move them to the wing," he said. "You can't move them to the wing now. We have so many good wingers now, there's no room to move them.

"We have centres now and we have wingers, and that's the way it's going to be."

In Salt Lake City, the team was loaded with centres. The goal that virtually clinched the gold medal was scored with two centres and a winger up front. Even in the 2004 World Cup, Mario Lemieux was used primarily as a winger.

Could it be such a bad idea to stock up with centres again?

"Who are you going to leave off the wings?" Gretzky asked.

"You'd have to leave some really good wingers off the list."

When it came to naming those wingers, or anyone else who might be on the team, Gretzky was coy, although he did admit there are some certainties -- like New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, for instance.

"Let's be honest ... Marty has to be a pretty safe bet," he said.

Mario Lemieux?

"I'm going to talk to Mario on Saturday," Gretzky said.

As was the case with Steve Yzerman, Lemieux can more or less make his own decision about his inclusion.

Yesterday, Yzerman announced his decision to pull out, but Lemieux might wait a little longer. As far as Gretzky is concerned, he can delay his decision right up to the Dec. 21 announcement.

"He can wait right to the end," Gretzky said. "He's a special person to our team. He has earned the respect and I give him that respect."

Gretzky acknowledged that no matter who he and his colleagues select, there will be complaints.

"No matter what we do, there's going to be a controversy," he said. "The only way we're going to be right is by winning the gold medal. Other than that, you're not going to be right."

Wherever Gretzky goes, he runs into coaches and general managers who are lobbying for the inclusion of their players.

And those he doesn't meet in person, he hears from by phone.

"Everybody wants to add guys to the team," Gretzky said. "And that's great, but who gets taken off? We can only have seven defencemen. We can only really have four centremen and unfortunately, when you add guys, you have to take guys off and that's where it becomes really difficult."

While Gretzky considers all the proferred views, the meeting that will probably be the most important in the team's selection is the one scheduled for Friday.

Four years ago, a similar meeting was held in Toronto, and all involved came away with the feeling they had taken the single most important step toward the selection of the team that eventually won the gold medal.

"It's not just pick every guy that can score 50 goals and we'll win a gold medal," Gretzky said. "You have to take the best possible players, but they've still got to fit within the team concept."

Gretzky, his scouting staff and the coaches will discuss the makeup of the team. Do they want guys who excel in penalty killing? How many faceoff specialists should they have? How many youngsters? How many grinders?

Once those issues are decided, the group will thrash out the names that should be on the primary roster.

And contrary to popular opinion -- like all those people who keep suggesting that Pat Quinn will be able to put Bryan McCabe on the team -- - the coaches have very little to do with it.

Their opinions will be considered, but they will be the first to tell you they don't see other players often enough to be able to make suitable evaluations.

Even Gretzky, now that he's a coach, won't have as much input as those who have been doing the scouting.

But he's the guy at the top and if it doesn't work out, he'll take the blame.

That's the nature of the job.


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