Crosby. McDavid. MacKinnon. All on the same team. We’re finally going to get it!
Yesterday the news came out that NHL players would be going back to the Olympics in 2022 and 2026! Now, this for me and anyone else who has paid close attention and weeded out the BS was a confirmation, not a surprise. This goes back to before the decision on 2018 was made, and I can’t recall who was saying it (likely several people), but the word was they would skip 2018, and go to China in 2022 because they want the Chinese market (which after the whole Daryl Morey thing last fall and now the pandemic, I’m not sure if those feelings are as intense as they once were).
It must have been back on February 8th when Elliotte Friedman reported that the IOC and NHL had a breakthrough in their negotiations because according to my site, I started writing this piece on February 9th. In the days that followed, several insiders were coming out with stuff trying to squash the league’s interest in returning to the Olympics, but it was clear that it was simply a case of the league trying not to kill any leverage they might have gained in their negotiations with the IOC. I honestly never bought it, but also never got around to finishing this blog.
So when the pandemic hit I remember thinking “what a perfect time for me to put out my roster projection now that things are stopped.” ANNNNND TSN did their own like a minute later. I still have never seen it and don’t want to because I want to do my own thing.
So here I am, doing my own thing, the day after the news has broke that the NHL will be going to China. What might team Canada look like in 19 months? Let’s find out!
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Steven Stamkos – Connor McDavid – Mitch Marner
Brad Marchand – Sidney Crosby – Mathew Barzal
Jonathan Huberdeau – Nathan MacKinnon – Mark Scheifele
Jonathan Toews – Brayden Point – Mark Stone
By the way, only doing a 13th forward, 7th D, and 3rd tendy. The rules get changed every Olympics so I’m not going to guess at this point what they might be. The big thing for me with this team is going to be speed. I’m willing to sacrifice some high-end players to ensure Canada has the fastest roster possible. Truth be told, I cringe at even putting Mark Stone on this team because of the speed. But I want Stone in that spot because he is far and away the best 200-foot player Canada has on the wing.
Stamkos with McDavid for a few reasons. Obviously McDavid’s vision and Stamkos shot (especially on his off wing where I got him) could be lethal. They’re also very likely to have good chemistry with each other being such close friends. Whether or not Marner fits with them, I don’t know. He’d need to be able to defer and play “off the puck” so to speak. That can be a tough adjustment for some players.
Barzal on Crosby’s wing, same potential issue. Remember how awful Kessel was on Sid’s wing? Also remember who has worked best with Sid internationally? You need guys who play a give and go game to play with Sid, and that isn’t Barzal’s game. Marchand on the other hand, we already know how well he fits with Sid. I just about had Marchand off the team as he’ll be 33 (over halfway to 34), but I can’t see his drop off being THAT steep. Bergeron scares me for that more than Marchand given he’s three years older.
Love the MacKinnon line. Really don’t have much to add, I just think those pieces all fit well together.
Then the 4th line, while skilled and definitely can be a threat, is the shutdown line. People sleep on how good Jonathan Toews still is. I’m sure most will argue that he’s not worthy of being on the team, but with how he still plays I’d say he is, and his experience in big games shouldn’t be understated. He has been incredible in the biggest of moments over the last decade, and as long as his skating is still solid and his 200 foot game is among the best, he should be on the team. O’Reilly is the 13th forward because (again) I have concerns about the speed. I’m as big of an ROR fan as you’ll find, but for the Olympic team and especially on the big ice, you just shouldn’t be sacrificing speed very much…if at all.
Obviously I’m not so narrowminded to say “this is my team, and nobody else is a candidate. Hell no. We’re splitting hairs here with so many players. Here is who else I had under consideration:
Sean Couturier – The gap between Toews, O’Reilly and Couturier for me is so nominal. All three have a strong case for a 4th line spot on this team. Toews experience far exceeds any of the other candidates, but obviously we will see where his game is at in two years which I do not have the same concerns with Couturier.
Pierre-Luc Dubois – Underrated player, and playing for this team where he’d get to move to the left side, he could be to this team what Jamie Benn (his draft year comp) was to the 2014 team.
Taylor Hall – It’s always been weird when it came to Hall and whoever the Canadian brass was. There is no doubt that while his play away from the puck has improved, it’s not where you’d like it to be when talking about the Canadian Olympic team. I’d have him there because that combination of speed and skill is too good to pass on, but I would guess he’s at best on the bubble.
Bo Horvat – He falls into the same category as Toews, O’Reilly and Couturier, but Horvat at this point lacks experience AND the type of foot speed you’re craving for that role. He’s going to get a very hard look though.
