With the March 2 deadline for countries to name their initial 16-man World Cup roster exactly four weeks away, let’s take a look at how the Canadian entry is likely to shape up:
Patrice Bergeron – Sidney Crosby – Steven Stamkos
Jamie Benn – Claude Giroux – Tyler Seguin
Taylor Hall – Jonathan Toews - Matt Duchene
Ryan O'Reilly – John Tavares – Corey Perry
Say a prayer for GM Doug Armstrong and his staff. With a breathtaking array of talent at their disposal, there will be some sleepless nights before they are able to narrow their choices down to just 13 forwards.
Expect a significant turnover from the roster that won Olympic gold at Sochi in 2014. Lessons learned will lead to the avoidance of legacy picks and a focus on players who are most capable of helping this team win now. That means a perennial like Ryan Getzlaf might not make the cut. His struggles this season make it a near certainty that the two-time gold medalist won’t be among the first 16 chosen, although he could yet work his way onto the final roster with a strong second half of the season.
Even without him, this team will boast unmatched depth down the middle. No matter how they’re ultimately deployed, Crosby, Toews, Tavares, Bergeron, Seguin, Giroux and Stamkos give Canada a clear edge. While it lacks a heavy, physical presence, this might be the most skilled group since Canada dressed Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Mario Lemieux and Dale Hawerchuk back in 1987. Now, as then, some will have to play out of position, and finding chemistry will be a priority. Giroux and Seguin worked well together at the 2015 Worlds, and Crosby and Bergeron have a long history, so they could see time together. Coach Mike Babcock arranged the pieces masterfully in Sochi. Expect him to do the same here.
Despite a lengthy stint on the IR, I went with Gallagher as the 13th forward because I love his speed, his tenacity and his net presence. Those are qualities that have always paid off for Canada in small-ice tournaments. He also has that ability to move up and down the roster, bringing energy to any assignment. He’s far from a lock, though. Brad Marchand and his 22 goals deserve a long look. His speed, and his chemistry with Bergeron, might make him a nice fit. Tyler Toffoli also has 22 goals, and he would bring some jump to the group as well. Mike Hoffman will get some attention and keep an eye on Jaden Schwartz, who is expected to return to action this week with the Blues. Rick Nash can’t be entirely overlooked, but he’ll need an amazing finish this season to earn the call.
Duncan Keith – Shea Weber
Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Mark Giordano – P.K. Subban
Another tough group to narrow down, particularly on the overloaded right side. Keith and Weber give Canada the best top pair in the tournament. Big, strong, experienced and capable of making big plays at both ends, they’ll draw all the tough assignments. Doughty, the Norris Trophy favorite, always seems to step up his game when he puts on the red and white. He could be joined by regular partner Muzzin, who gave a good account of himself at the 2015 Worlds and brings that natural chemistry that could prove critical. Given the paucity of lefthanded shots in the Canadian stable, he seems like a safe choice. So is Giordano, who is rounding into form after a slow start. It wouldn’t be a total shock if he was joined on the third pair by regular Calgary partner T.J. Brodie, but it’s hard to imagine Subban being relegated to the press box as he was in Sochi. More likely he’ll take that final regular spot, with Letang— who is in the midst of a brilliant season—or fellow All-Star Brent Burns being left to fight for the seventh-man scraps. Also in the mix: Sochi vet Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Seabrook.
Price was a game-changer for Canada in Sochi and, as Montreal’s struggles this season prove, he’s the most valuable player in the league. His lingering health problems are a concern, and if any Canadian begs out of this tournament, it’s likely to be him. If he’s good to go, though, the starting job is his. If not, Holtby is a worthy replacement. He’s the clear favorite for the Vezina Trophy this season and a legitimate MVP candidate. While he lacks international experience, he’s shown that he can raise his level of play. Holtby played in 13 games during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and ranked first in GAA (1.77) and save percentage (.944). The third spot is totally up for grabs, with Roberto Luongo (Olympic gold in 2010, 2014) and Marc-André Fleury (OG, 2010) worthy options. Armstrong might also consider giving a potential future starter like Jake Allen or Martin Jones a spot in the team picture. Best bet, though, is Crawford, who already has two Stanley Cup rings on his resumé and might have a third by the time this event rolls around next September. Don’t be surprised if the third goalie is named immediately, giving the brass more flexibility with their choices up front and on the blue line.
First 16: Benn, Bergeron, Crawford, Crosby, Doughty, Hall, Holtby, Keith, Perry, Price, Seguin, Stamkos, Subban, Tavares, Toews, Weber.
The numbers game
• Oilers phenom Connor McDavid returned to action with a bang on Tuesday night, becoming the third rookie this season to have more than one three-point outing this season. The others are Chicago's Artemi Panarin (5) and Arizona's Anthony Duclair (2). Panarin shares the rookie lead in game-winning goals (5) with Detroit’s Dylan Larkin.
• Tyler Seguin scored his 100th career goal as a Star in his 202nd outing for Dallas. Only Hall of Famer Dino Ciccarelli has hit the century mark faster (150 games) with the franchise.
• Grizzled great Jaromir Jagr needs one apple to become only the sixth NHLer to ever dish 1,100 career assists.
• Johnny Gaudreau may have been small, but he always had one advantage over other players while growing up.
• A long-time NHL enforcer is pitching a way to make playing hockey more affordable for families.
• The Rangers are missing a vital ingredient, and it could cost them a playoff berth.
• Here’s a terrific piece on Scott Gomez, who continues to toil away in the AHL as he waits for one more shot at The Show.
• The #fancystats crowd takes a shot a naming some midseason award winners. Their choice for the Hart Trophy really stands out.
• The Ducks are healthy (finally) and scoring goals (finally). But are they (finally) a legitimate playoff contender?
• The NHL draft lottery simulator is back! Updated to feature the new odds and rules that go into effect this year, it’s the ultimate hockey fan time-kill.
• Man, the British sure know how to write hockey headlines. And congrats to Tyler Seguin for the brace.