I’m not the first to do it, and I won’t be the last.
It’s a time of yearning for hockey. It’s a time of boredom. And, when we twiddle our thumbs and have nothing to do but dream up imaginary hockey scenarios, one seems to pop up in our minds more than any other: Olympic rosters. For some reason, nothing sparks a debate between friends or boils the blood of keyboard warriors on Twitter like publishing a hypothetical lineup for the Winter Games – especially when it’s Team Canada’s.
Months ago, the NHL hadn’t inched any closer to allowing players to participate in the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The league’s stance was that nothing would change unless the players were willing to make concessions in future labor talks in return for getting to play in Beijing. And the COVID-19 pandemic only further decreases the odds of us seeing NHLers in the Olympics – even the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games have been postponed a year. So if the chances of seeing NHLers play Olympic hockey in 2022 are even slimmer now, I say that’s all the more reason to dream up an Olympic team. We may never get to see the current talent pool mixed together in that context, so let’s enjoy ourselves and pretend we will someday.
We begin with Team Canada. Given Doug Armstrong was GM of the champion World Cup squad in 2016 and he’s since added a Stanley Cup to his resume, he’s my imaginary pick to construct the 2022 team. Here goes. Note that it’s a 25-man roster, not 23, as it's been standard practice in the past for teams to name 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies. Ages as of Feb. 4 2022.
FORWARD LINE 1: Jonathan Huberdeau (28), Connor McDavid (25), Nathan MacKinnon (26)
McDavid and MacKinnon are the two fastest players of their generation – perhaps of all-time – with the puck on their sticks. They’d be a joy to watch. The cerebral, underrated Huberdeau complements any line he plays on.
FORWARD LINE 2: Brad Marchand (33), Sidney Crosby (34), Patrice Bergeron (36)
This will be one of the oldest lines in the tournament, but they’ve been too good together to break up. Crosby meshes with Marchand and Bergeron as seamlessly as David Pastrnak does.
FORWARD LINE 3: Steven Stamkos (31), Brayden Point (25), Mitch Marner (24)
Point’s emergence in Tampa already pushed Stamkos into more work as a left winger this season, so the transition won’t be hard. Point brings the two-way presence, Marner the elite passing ability and Stamkos the finish.
FORWARD LINE 4: Sean Couturier (29), Mark Scheifele (28), Mark Stone (29)
Good luck scoring against this unit, featuring two Selke-caliber forwards in Couturier and Stone. I thought of loading up the checking like with O’Reilly in there, too, but Scheifele is too talented to ride the pine. Couturier is obviously the far superior faceoff guy, so he can take the meaningful draws when necessary, but I have him playing the left side because he shoots left and is more capable of excelling wherever he plays (like Bergeron).
SPARE FORWARDS: Ryan O’Reilly (30), John Tavares (31)
I can’t see my hypothetical GM Armstrong leaving his St. Louis star O’Reilly off the team. Tavares is a handy backup piece because he can slot into any of the four lines, as a center or winger, as a playmaker or shooter.
Final cuts: Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Mathew Barzal
DEFENSE PAIR 1: Thomas Chabot (25), Alex Pietrangelo (32)
These two horses can play half of every game if need be, with Pietrangelo’s wingspan and shutdown tendencies balancing out Chabot’s incredible rushing ability.
DEFENSE PAIR 2: Morgan Rielly (27), Dougie Hamilton (28)
Rielly is a talented offensive defenseman capable of playing monster minutes, too. He’s sometimes overmatched defensively, which is why it makes sense to pair him with a puck-possession magnet in Hamilton, who is just as likely to be a star on this team as he is to be left off it, given the old-guard hockey community has taken a while to warm to him.
DEFENSE PAIR 3: Josh Morrissey (26), Cale Makar (23)
By 2022, Makar will be the best offensive defenseman on this team and could fit beautifully on the top power-play unit alongside four forwards. Morrissey isn’t a punishing checker but fits the modern ideal of a defensive defenseman, getting the job done with his mobility. He’ll be this team’s version of 2014 Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
SPARE DEFENSEMEN: Shea Theodore (26), Drew Doughty (32)
Theodore is a sleeper to climb this imaginary depth chart between now and 2022 after his all-around game took an enormous leap in 2019-20. Doughty is on hand if Canada gets into deep waters and needs an injection of experience and physicality.
Final cuts: Aaron Ekblad, Brent Burns, Kris Letang, Ryan Ellis, Mark Giordano
STARTING GOALTENDER: Carey Price (34)
The numbers haven’t been elite in recent seasons. But if you poll scouts, players, coaches, GMs, anyone close to the game… they still almost unanimously pick Price as the best goalie in the league, the guy they’d start if they had to win one game. Given Price’ sterling record playing the Ken Dryden role on superteams, it would be a major upset if he wasn’t the Beijing starter.
BACKUP GOALTENDERS: Jordan Binnington (28), Carter Hart (23)
Binnington has the ideal makeup to represent Canada with the highest possible stakes: he’s unflappable under pressure. He practically laughs at it. He already won a Cup as a rookie, too. I’ve chosen Hart over a couple far more experienced netminders, simply betting on his game to evolve further between now and February 2022.
Final cuts: Matt Murray, Marc-Andre Fleury
ROSTER AT A GLANCE
Spares: O’Reilly, Tavares
Spares: Theodore, Doughty
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