Travis Konecny – He keeps getting better and better and he’s the type of player who’ll do anything to help his team win, and is very easy for other players to gel with. I thought hard about swapping out Barzal for him. Barzal is much more skilled but could be much more difficult to play with.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Same thing with RNH as Konecny. The one thing I’ll add is that now that Hopkins is playing the wing, he might be one of the best 200-foot wingers in the league. I’ll be called an Oilers homer for this (and several things throughout this), but he’s better than most think.
Jaden Schwartz – Love him. It was between him and Lafrenière for that 3rd line spot on the left side.
Tyler Seguin – He has the skating ability, and everyone knows how skilled he is despite a down season statistically, I just wasn’t sure where he fits.
John Tavares – I love him, but again I’ll state I’m not too eager to take guys who struggle skating, even though JT has one of the highest IQ’s in the game today.
Tyler Bertuzzi – Pretty big dark horse candidate obviously. He might be my new Brad Marchand eight years later in that I pushed so hard for Marchand in 2014, and they have similar games to each other. I talked about Marner and Barzal being able to play without the puck, well Bertuzzi can do that.
Alexis Lafrenière – He’ll be VERY close by the time the team is selected. I took him off my roster at the last second. Truth be told, this part is one of the last things I’m typing for this piece because he was such a late scratch.
Robert Thomas – A personal favourite of mine, and a kid who is getting a lot of exposure on one of the best teams in the league and the defending Cup champs. Thomas game is growing rapidly. I think he’s a legitimate number one centre at some point, and he’s going to be a very complete centre too.
Jamie Benn – Is Benn a POTENTIAL faller, or has he fallen already? I don’t think he has the foot speed for international ice these days.
Patrice Bergeron – Only question here is whether or not he’ll hold up. He has had an extremely slight decline (though it might help that he plays with two of the best wingers in the game), and the combination of his skating ability and experience is going to give him a big edge when they’re scouting for this team in the fall of 2021.
Morgan Rielly – Drew Doughty
Shea Theodore – Alex Pietrangelo
Josh Morrissey – Cale Makar
I think this is pretty self-explanatory. If the team was being picked tomorrow I’m pretty sure this would be my group with the exception of Chabot maybe being replaced by a guy like Muzzin. But the theme here is that six of these seven guys are incredible skaters, and all seven are among the best puck-movers in the game today. And while I’m sure some are going to argue that some guys I left off are better, you have to KNOW while doing this exercise that lefty/righty will be everything on D. So while some of you might not like that I have Josh Morrissey on the team (I’d strongly advise you to go watch a Jets came if you don’t), he’s one of the best LHD Canada has right now.
Aaron Ekblad – Has really bounced back. The big thing that keeps him off for me is the foot speed on the big ice, but I love him.
Ryan Ellis – We all sleep on him because he plays in Nashville and gets overshadowed by guys like Josi, but he is more than qualified with how he moves the puck.
Dougie Hamilton – This is where I remind you that this is a projection and not what I would do. He SHOULD make it.
Jake Muzzin – Barely missed for me. Very much so on the radar though. He is so underrated.
Darnell Nurse – Quit laughing! And I know, this might be a bias on my part, but I have maintained for a long time that we haven’t come close to seeing the best of Nurse. Right now, obviously he isn’t worthy of being in the discussion. But the talent is so enormous that if/when he puts it all together, he is going to be something special. Plus for Nurse, you know they’ll be big on lefty/righty, and Canada is much thinner on the left side of their D. He’s not that far behind guys like Morrissey or Chabot as is. Some Leaf fans would tell you he was better than Morgan Rielly this season.
Colton Parayko – I already have seen his name brought up as essentially a lock for the team. It is so funny in the Edmonton market in particular. They will rip the hell out of Darnell Nurse, and at the same time, they will crave Colton Parayko when they are virtually the same guy.
Jared Spurgeon – You might be looking at whatever type of screen you’re reading this on right now with an eyebrow raised pretty high, but I actually like Spurgeon for the team more than Ellis, because Spurgeon can not only skate and move it extremely well, he is a terrific defender.
Evan Bouchard – Is he worthy? I don’t know, and I don’t want to be bias. But the thing I’m pretty certain of is that Bouchard is likely to put up big numbers starting next season that will gain him a lot of attention. The passing ability and the bomb from the point could be tough to overlook.
Bowen Byram – Byram will be full-time with the Avs next season on a blueline that will likely be viewed as the best young blueline in the league. He has a great chance to be on the radar.
