I PLAY ARMCHAIR GM AND OFFER CANADA A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR ITS WORLD CUP TEAM
When Hockey Canada released the initial roster for its World Cup entry in February, just about every hockey fan north of the 49th looked at it, judged it and probably complained about it ad nauseam. That’s the fun of tournaments that pit our best against the rest of the world’s elite, and given how deeply hockey is entrenched in Canada’s collective national identity, we Canucks can get pretty passionate about our international rosters. Peruse your favourite online hockey board and you’ll see what I mean.
With everyone involved in this fall’s highly anticipated tourney scheduled to announce their complete rosters in the coming days, I thought it would be fun to name my own Team Canada and see how closely it resembles the actual roster that will carry the Great White North’s banner into icy battle this September. And the best part about being an armchair GM? Zero blame if things go south.
Some of these players have already been named to Canada’s squad and some are likely to be left off. You’ll notice I omitted defenceman Marc Edouard-Vlasic from my fantasy squad even though he’s already been named to Team Canada. I also didn’t take into account considerations like right and left-handed shooters, etc. This is just an exercise in pure fun.
Sidney Crosby: The conversation about forwards begins and ends with team captain, Sidney Crosby. Sid The Kid is a lightning rod for criticism and he took a lot of heat for a very slow start this season, but his critics became a lot quieter once Mike Sullivan took over behind Pittsburgh’s bench and Crosby quickly turned things around, dragging the Pittsburgh Penguins into a playoff spot along the way. While Sid had a very slow start (like seriously slow), he managed to climb into the NHL’s top scorers, finishing third in the League despite his horrible start. The Stanley Cup winning, multiple Hart Trophy recipient’s experience on previous Olympic Rosters (winning Gold in 2010 and again in 2014) would prove invaluable as well.
Jonathan Toews: The Chicago Blackhawks captain is one of the fiercest competitors in the game today, and while his scoring was a little below his normal standards last season, his leadership, physicality and strong defensive play more then compensated. There’s a good reason he’s weeks away from becoming one of the highest paid players in NHL history. With three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy and two Olympic gold medals (he was named the top forward of the entire tournament at Sochi in 2014) already on his resume, Toews isn’t just destined to be a top member of Canada’s 2016 World Cup team, he’s destined to be one of its leaders.
Steve Stamkos: In a little over a month’s time, Stamkos is likely going to be the most pursued free agent in NHL history. And a day or two after he hits the market he’s likely to become the highest paid player in NHL history (at least for a season or two). There’s a reason for that. The first overall pick from 2008 already has a pair of fifty goal seasons under his belt, two Maurice Richard Trophies and a Stanley Cup Final appearance. When a 36 goal, 64 point season is considered a disappointment, that isn’t a put down, it’s a testament to how good a player you are. And after missing the Sochi Olympics with a broken tibia, Stamkos deserves a place on this squad and would be the perfect second line centre behind Crosby.
John Tavares: While John Tavares has no collection of NHL hardware or Stanley Cup rings in his trophy case yet, he is by far one of the best players in the game. He practically IS the New York Islanders (think of him as New York’s Carey Price, with him they’re a playoff bound team, without him they’re scouting the first overall pick). When you consider what Tavares has been able to accomplish on Long Island, your respect for him grows by leaps and bounds. There is no question who dresses as the third centre behind Crosby and Stamkos.
Jamie Benn: What to say about Benn? He won the NHL scoring championship in 2014-15 and was the League’s second top scorer last season. He’s perhaps the biggest reason behind Dallas’ recent resurgence and why the Stars were the highest scoring team in the League in 2015-16. While he can play centre, he’s more comfortable (and dangerous) playing left wing and if you slot him on a line with Crosby, Stamkos or Tavares, well you can just sit back and watch the opponent’s goal lamp light up.
Joe Thornton: Often overlooked because of his age and the sunny market he plays in, the 1997 first overall pick and current San Jose Sharks captain is still one of the most durable players in the NHL today (he’s missed just six games over the last seven seasons), he remains one of the NHL’s top point producers (he finished fourth in League scoring last season), he’s widely considered one of the best playmakers and pure passers in the world and is one of the game’s best two-way players. Add all that to his near two decades of experience and how do you not have this guy on your team?
Patrice Bergeron: Bergeron is a warrior and it isn’t a coincidence that every time he dons the red Maple Leaf, Canada usually comes home with gold. A versatile positional player whose considered the best two-way player on the planet (the three time Selke Trophy winner is nominated again this year), Bergeron doesn’t know how to quit. Imagine a high-energy line of Bergeron, Toews and Thornton. You know who doesn’t want to? The rest of the world.
Cory Perry: Like many of the NHL’s top scorers, Perry had a sub par season by his standards in 2015-16. Despite that, the Anaheim sniper finished ninth in the NHL in goals and he remains one of the top right-wingers in the game (as well as a someone who can find his way under the opposition’s skin). A veteran of Canada’s gold medal squads in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, you could suit the former Hart Trophy winner and 50 goal scorer up on Sidney Crosby or Steve Stamkos’ wing and watch him terrorize opposing goalies all tournament long.
Tyler Seguin: Seguin has really turned his career around since he land in the Lone Star state a few years ago, and he’s now considered on of the NHL’s premier snipers. When healthy he’s a top ten scorer, he can play both centre and right wing and has great chemistry with Dallas teammate and NHL All Star Jamie Benn. Why wouldn’t you have him on this team?
Taylor Hall: Hall had a great start to the 2015-16 season but faded in the second half (meaning he probably isn’t going to be named to the final roster). But the Kingston Cannonball is still one of Canada’s best pure left wingers (he already has a pair of top ten scoring finishes in his six season career on horrible Edmonton teams), he won back-to-back memorial Cups before turning pro and was a big part of Canada’s gold medal winning teams in both the 2015 and 2016 IIHF World Championships, proving he can come up big in big international tournaments.
