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Four key position battles for ’14 Winter Olympics

May 10, 2013, 4:14 PM EDT

RobertoLuongoCanada

With news of a working understanding that NHL players will participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics, we thought it’d be a good time to start looking at the fight for jobs in 2014.

Why four? Because the games are every four years, and I couldn’t come up with a fifth.

Who’ll be Canada’s  starting netminder?

While the state of Canadian goaltending is hardly in flux, the current choices for No. 1 do come with question marks…

Roberto Luongo, who led the country to gold in Vancouver, was resigned to a backup role with the Canucks.

Carey Price struggled mightily for Montreal down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Cam Ward suffered a season-ending knee injury in March.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been benched in favor of Tomas Vokoun.

Martin Brodeur will be closing in on his 42nd birthday.

Other candidates — Mike Smith, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliott — have been mentioned, but they’re considered peripheral contenders at best.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun is pushing Braden Holtby for consideration, but that seems like a longshot.

Who’ll be Finland’s starting netminder?

Almost the polar opposite situation from Canada’s — it could be argued Finland has the best goaltending depth in the world right now:

Tuukka Rask, who just posted arguably the finest regular season of his career.

Antti Niemi, who just received his first-ever Vezina nomiation.

Pekka Rinne, who finished third in last year’s Vezina voting.

Niklas Backstrom, who tied for the NHL lead in wins (24) this year.

Kari Lehtonen, who posted back-to-back 3o-win seasons from 2010-12.

No shortage of quality candidates to choose from, and this list doesn’t even include Miikka Kiprusoff.

Who’ll be Team USA’s head coach?

The smart money is on Pittsburgh’s Dan Byslma who, since taking the Pens gig in 2009, has:

– Posted a 201-92-25 regular-season record (.671 winning percentage).

– Qualified for the playoffs every year, won Stanley Cup in 2009.

– Captured Jack Adams in 2011.

Despite that resume, Bylsma will have challengers for the gig.

New York’s John Tortorella and Philadelphia’s Peter Laviolette will likely be in the mix, as both have coached at the national team level in previous years.

Jack Capuano, coming off a highly-successful campaign with the Islanders, will also garner some consideration, as will Jackets bench boss Todd Richards after orchestrating a tremendous playoff push in Columbus.

Who’ll play defense for the Russians?

According to NHL.com, there were just nine Russian defensemen in the league this year — Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Slava Voynov, Fedor Tyutin, Alexei Emelin, Dmitry Kulikov, Nikita Nikitin, Anton Volchenkov and Dmitry Orlov.

It’s an odd group, age-wise:

– Gonchar (39) and Markov (35 in December) are old.

– Orlov (22), Kulikov (23) and Voynov (23) are young.

– The guys in the middle are…nothing to write home about.

There were signs of trouble on the Russian blueline during the ‘1o winter games, when the roster included three KHL defensemen (and a fourth, Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov, who would soon join them.)

Team Russia proceeded to allow 13 goals over four games, including seven in a quarterfinal loss to Canada.

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