It may be both the easiest and hardest job in the tournament – picking from Canada’s elite. And although the brass could only reveal the first 16 players, there is clearly a master plan in place already.
Quick: Who is on your roster for Canada’s World Cup team? You could list off 40 players without really being wrong, but unfortunately the squad’s brain trust was only revealing 16 today. And though big names such as Brent Burns and Corey Perry aren’t there yet, it seems like the team would have preferred to name more guys today.
What can be discerned from the initial team is that puck possession is going to be a devastating weapon for the squad. That’s why you have players such as Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Getzlaf, though GM Doug Armstrong didn’t want to credit that metric with being the only standard for inclusion.
“We look at analytics,” he said. “But Carter got in because of two Stanley Cup championships, because of Sochi, because of his skating. We’re talking the elite of the elite here, they all have pretty good possession numbers.”
Sochi is a better touchstone for the selection process. That Olympic gold squad was dominant, particularly at the end, and it’s no coincidence that the first four defensemen named for the World Cup squad – Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Duncan Keith and Marc-Edouard Vlasic – are all veterans of that Sochi team.
The biggest question mark right now is Montreal’s P.K. Subban, who was in Sochi, but in a minor role. He has not yet been named and there are some other big-name defenders (such as Burns and Brent Seabrook) who will also be competition. It’s hard to read the tea leaves just yet, but Armstrong did reveal this about his coach, Mike Babcock.
“Babcock likes reliability,” he said. “He doesn’t want to hide anyone. You can’t hide against the Russians.”
And perhaps Subban is judged to be reliable enough in the end, but it is worth noting that he’s not there yet. His exclusion will be a talking point for sure, but another Montreal-related topic has been answered, as injured goaltender Carey Price was one of three goalies named. Armstrong said he spoke with Price and GM Marc Bergevin (also part of Canada’s brain trust) on Feb. 1 to get a sense of what Price wanted to do, in terms of being named to the original 16. Price said yes and Habs ownership was also looped in.
“We wanted to make sure the team and the ownership were comfortable with the decision,” Armstrong said.
Corey Crawford and Braden Holtby also made the cut and Armstrong noted that it was important for them to know they were wanted on the squad, whether or not Price will be healthy at the time – they are not considered “add-ons.”
So the team won’t be precisely the same as the one in Sochi, but there will be a lot of familiar faces. And playing that successful style will be important. The fact the World Cup will be played on NHL ice, instead of the bigger international rink, can only help the burly and skilled Canadians even more.
“It’s going to be like hockey on steroids,” said Hockey Canada’s Tom Renney. “If you excuse the analogy.”