Team Canada's management team has a serious dilemma.
With seven players left to be named to the roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey by Friday, there are at least 15 worthy candidates to choose from, and a compelling argument can be made for each.
It is a situation Canada faces at nearly every international tournament it enters. With so many elite players to choose from, they often place a higher emphasis on team-building than they do sheer talent. Specific roles such as penalty killing definitely need to be kept in mind, but sometimes over-thinking things can hurt Canada in these situations.
This conundrum couldn't be clearer when you look at Canada's defense.
Four defensemen were among the 16 players originally named to the roster in March, the same top-4 that won the gold medal with coach Mike Babcock at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The group includes right-shooting defensemen Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, with Marc-Edouard Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks and Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks on the left side.
In an ideal world, Canada would name at least one left-shooting defenseman to play on the third pairing, and that is very likely what will happen because Babcock prefers having a balanced group on defense. Except Brent Burns of the Sharks, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens all shoot from the right side, and they are all prime candidates to grab one of the final three spots on defense.
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If Canada takes a lefty, that means two of those four players will not make the team.
We're not taking a lefty, even though Canada likely will, because based on merit the final three defensemen should be chosen from that group of four, regardless of which way they shoot.
The same basic principle guided our selections at forward, opting for game-breaking talent over specific roles or a better fit.
Here's NHL.com's projection of the final seven players on the roster:
F: Claude Giroux (Philadelphia Flyers), Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks), Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks)
D: Brent Burns (San Jose Sharks), Kris Letang (Pittsburgh Penguins), P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens)
Pre-existing chemistry among forwards is a legitimate consideration in a short tournament, but only if the players deserve to make the team on merit. That is definitely the case for Perry and Marchand.
Perry was ninth in the NHL this season with 34 goals, and his 110 goals over the past three seasons is tied with Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn for third in the NHL. Marchand was sixth this season with a career-high 37 goals and would form an excellent penalty killing tandem with his regular center in Boston, Patrice Bergeron.
Thornton's regular season alone should be enough to make the team, finishing tied for fourth with 82 points in 82 games, the fourth time in five seasons the 36-year-old center has not missed a game. But his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs should cement his spot with 18 points in 18 games.
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The final spot came down to Giroux, Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche, Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers and Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres. We went with Giroux because he provided the best combination of the various skill sets each of those four players bring to the table. He's an elite power-play performer, can kill penalties, is excellent on faceoffs and can play center or wing. Giroux is expected to be fully recovered from his May 17 hip and abdominal surgery in time for Team Canada training camp.
On defense, Pietrangelo lost out to Burns, Letang and Subban, even though he probably has a leg up on each because of his history with Babcock from Sochi. Burns is shredding the opposition in the playoffs with 20 points in 18 games, picking up where he left off after having 75 points in the regular season. Letang is playing close to 30 minutes per game for the Penguins in the playoffs and was fifth in the NHL in regular season scoring from Christmas on with 53 points in his final 46 games.
Subban joins Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith as the only Norris Trophy winners on this roster. His importance to the Canadiens can be summed up thusly: of the 182 goals Montreal scored in the 68 games Subban played this season, he was on the ice for 109 of them, or 59.9 percent, and was on the ice for 45.2 percent of Montreal's goals against. As a point of comparison, Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators was on the ice for 131 of the 230 goals they scored this season, or 57 percent, and was on the ice for 47.7 percent of the goals against.
Jamie Benn - Sidney Crosby - Tyler Seguin
John Tavares - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Joe Thornton - Jonathan Toews - Steven Stamkos
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jeff Carter
Duncan Keith - Shea Weber
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Drew Doughty
Brent Burns - P.K. Subban