With the 2018 Winter Games getting underway this weekend, it's hard to resist the temptation to look at what could have been. As in, what could the Olympic rosters for Canada and the United States have looked like had the NHL decided to send its players to PyeongChang?
Well, we ran the numbers and the results are in – they could've looked pretty good.
A couple things to keep in mind before we get into it: first, because this is kind of a pointless exercise, we kept it simple and picked players based on their NHL point total this season. In other words, the top-scoring 13 forwards and seven defensemen from each country comprise the rosters for Canada and Team USA. For goalies, we picked the three netminders from each country with the most NHL wins this season. No, this isn't the approach that Hockey Canada and USA Hockey use to pick their teams. But it's the approach here, and while there are some notable players missing, the end result isn't that far off.
Second, don't take this (admittedly pointless) exercise as any kind of slam on the players who will be representing Canada and the U.S. at the 2018 Olympics. That's not the intention.
Without further ado, the could-have-been 2018 Olympic teams for Canada and the United States:
Good lord, what an embarrassment of riches. Some obvious candidates have been left off because they didn't rank among Canada's 13 highest-scoring forwards this season (see "Notable omissions"), but this is still a team that can score at will. We put the Nova Scotia neighbors on the first line with a Steven Stamkos kicker, there's a couple of former Oilers teammates with veteran Claude Giroux on the second unit, the third line is an all-Islanders affair, and Jonathan Huberdeau joins a pair of former Flyers teammates on the fourth line.
First line: Nathan MacKinnon – Sidney Crosby – Steven Stamkos
Second line: Taylor Hall – Connor McDavid – Claude Giroux
Third line: Mathew Barzal – John Tavares – Josh Bailey
Fourth line: Brayden Schenn – Sean Couturier – Jonathan Huberdeau
Extra: Jonathan Marchessault
(Notable omissions: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Sean Monahan, Jaden Schwartz, Logan Couture)
Mobility, offense and power play quarterbacks galore. Canada's defense corps features big shooters on the top pairing, a couple of Kings on the second tandem, and smooth-skating, all-around efficiency on the third unit.
First pair:P.K. Subban – Brent Burns
Second pair: Drew Doughty – Jake Muzzin
Third pair: Alex Pietrangelo – Morgan Rielly
Extra: Kris Letang
(Notable omissions: Duncan Keith, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Aaron Ekblad, Tyson Barrie, Dougie Hamilton)
What, no Carey Price?! Nope, no Carey Price. Give Canada's crease to Braden Holtby, with Mike Smith as the backup and Devan Dubnyk in reserve.
Starter: Braden Holtby
Backup: Mike Smith
Extra: Devan Dubnyk
(Notable omissions: Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury)
Team USA can't quite match Canada's top-to-bottom superstar depth up front, but you don't have to squint too hard to see a bushel of goals from this bunch. Jack Eichel lines up with a couple of scoring wingers on the top unit, the second line should be as potent as the first, the third line can play it any way you want, and perpetually underrated Tyler Johnson is flanked by a speedster and a sniper on the fourth line.
First line: Johnny Gaudreau – Jack Eichel – Phil Kessel
Second line: Anders Lee - Auston Matthews – Patrick Kane
Third line:Jason Zucker – Vincent Trocheck – Blake Wheeler
Fourth line: Dylan Larkin – Tyler Johnson – Brock Boeser
Extra: Nick Schmaltz
(Notable omissions: Joe Pavelski, Max Pacioretty, James van Riemsdyk, T.J. Oshie, Matthew Tkachuk, Paul Stastny, Clayton Keller, Kyle Connor)
The top pairing brings leadership and two-way acumen, youth (and offense) is served on the second tandem, and a couple of coast-to-coasters complete the third pair.
First pair: Ryan Suter – John Carlson
Second pair: Seth Jones – Shayne Gostisbehere
Third pair: Jake Gardiner – Nick Leddy
Extra: Torey Krug
(Notable omissions: Ryan McDonagh, Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Werenski, Keith Yandle, Cam Fowler, Noah Hanifin, Charlie McAvoy)
If you have the chance to go with Jonathan Quick as your starter, you pick Quick. He's as good as it gets when he's on his game. Connor Hellebuyck has been as good as it gets for Winnipeg this season, beating out Ben Bishop for the backup job.
Starter: Jonathan Quick
Backup: Connor Hellebuyck
Extra: Ben Bishop
(Notable omissions: Cory Schneider, John Gibson)