The rosters are set and Canada enters the World Cup of Hockey as the prohibitive favorite to win it all. But don’t be surprised if some lesser lights give Canada a scare somewhere along the way.
Now that the rosters for the World Cash Grab of Hockey™ have been finalized, we can now set about to devoting our energies to predicting everything that’s going to happen. After all, the tournament is only four months away and time is of the essence.
With that said, here’s our stab at World Cup of Hockey Power Rankings. Remember, these are Power Rankings and have no bearing on how a team will finish, so stop it with the hate mail and nasty tweets just because your team didn’t do well in this little exercise. That goes double for all you Team Europe fans out there, all three of you.
Stanley Cup rings: 18 (plus three if San Jose wins, one if Pittsburgh wins)
Past three World Championships: Gold (2016), Gold (2015), fifth (2014)
2014 Olympics: Gold
IIHF ranking: 1
Why No. 1? Well, if you need it explained to you…because Canada. In every best-on-best tournament Canada enters, it should be expected to win. Does that mean it definitely will? Of course not. But name one team on paper that even comes close to this one. The team will be playing on home ice in front of wildly partisan crowds.
Strengths: A ton of firepower and experience, no discernible weaknesses at any position, best coach in hockey and a fourth line that would be the top line for most other countries.
Concerns: The first is that they take their competition too lightly. The second is they fold under pressure. If one is going to happen, bet on the former.
The skinny: This is Canada’s tournament to lose.
Stanley Cup rings: 7 (plus two if Pittsburgh wins)
Past three World Championships: Sixth (2016), fifth (2015), third (2014)
2014 Olympics: Silver
IIHF ranking: 5
Why No. 2?: Sweden is the only country in this tournament with a defense corps that might be able to compete with Canada’s.
Strengths: When John Klingberg isn’t good enough to make your team, you know your defense corps is formidable. Henrik Lundqvist could steal a big one. Their forward corps is unspectacular, but very balanced.
Concerns: The Swedes have been pretty meh in international competition of late and seem to have lost the swagger they had going for a couple of years. If Lundqvist falters or gets injured, the backup plan is not a terribly appealing one.
The skinny: The Swedes have a lot to prove in this tournament and will be fired up to do well.
Stanley Cup rings: 3 (plus one regardless of who wins)
Past three World Championships: Silver (2016), sixth (2015), silver (2014)
2014 Olympics: Bronze
IIHF ranking: 3
Why No. 3?: Because the Finns are on some kind of roll these days in international hockey and they’ll continue to ride that to a strong showing in the World Cup.
Strengths: As always, goaltending is a huge advantage for the Finns against most of their opponents. And, as always, the Finns are a tough out at the best of times, and it will be even more difficult given the recent success of their young players.
Concerns: The blueline corps really thins out after the top two, so much so that they have an American Leaguer among their top seven. The same youth that is a strength could develop into a weakness if these kids find themselves out of their element early.
The skinny: The Finns will be young, fast and a lot of fun to watch.
4. TEAM NORTH AMERICA
Stanley Cup rings: 1 (plus one if Pittsburgh wins)
World Championship gold medals: 7
World Junior Championship gold medals: 7
Under-18 World Championship gold medals: 12
Why No. 4?: This team will be able to skate circles around its opponents and will be able to hang with a lot of teams provided they make it a track meet. And with Matt Murray in goal, the youngsters will have plugged what was a huge hole in their team with a battle-tested goaltender.
Strengths: Youthful vigor, an excellent coach and one of the best players in the NHL in Connor McDavid. And take a look at that blueline. There are a ton of NHL teams that would trade their defense corps for that one right now.
Concerns: Through no fault of their own, with the exception of Sean Couturier, their forwards have yet to learn the importance of playing a 200-foot game at the NHL level. Opponents will be feasting on turnovers in the neutral zone if the kids aren’t responsible with the puck.
The skinny: They will be the tournament darling and they just might surprise the pants off people.
Stanley Cup rings: 5 (plus one if Pittsburgh wins)
Past three World Championships: Bronze (2016), silver (2015), gold (2014)
2014 Olympics: Fifth
IIHF ranking: 2
Why No. 5?: Perhaps this might be a bit harsh, but when the Russians leave two of their best KHL players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov off their roster, you have to wonder how seriously they’re actually taking this thing.
Strengths: Plenty of firepower up front. This team should have absolutely no problem scoring goals with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeni Malkin, Nikita Kucherov and Artemi Panarin in the lineup.
Concerns: Keeping the puck out. This defense corps is pretty suspect and gets even weaker if it turns out Slava Voynov can’t play in the tournament, either because of legal troubles or because the NHL and NHL Players’ Association won’t let him.
The skinny: Seems like Russia does one of two things, either wins it or crashes and burns. Which one will it be in the World Cup?
Stanley Cup rings: 6 (plus one if San Jose wins)
Past three World Championships: Fourth (2016), bronze (2015), sixth (2014)
2014 Olympics: Fourth
IIHF ranking: 4
Why No. 6?: We’re just not sure about some of the selections they made. Jack Johnson over Justin Faulk? Justin Abdelkader over Phil Kessel? One of the problems for the Americans is that there are some players who could have really helped them that are being forced to play for the North American team.
Strengths: Well, it will be difficult to get anything past their goaltender, regardless of which one they decide to play. How does a top line of Joe Pavelski between Zach Parise and Patrick Kane sound?
Concerns: A little thin and slow on defense and their forward depth will be tested against the big boys of the tournament.
The skinny: If the Americans have success in this tournament, it will be on the strength of their goaltending.
7. TEAM EUROPE
Stanley Cup rings: 8
World Championship medals: 6 (all silver)
Why No. 7?: Because of their talent level and we seriously wonder whether a bunch of NHL veterans thrown together with no real common purpose will really care. The young kids have something to prove. These guys do not.
Strengths: With Anze Kopitar and Marian Hossa in the lineup, Team Europe has two of the best two-way players in the game today. And there’s a fair bit of speed and a surprising amount of elan among their forwards.
Concerns: Anything behind their own blueline. Will their veteran defensemen be able to keep up? The goaltending will also be a concern.
The skinny: Team Europe was an ill-conceived concept from the start and this team will have to overachieve in a big way to prove that theory wrong.
8. CZECH REPUBLIC
Stanley Cup rings: 2 (plus two if San Jose wins)
Past three World Championships: Fifth (2016), fourth (2015), fourth (2014)
2014 Olympics: Sixth
IIHF ranking: 6
Why No. 8?: Because so few players in this cohort have proved they’ve been capable of picking up the torch from the great Czech players of the past. The depth simply isn’t there to be a serious contender in this tournament.
Strengths: The Czechs have two good young goalies in Petr Mrazek and Michal Neuvirth and they have a cohort of serviceable NHL forwards who can play a number of roles.
Concerns: When their defensemen get the puck in their own zone, the forwards better not take off too fast because they don’t have a single guy who can move the puck with any modicum of speed.
The skinny: This could get ugly.