World Cup rosters present extra deadline drama for GMs

Peter Chiarelli, Brian Burke and Doug Armstrong sit down with Darren Millard to discuss what it is like the put together a World Cup of Hockey team and how international rivalries will be renewed when the competition starts in Toronto.

For Doug Armstrong – like all of his peers – this is one of the busiest times of year.

There is a never-ending stream of games to watch, conversations to have and decisions to make leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline that will directly impact the future of the St. Louis Blues.

This year there is an added responsibility: Selecting the first 16 members of Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup. Armstrong has plenty of help in this endeavour – Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Ducks GM Bob Murray, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin and Kings assistant GM Rob Blake are also on staff – but still has to see the process through to completion by March 2.

It’s a tight window.

“We’re mindful of our day jobs, all of us,” Armstrong said Friday. “First and foremost, the trade deadline is the most important thing on our horizon. But you can multi-task; that’s all we’re doing.”

They have plenty of other company, with Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman overseeing Team North America, Kings GM Dean Lombardi in charge of Team USA and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen part of Finland’s management group.

Numerous other NHL executives and scouts also hold positions with teams for a tournament being run jointly by the league and NHL Players’ Association.

It is essentially a new venture, and a tricky one, with so much of the planning happening concurrent with the NHL season. Then there is the matter of picking teams in waves, with each of the eight countries naming their first 16 in separate news conferences on March 2 before filling out the final seven roster spots on June 1.

This will be the eighth Team Canada that Armstrong has had a hand in building, including the gold-medal squads from the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, but the first assembled in this manner.

“I certainly understand it from a preparation standpoint, the marketing – getting some faces and some names to these teams – but it’s just different,” said Armstrong. “It’s different where you’re picking a group and then adding to it. There’s egos involved and you just have to try and get to the understanding that the ultimate goal is to pick the proper 23 to win the tournament.

“We have the end game in mind as we’re doing this.”

Part of that includes being proactive about reaching out to players that aren’t named in the initial wave. Armstrong expects to have a few conversations with those left on the bubble after the March 2 announcement.

“Someone’s going to be the 17th and someone’s going to be the 24th guy also on June 1,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the tournament.”

While this team’s roster hasn’t been debated in public yet as much as say an Olympic team, there is bound to be plenty of analysis and armchair quarterbacking once the first wave of players is announced. The same goes for other countries.

Perhaps the most interesting name to keep an eye out for from a Team Canada perspective is goaltender Carey Price, who has been sidelined since November with a suspected knee injury but is reportedly going to be named as part of the original group.

Armstrong confirmed that he expects there to be some new faces on the team, but isn’t yet sure how many. He noted that players are typically in their prime now between ages 23 and 26, which suggests that some long-time national team stalwarts could be in tough to make it.

Invitations for the Sept. 17-Oct. 1 tournament in Toronto are highly coveted and the spaced-out roster process could allow for some guys to play their way into the picture during the Stanley Cup playoffs and IIHF World Hockey Championship.

Armstrong sounds as though he could comfortably pick his initial group right now if he had to, but plans to use the additional time available to review the selections. His management team met in Vancouver during the Top Prospects Game at the end of January and will have one final conference call in the week leading up to the first roster deadline.

He’s giving everyone a say, including members of Mike Babcock’s coaching staff.

“I want to get everybody’s opinion on every position … we’ve done that,” said Armstrong. “We have a group of 16 (players) that I think as of today are on everybody’s list. There’s a couple more guys on everybody’s list also so it’s now just whittling it down and coming up with the proper 16.”

They’ll have to find room in busy schedules to do it.