When the braintrust for Canada’s World Cup of Hockey team met Monday to begin the task of assembling the Canadian team for the tournament, each member of the management team was asked to present a mock roster based on the playoffs and recent World Championship. And the way GM Doug Armstrong sees it, everybody’s first list probably has the same 15 or 16 players on it.
We’re not giving anything away when we say that list almost certainly includes Carey Price in goal, Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, P.K. Subban and Alex Pietrangelo on defense and Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin at forward.
And there’s a good chance those players will be on the list of 16 players Hockey Canada has to submit by the March 1 deadline. So there won’t be much drama at the top. But where things will get interesting is in how players at the bottom of the depth chart for the deepest hockey country in the world will distinguish themselves over the next season.
When the management team was announced Monday, a team that also includes Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray, Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, Los Angeles Kings assistant GM Rob Blake and Scott Salmond of Hockey Canada, Armstrong dropped a couple of large hints about some players who will get long looks from the management team.
“An Alex Killorn from Tampa had a great (playoff) and is certainly now on the radar screen,” Armstrong said. “When players commit to go and represent Canada at the World Championship, you get to see what they have to offer. A player like (Jake) Muzzin from L.A., who has had two great playoffs and showed his strength at the World Championship. And we were able to see someone like Giroux and Seguin gain some chemistry there and there was a lot of players who showed very (well) who are going to make this job that much harder.”
With no training camp to speak of and so little time for players to get familiar, Canada would be well-served by taking players who work well together. They’ve already got that in Getzlaf and Perry and Benn and Seguin. But it’s interesting to note that Killorn played very well in the playoffs on a line with Stamkos and Muzzin has been Doughty’s defense partner for the past couple of seasons.
Unfortunately, the Canadian team will not have access to either Connor McDavid or Aaron Ekblad, who will be forced to be part of the cockamamie under-23 Team North American Youngstars, which is not to be confused with Team Europe, which includes players from pan-European countries who don’t play hockey so good. Still no word on the roster for Team Guys With Red Hair From Saskatchewan.
But even without two of the brightest young players in the game, Canada enters the tournament as the prohibitive favorite. Canada has won the past two best-on-best tournaments, the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, and Hockey Canada, as it usually does, will pour more financial and human resources into the team than any other country.
Armstrong said he expects to name his coaching staff early in the New Year and it’s difficult to fathom that anyone other than Mike Babcock will be offered the chance to be the head coach once again. Armstrong also said strong contenders will be Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks, Darryl Sutter of the Los Angeles Kings and Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers.
Based on a roster of 23 players, there will likely be two openings in goal after Price. Defense will be a tough position to crack with five probable locks, potentially leaving two spots open. At forward, it’s likely Patrick Sharp, Patrick Marleau and Martin St-Louis will not be on the World Cup team, with the likes of Jeff Carter, Patrice Bergeron and Matt Duchene on the bubble.
“The way Hockey Canada put together the World Junior team and the World Championship team, it was based highly on skill,” Armstrong said. “We want to be a fast-skating team, we want to play with the puck, we want to have mobile defensemen and we want to play an attack-style game and a coach who can accent that."