As soon as World Cup of Hockey organizers announced their unique roster selection process—16 players by March 2, seven more by June 1—the stage was set for controversy.
It was inevitable, after all, that some very deserving players would be left off the initial lists, especially in Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Russia. And when those rosters were released on Wednesday, there were more than a few obvious snubs.
That’s not entirely a bad thing. It keeps the hot stove burning and ensures that the tournament will remain front-of-mind as players compete for those final spots down the home stretch and into the playoffs.
That’s great when you’re trying to sell tickets. But it’s less than ideal for players who probably deserved to be named from the get-go.
Here are the 10 who were most done wrong by being overlooked on Wednesday:
Corey Perry, Canada
A month ago, the smart money was on Perry making the club while his long-time running buddy Ryan Getzlaf cooled his heels and hoped for a late invite. But Getzlaf's recent revival—he was the NHL's leading scorer and Player of the Month for February—secured his spot while Perry was pushed to the outside by GM Doug Armstrong's decision to lock down a third goalie. There's little doubt that the 30-year will be named in The Group of Seven. He's scored 27 goals already this season, fifth-most by a Canadian, is a natural right wing, and has years of experience playing alongside Getzlaf (although they've been separated for a month in Anaheim). He's also been a good soldier internationally, skating for Canada in both Vancouver and Sochi, which makes Perry the most blatant oversight.
Shayne Gostisbehere, North America
A record-setting point streak and a league-leading production rate weren't enough to earn the Ghost a spot on the initial North American blue line. The issue: lack of experience. "These are guys who are just starting their career and haven't played a lot of games," team exec Stan Bowman said, hinting at a desire to maybe lean on those players who had a few more tilts under their belts like Seth Jones (222) and Morgan Rielly (216). With heavy competition for the final three spots, and more veteran defenders like Dougie Hamilton and Jacob Trouba in the mix, there's no guarantee that Gostisbehere will make the next list, either. A strong showing at the World Championships might be his ticket.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, North America
This team is loaded at center with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nathan MacKinnon, Sean Monahan, Dylan Larkin and Sean Couturier, so it was inevitable that someone would be squeezed out. The fact that it was RNH, though, is a shocker. Not only does he have the coveted experience (304 games), but he was probably counting on the support of GM Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan, the same pair who run the show in Edmonton. "That was a difficult one," Chiarelli said. "Ryan is an important part of our team in Edmonton. He's been hurt. We've got a management group. There's certain assessments we have of certain players." In other words, they had safer choices, both in terms of health and fit. There's a chance that Nugent-Hopkins makes the final group, but given the players who already have been selected, he's in tough.
Brad Marchand, Canada
He's tied for top spot among Canadian goal scorers with 32 and has proven chemistry with one of Canada's locks, Boston teammate Patrice Bergeron. He has speed, is a natural winger and tenacious forechecker, and has the hunger that Armstrong said he prioritized when making his roster. But Marchand also has a reputation for undisciplined play, and while he's curbed that element of his game this season, it's easy to imagine coach Mike "Safety First" Babcock expressing some reservations about his inclusion. He deserves a long look for the final group, but needs to prove that he can stay out of the box before he gets one of those snazzy new sweaters.
Taylor Hall, Canada
Just four Canadians have scored more than the 54 points rolled up by Hall this season. The 24-year-old is a natural winger, boasts world-class speed and employs a shoot-first philosophy that helped him score seven goals in 10 games at last year's World Championships. He seems like a natural fit among this team's wealth of playmakers, but was held back by his lack of playoff and international experience. He might need another strong showing at the Worlds to secure his spot.
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Phil Kessel, USA
It was just two years ago that Kessel was named the best forward at the Sochi Olympics by the IIHF after tying for the tournament lead in goals (five) and points (eight). So what's changed? Only the blueprint of the team architect. GM Dean Lombardi wants harder players after watching the Americans ground into a fine paste by Canada's checkers in 2014. Kessel, currently struggling through his worst season in eight years, is anything but. It's not inconceivable that he'll be overlooked in the second group as well.
John Klingberg, Sweden
Stars blueliner Klingberg is enjoying a breakthrough season, ranking 20th in NHL scoring and fourth among Swedes with 53 points. He plays the sort of heady, up-tempo game that most teams crave ... but Sweden has in abundance. That depth, and a desire to include heavier defensive-minded players like Niklas Kronwall and Niklas Hjalmarsson, pushed Klingberg to the outside. Unless Sweden decides to play it safe with a veteran like Alex Edler or Johnny Oduya, Klingberg seems like a good bet to secure the seventh spot.
Claude Giroux, Canada
This poor guy. All he does is tie Sidney Crosby for the lead among Canadian scorers over the past five years and turn in a tremendous effort at the 2015 World Championships in Prague and he still can't get a sniff. It's probably going to take another standout performance in Moscow, or more likely, an injury to someone, to earn him a spot on a team this deep.
P.K. Subban, Canada
It was inevitable that his name would be held up as one of the biggest snubs, but all things considered, his early omission isn't all that surprising. Drew Doughty and Shea Weber are locked in as the top two right-handed defenders. And given how many other veteran players Canada was obliged to select early, there was no chance that more than four D would be named. Subban still has a chance here, but no guarantees. He impressed with his team-first attitude in Sochi, but Babcock loves to eliminate on-ice risk. And Subban, for all his many wondrous assets, still represents something of a risk. He'd fill a spot admirably ... but no one should be surprised if he's left off the next list as well.
David Backes, USA
If Lombardi was looking for heavy, it's hard to figure out why he'd overlook this two-time Olympian, especially given Team USA's lack of depth at center. Fair to say that Backes is not having his best season–he ranks 20th among American forwards with 35 points—but he has the big body and snarling disposition to match up against Canadians like Toews, Getzlaf and Crosby. It'll be interesting to see how he reacts to this snub down the stretch. It might end up being the best thing that could have happened for the Blues.
The numbers game
• Of the 128 players who were named to the preliminary World Cup rosters, 126 are under contract with NHL teams. The Lightning and Blackhawks lead all clubs with 10 and nine selections, respectively. The Bruins, Red Wings and Capitals rank next with seven apiece.
• Shootout specialist Jakob Silfverberg's 62.1% career success rater (18-for-29) leads all players in NHL history (minimum 20 attempts).
• Forward Artemi Panarin is now the third rookie in Blackhawks history to have five or more multi-goal games in one season. The others: Steve Larmer (9 in 1982-83) and Darryl Sutter (6 in 1980-81).
• No one was too surprised to see Auston Matthews' name missing from Team North America's initial list of 16, but this statement from general manager Peter Chiarelli raised some eyebrows.
• The good folks at Hockey By Design offer a detailed analysis of the World Cup of Hockey jerseys for the North American teams (Canada, US and Team NA),
• Nashville's Mike Fisher talks about the journey that's led up to him playing in his 1,000th NHL game on Thursday night. Good player. Great human.
• This was the highly unusual path that led Derek Ryan to score a goal in his first NHL game at age 29.
• The Capitals paid tribute to former teammate Brooks Laich last night. There might have been some feels.
• This is bad news for the Red Wings (and the Czechs).
• The NHL is playing medical hardball as it defends itself against concussion lawsuits.
• Another big-time media outlet wanders outside its paddock to marvel at the ageless marvel that is Jaromir Jagr. It's only a matter of time before he shows up in Cat Fancy and Better Homes and Gardens, right?
• Shawn Horcoff talks about the mistake that led to his 20-game suspension for violating the league's banned substance policy.