Jeff Carter: Carter almost always gets overlooked by fans during these debates and his inclusion in these kinds of tourneys is always questioned by armchair GMs. But Carter can play all three forward positions with equal efficiency and can fill roles on any of your top three lines. Add that versatility to the fact that he’s a puck possession beast, and you can see why he deserves to wear Team Canada’s jersey. He was a huge part of L.A.’s Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014.
Claude Giroux: Like many names on this list, Giroux’s numbers were a bit disappointing last season. Having said that, he was still good enough to lead the Philadelphia Flyers in scoring and finished 20th overall in the NHL. Not too shabby for a “disappointing season.” Giroux is a slick, almost sneaky skater with good size and skill to burn. The fact that he can play centre and right wing is an added bonus and he’d be a valuable asset in a brief but super competitive tournament like this one.
Ryan Getzlaf: Corey Perry’s line mate in Anaheim has also lost an offensive step or two the past few seasons, but he remains one of the NHL’s most efficient two way forwards who can play with a physical edge (and still give you 60 points a season). The Ducks captain would make an ideal thirteenth forward for this squad.
The Blue Line
Drew Doughty: Those who don’t think Doughty is the best defenceman in the game today will, at the very least, concede that he’s the second best. Doughty is arguably the best player in his own zone right now and while he’s no Erik Karlsson or Brent Burns, his offensive skills are often underrated. Make no mistake, Doughty can put the puck in the net (he finished ninth in scoring among NHL defenceman), but he’s all about taking care of business in own zone first. A Burns-Doughty pairing would easily be the best one in the tournament and a thing of pure beauty. He was arguably the most important skater in L.A.’s Stanley Cup victories.
Duncan Keith: Keith is one of a handful of players who have been part of all three of the Chicago Blackhawks recent Stanley Cup wins (the previously listed Jonathan Toews is another). How important has Keith been to the Blackhawks over the years? Other then his three Stanley Cup rings, his considerable resume boasts two Norris Trophies (2010, 2014) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (2015). Easily one of the most versatile and all round rear guards in the game today, Keith is a must have.
Brent Burns: How the Minnesota Wild must be kicking themselves after trading Burns away. The 6’5 San Jose Shark was the highest scoring Canadian born blue liner in the NHL last season, and his 27 goals were one of the biggest reasons why he’s a Norris Trophy nominee. When Burns begins a rush there are few who can challenge him and there are fewer still who can dictate play the way he can at any given point in a game.
Shea Weber: The best defenceman not to win a Norris Trophy (yet), Weber’s howitzer of a shot makes any power play twice as dangerous, the Nashville veteran can defend his net with the best of them and can throw his weight around with the heavyweights. There’s no conversation about Canada’s blue line that doesn’t include Weber.
P.K. Subban: Subban’s actually a long shot to make this team, and the question is why? You need offense? Subban was second among NHL blue liners in assists last season before an injury cut his season short (he still finished 12th among defencemen in scoring despite missing 14 games to said injury). You need physicality? Subban brings that by the metric tonne. You need someone who can play in his own zone? Subban checks that box too. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner brings everything you want in an elite defenceman to the table and then some. While he has matured a little over the years, his passion and agitating style sometimes gets him into penalty trouble. The reverse side of that coin is he’s one of the most frustrating opponents in the game and he draws just as many penalties as he takes, which would allow a fearsome Canadian power play to go to work. And few are as quick as Subban to jump to a teammate’s defence.
Kris Letang: Letang has plenty of experience playing in high-pressure games on star laden rosters. He’s easily one of the best puck carriers in the NHL today (he could probably carry the puck out of the deepest pit of Hades without breaking a sweat) and he’s the personification of perseverance. Letang has overcome a lot of health problems the last few years-including a stroke-but he’s bounced back every time. How can you not have a competitor with his combination of skills and an Everest sized heart on your roster?
Alex Petriangelo: Quickly developing into one of the most well rounded blue liners in the game, Petriangelo is one of the biggest reasons behind St. Louis’ playoff success this year. A perfect choice as Team Canada’s seventh defenceman, if for no other reason than to gain valuable experience for future tournaments.
Carey Price: Carey Price is the best goalie in the world. How can you tell beyond the eye popping numbers he posts? With him in net, the Montreal Canadiens were one of the NHL’s top teams in 2014-15 and they won the first nine games of last season decisively. Then Price went down with a mysterious injury that sidelined him for the rest of the campaign and the Habs went into complete free fall, plummeting from early Stanley Cup favourites to playoff outsiders. His mere presence turns the Habs from a draft lottery team into a 100-point one-that’s how good he is. If fully healthy come September, there’s no question he’s Canada’s go to man between the pipes.
Braden Holtby: Your likely 2016 Vezina Trophy winner, Holtby tied Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur’s record for regular season wins at 48. With Price sidelined for most of the season, Holtby climbed to the top f the NHL’s goaltending food chain and while thoroughbreds like Alex Ovechkn and Evengi Kuznetsov got a lot of the attention in Washington, there’s no way the Capitals win the President’s Trophy without Holtby’s brilliance between the pipes. When Price needs a game or two off, Holtby is the obvious choice to man Canada’s net.
Corey Crawford: Crawford is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Despite backstopping the Chicago Blackhawks to a pair of Stanley Cups as their starter (2013 and 2015), he gets precious little respect. But he put up excellent numbers this year despite the struggles of the dynastic team in front of him and many felt the NHL’s failure to recognize him with his first career Vezina nomination was a snub of insulting proportions.