From Sidney Crosby to Steven Stamkos, and Drew Doughty and Carey Price, Canada is hockey’s murderer’s row. Can they live up to the hype again?
THN is rolling out team previews, twice a day, for each of the eight teams taking part in the World Cup.
- Saturday, Sept. 17 vs. Czech Republic
- Tuesday, Sept. 20 vs. United States
- Wednesday, Sept. 21 vs. Europe
IIHF World Ranking: 1st
THN’s Prediction: 1st
The road to gold at the World Cup runs through Canada, and not just because all the games are being played in Toronto.
Canada has been king of men’s international play in recent years, winning consecutive titles at the 2015 and 2016 World Championships. The nation has also finished atop the podium the past two Olympics. Its roster entering this World Cup is stacked and devoid of weak points. In short, the host country remains the team to beat.
In the past, Canada valued chemistry nearly as much as talent when assembling its team. For example, the braintrust selected Chris Kunitz, then Sidney Crosby’s Penguins linemate, to ride shotgun for ‘The Kid’ at the 2014 Sochi Games. The familiarity between the two was an important factor.
The World Cup team resembles more of a fantasy draft roster, though. Two of the NHL’s top-four scorers – Crosby and Joe Thornton – can take over games with their skill. After you’re done dealing with those threats, you’ll have to handle Steven Stamkos and John Tavares. That Patrice Bergeron, a two-way dynamo center, can be deployed to play the wing with Crosby is scary. Expect Jonathan Toews to be relegated to third-line shutdown duty. Canada lost Stars teammates Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, plus Jeff Carter to injury. That would be disastrous for most countries, but not for Canada, who added Corey Perry, Logan Couture, and Ryan O’Reilly.
The sheer amount of blueline talent will simplify life for Canada’s defense-minded centers. The backend boasts scoring, shutdown ability, physical play and big-game experience. Think about it this way: P.K. Subban didn’t crack this blueline. That’s how skilled it is.
The only real question for Canada is in goal, but not because it’s a weakness. Normally, Carey Price would be a no-brainer to start. However, Price missed all but 12 games of 2015-16 with an MCL sprain. Before the injury, he was the best goaltender in the world, but how will he perform after nearly a year away from game action? Is he ready to handle full-time duty? If not, Canada will turn to either Braden Holtby or Corey Crawford. Neither is a bad option, but they’re not MVP-form Price.
Canada’s biggest hurdle is living up to the expectations – a tournament victory – of the home crowd. It’s up to this star-studded roster, and high-profile coaching staff helmed by Mike Babcock, to deliver. Based on recent history, don’t bet against them.
It’s hard to believe, but STEVEN STAMKOS hasn’t played for a Canadian team since the 2013 World Championship, and he’s never played in a best-on-best tournament. Stamkos broke his leg in November 2013 and missed out on the 2014 Olympics. Look for him to make up for that disappointment at the World Cup by reminding the hockey world that is one of the game’s best players. Over the last three seasons, Stamkos’ 0.53 goals per game is second only to Alex Ovechkin. He can be deployed on either the wing or at center, and will be part of a formidable power-play unit.
As funny as this might sound for a team that has three Vezina-calibre stoppers, goaltending could be an area of focus. It’s Carey Price’s net to lose, but he missed most of 2015-16 and will need to eliminate rust quickly. Will the fact Canada faces two of the projected weak links – Czechs and Europe – in its first three games be a blessing or a curse? Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford are stars, but they’ll need some work, too, to be ready.