Noah Dobson – I realize he hasn’t had a great start to his career this season, but what I know is that I was super high on Dobson in his draft year, and he did nothing to hurt that opinion in his draft +1 season. Big, moves it extremely well and is a terrific skater. It won’t be long until he pops and is in these discussions.
Brent Burns – Same story with all of my “potential fallers”, I think by the time we get to the point of the team being selected, they’ll have dropped off too significantly. Burns is still a terrific skater for someone so big though.
Mark Giordano – It probably goes without explaining, but just in case…he’s fallen off this season from what he was last season, he’s 36 now, he’ll be 38 by the time the team is picked. I’m not writing him off because this guy has defied the odds his entire career, but you have to think that he’s going to lose a step by November of 2021 when the team is in the late stages of being selected.
Duncan Keith – Love him, but he’s not what he was.
Shea Weber – See Keith, Duncan.
I don’t believe I need to spend much time explaining the tendy’s. For Price not to be their guy, it would need to be a combination of him dramatically falling off, and someone else (most likely candidate being Carter Hart) to have a monster season. Binnington is straight-up recency bias on my part, and Hart is straight-up projecting and believing that by the fall of 2021 he is in the mix of the best goaltenders in the game.
Braden Holtby – It sucks to say that he has digressed since…well it actually started before winning the Cup as his 2018 season wasn’t the same as it had been (remember, Philip Grubauer started those playoffs for the Caps). But I also strongly believe that it’s been the workload that has killed Holtby’s stats. So I don’t think it’s far fetched that in two years time, he could be back to his Vezina form if he starts getting a lighter workload.
Darcy Kuemper – Since arriving in AZ, he has been tremendous. We are going to see shortly if he can pass another test as he returns from injury. Was he just red hot, or was he the real deal?
Matt Murray – He’s really been bitten by the injury bug the last few seasons. Still, when he’s healthy, he’s pretty good. And oh yeah, two rings won’t hurt his cause either.
Tristan Jarry – He had an INCREDIBLE start to the season. Keep an eye on him because if he can regain that form with some consistency, he’ll be on the radar.
Marc-Andre Fleury – He will be 36 by the time the team is selected. He hasn’t been the same since his incredible 2018 season where he carried the Golden Knights to the final. But like Holtby, how much of that is work load? The Knights didn’t get Lehner to replace Fleury, they got him to lighten his load. So we’ll see.
Remember, the Bob Nicholson run Hockey Canada days are done. So the celebrity GM is likely done as well. I know that Yzerman was an actual GM the 2nd time around in 2014, but he got the gig simply by being Steve Yzerman in 2009. I would think that Tom Renney will pick a “hockey man” for the job. There are MANY reasons why I believe McPhee would be a very good selection, but the three biggest reasons I like him for this is A) “hockey man” B) he had success doing something very similar when he put together the 17-18 Golden Knights roster, and C) he is in a situation right now with the Knights that he doesn’t need to be so hands-on with Kelly McCrimmon now the GM in Vegas.
I’d love to give you other options, but the issue is that I’m not sure how many GM’s would be willing to take on the 2nd gig. Yzerman did in 2014 and then immediately stepped down once the Olympics were over. I have to think someone like McPhee who in his case can defer some of his work, or perhaps someone who was a GM and currently is out of a job is going to take the job. So yes Oilers fans, and yes Canadian hockey fans…Peter Chiarelli is going to be considered for this gig in my opinion. He is out of a job, has the experience, and was with the 2014 management team. So he has the resume to get the job (as much as that both pains me to type and makes me cringe). Another option: Tom Renney does it himself. I’m not sure he would, but it’s an option.
Call me a homer, that’s cool, I get it, but look at the job the man did with the Oilers this season. And look at the job the man did with Arizona when he stepped into a complete mess in 09-10. And look at the job the man did his entire tenure in Dallas. He is an incredible coach, there is just no doubt anymore.
Obviously there are a TON of other options. If George McPhee is the GM, then both Gerard Gallant and Peter Deboer will be heavily considered and are both fully qualified to do the job. Alain Vigneault is often forgotten about as one of the top coaches in the game, but look at the improvement in Philly this season. Claude Julien was on the 2014 staff and has proven over and over that he’s one of the top coaches in the league. Bruce Cassidy, Joel Quennville, Barry Trotz, Jared Bednar, Bruce Boudreau, Craig Berube, lots of guys who are either highly respected or are continually gaining that ground.
Who knows how this roster is going to shake down though? I’m sure everyone reading this has their own thoughts, which makes this topic so much fun! And in a time of so much shitty news, at least yesterday we found out that we have something to look forward to!
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