Team Canada facing difficult choices
Price, Getzlaf among players who could be on World Cup bubbleby Arpon Basu / Managing Editor, LNH.com
Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong is going to have to take a leap of faith.
More than one, in fact.
When Armstrong and his management team get down to the final selections for the Canadian entry at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, there are a few players who will need to get the benefit of the doubt that the 2015-16 NHL season was an anomaly.
Whether it's a big injury like the one that has kept Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price off the ice since Nov. 25, or just an inexplicable slump like the one Anaheim Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf battled through the first three months of the season, Armstrong will need to make some difficult decisions on players that once appeared to be locks.
With the depth of talent available to Canada at a best-on-best tournament, taking a player based on past rather than current performance is not an easy argument to make.
However, shrewd managers are often able to see a one-off bad year as being just that, and Armstrong's group will be forced to make that judgment on a few players unless they turn it around during the final quarter of the season.
Here is what Team Canada's roster (alphabetically by position) could look like for the tournament, which will be held Sept. 17-Oct. 1, 2016 in Toronto:
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Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins, C -- There was a time when you had to make an argument to include Bergeron on Team Canada, even if it was an easy argument to make. He's the best two-way forward in the NHL, incredible on faceoffs, a consistent possession driver, elite penalty killer, and so on and so on. Now the argument can be seen in black and white because, while all those things remain true, Bergeron is also among the top Canadian point producers in the NHL.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins, C -- After a sluggish start to the season, Sidney Crosby is Sidney Crosby again. He is the hottest player in the NHL and is a lock to return as captain after helping lead Canada to gold in Sochi.
Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche, C/LW -- Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin entered Tuesday as the only Canadians with more goals than Duchene. His combination of speed and skill make him a perfect fit for this team, and his experience in a depth role in Sochi gives him an added edge.
Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim Ducks, C -- Getzlaf's lack of production during the first three months of the season was a mystery. In his first 35 games, Getzlaf had three goals and 23 points, with two of those goals coming on the power play and the other going into an empty net. Since then, he appears to have turned it around with 13 points in his past 12 games entering play Tuesday. His long, successful history with Hockey Canada will help, but Getzlaf will have something to prove during the final quarter of the season.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers, C -- Giroux is one of the top power-play producers in the NHL every year, can kill penalties and can play center or wing. That kind of versatility would be very valuable for coach Mike Babcock, who could use Giroux throughout his lineup. Giroux has been about as consistent a point producer as you'll find, yet he wasn't selected to go to Sochi. He deserves to be in Toronto.
John Tavares, New York Islanders, C -- Tavares is another player who will need to get back to his usual level during the final quarter of the season to guarantee a spot on the team. But even if he doesn't, it's hard to imagine Tavares will be left off Team Canada considering the wide array of attributes he has already proven he can bring.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks, C -- He will be 37 when the tournament begins, but at some point an admission needs to be made that age is not slowing down Thornton. He is one of the top playmaking centers in the NHL. Crosby is the only Canadian center with more assists than him since the start of last season and no one from any country has helped his team drive possession toward the offensive zone better than Thornton during that same span.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks, C -- Numbers are useless when discussing Toews. He's a winner, pure and simple. No need to discuss how many goals he's scored, what his faceoff percentage is or any of the advanced metrics that help evaluate players today. Not that Toews has poor numbers, far from it, but he is a walking intangible.
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars, LW -- Nobody has more points during the past two seasons combined than Benn. He entered play Tuesday third in the NHL in scoring but leading the way for Canadian players with 59 points, just ahead of his Stars teammate Seguin. Benn possesses every quality you would want in an elite player and will go from a depth role at the 2014 Sochi Olympics to a leadership role in Toronto.
Taylor Hall, Edmonton Oilers, LW -- Injuries have marred Hall's career, but he has proven his offensive ability playing for years on a team stuck near the bottom of the NHL standings. He entered play Tuesday fourth among Canadian players in scoring and could be an ideal candidate to play with Crosby. In previous tournaments, finding a match on the wing for Crosby has proven difficult.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks, RW -- The Ducks simply could not score for most of the first half of the season, but that barely affected Perry's ability to put up numbers. He is among the top goal scorers in the NHL during the past three seasons combined and brings pre-established chemistry with Getzlaf. It will be interesting to see what Armstrong would do with Perry if ever he decided not to take Getzlaf.
Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars, RW/C -- No Canadian has scored more goals than Seguin since his arrival in Dallas in 2013-14 and his natural chemistry with Benn gives Canada a formidable offensive duo. The main question is whether Seguin would play center or wing, but his ability to do both makes him a more useful player.
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, RW/C -- A broken leg cost Stamkos a spot on Team Canada in Sochi. Though he's not scoring goals at the same rate we're accustomed to this season, keeping Stamkos out of a second straight best-on-best tournament would make no sense. Like Seguin, Stamkos could play center or wing, and the thought of him lining up next to Crosby is tantalizing, to say the least.
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Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks -- Canada is loaded with offensive defensemen on the right side, so this pick means Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators wouldn't make the cut, which would be a difficult decision for Armstrong to make considering how good Weber was in Sochi. But Burns is having another tremendous season, making him the second-most productive defenseman since the start of last season in the NHL. It's tough to keep someone like that off your team.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings -- Probably the best all-around defenseman in the NHL, Doughty is similar to Toews in that his numbers are less important than the way he raises his game when the stakes are highest. He is also similar to Toews because his numbers are nothing to be ashamed of.
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames -- Giordano got off to a slow start this season, as did the Flames, but things have turned around drastically for him since. He has been the top possession-driving defenseman in the NHL during the past two seasons and strengthens what is a relatively weak left side for Canada.
Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks -- We often hear of players who can do it all, but it is literally true in the case of Keith and he proves it on a regular basis. Logging massive minutes night after night in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs proved what a tremendous athlete Keith is, and he hasn't slowed down this season. He is the anchor of Canada's left side on the blue line.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins -- Letang is another player who could lose his spot to Weber on the right side but, like Burns, has been too productive during the past two seasons to ignore. The only defenseman with a higher points-per-game average since the start of last season is Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators. Letang's chemistry with Crosby on the power play is an added bonus.
Jake Muzzin, Los Angeles Kings -- It is easy to assume Muzzin benefits from playing with Doughty on the Kings, but he has proven himself as a top-end defenseman in his own right. Advanced metrics have long shown Muzzin to be an effective offensive player, and now he's showing it in more traditional ways as well. Adding him allows Team Canada to a have a ready-made pairing in Toronto.
P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens -- Subban did not see the ice very much in Sochi, but learned a lot watching how Team Canada works under Babcock. He should be able to use that experience in Toronto. Once considered a defensive liability, Subban faces top competition nightly and is a well-rounded defenseman who should be used in a top-4 role.
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Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals, G -- Whether Price was injured or not, Holtby might have been the frontrunner to claim the starting job in goal with the season he's put up so far. With Price's status still up in the air, it would be difficult to argue the job isn't Holtby's to lose at this point.
Roberto Luongo, Florida Panthers, G -- Luongo has had a remarkable season, and for that reason alone he deserves to be named to Team Canada. But as the third goaltender, Luongo's experience on the world stage would be a tremendous help to Holtby if he were to win the starting job in the first international men's tournament of his career. Just ask Price.
Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens, G -- Then again, perhaps Price's performance in Sochi two years ago means that if he's healthy, he's in. Price allowed three goals on 106 shots in five tournament games, including a perfect 55-for-55 performance in the semifinal and final. If Price doesn't return to play this season, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, also a member of Armstrong's staff, will be under serious pressure to keep him off Team Canada.