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World Cup

GM satisfied with selections for Team Canada

Armstrong made difficult choices for World Cup roster, understands omitting players is 'nature of the beast'

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor

Doug Armstrong knew what he signed up for when he agreed to become general manager of Team Canada.

There was no way he would make everyone happy, no matter who he picked.

The players Armstrong and management left off the Canada roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey include the leading scorer in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs (Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks), the NHL's second (Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins) and sixth-ranked (P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens) defensemen in points per game, and five of the NHL's top 20 goal-scorers (Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks; Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars; Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia Flyers; James Neal, Nashville Predators; Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings).

On the other hand, it would be difficult to overly criticize the seven players who were named Friday to complete the 23-man roster: forwards Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks, and defensemen Brent Burns of the Sharks, Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues.

"It was a very difficult decision, there were some very good players we left off," Armstrong told Sportsnet after the final seven players were announced. "But that's the nature of the beast when you work for Team Canada, you have to make hard decisions."

Those decisions were guided to a great extent by coach Mike Babcock, who is coaching Team Canada in a third straight best-on-best tournament after gold medal victories at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

"Mike Babcock was a huge help to us in formalizing and finalizing these last seven players," Armstrong said.

Two of the biggest omissions came on defense with Letang and Subban, but Babcock's preferences had a lot to do with that. First, Babcock has been very clear in the past that his preference is to have three pairs of defensemen who play on their strong side, which explains the inclusion of left-shooting Muzzin on the roster.

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Pietrangelo and Burns each shoot from the right side, like Letang and Subban, so with four candidates for two spots, it became a numbers game. Then, there is the notion of comfort.

Babcock repeated over and over again at the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he likes his defensemen to be predictable and play a safe game, especially in the single-elimination portion of the tournament when a turnover that leads to a goal can be the difference between a medal and an early exit.

Armstrong mentioned Babcock's comfort with Pietrangelo from Sochi, leaving him to select Burns, Letang or Subban, who might be considered unpredictable, to play the right side. Having just watched what Burns did to help the Sharks eliminate the Blues in the Western Conference Final, and overall in the playoffs, tipped the scale in his favor, while the Canadiens missing the playoffs and Subban being physically unable to play in the IIHF World Championship did not help his cause.

"Brent Burns, who I've witnessed close hand over the last couple of weeks with San Jose, obviously had a great season," said Armstrong, who is the Blues general manager. "I think it started last season with him at the World Championships and how good he played there."

Up front, the omission of Perry was the most glaring one because of his history with Hockey Canada, including playing on the past two Olympic teams and serving as captain for the gold-medal inners at the world championships last week.

"Corey went over to the Worlds, and we're excited for him to be part of that Triple Gold club, adding that gold medal from the world championships to his Stanley Cup and Olympic gold medals," Armstrong said. "That was a really hard decision."

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