Difficult decisions ahead for Team Canada brain trust

The Team Canada preliminary roster did end up coming with some key surprises, the biggest being that former Norris Trophy winner PK Subban was missing from the list.

Sixteen players named.

But at least 50 sub-stories created.

That’s always the way it is when Team Canada gets chosen for a major international hockey event, and even with the squad limited to players 24 and older for next year’s World Cup, there will be still be enormous debate over the first players chosen today to wear those gorgeous, Memories of ‘72 jerseys for Team Canada 2016, and those who weren’t.

There was nothing quite as explosive today as the decision to leave Sidney Crosby at home for Turin in 2006, but there will be, as always, lots of disagreement.

So it depends which sub-story you want to go to first.

Let’s start with Tyler Seguin, the lone skater named to Team Canada today who wasn’t part of the squad in Sochi two years ago, quite a distinction indeed.

"He was on the radar screen for Sochi," said Armstrong. "He’s one of most dominant players in our game right now."

Six years after the Tyler vs. Taylor (Hall) debate dominated that 2010 NHL draft, it is Seguin (No. 2 in that draft) who has arrived first among the very elite, not just in the NHL but among this generation of Canadian stars. He made today’s group ahead of Corey Perry, a former Hart Trophy winner who has been a member of Team Canada in the past two Olympics, and Rick Nash, who has been injured most of this season but has been an automatic choice for Team Canada for years.

Matt Duchene was there in Sochi, but he hasn’t yet grabbed a spot on Team Canada ’16, while Seguin and his 32 goals have. The impact he and Jamie Benn have had in vaulting Dallas to the upper echelon of NHL teams is enormous.

"Dallas is now a hockey market again thanks to those two players," said Armstrong, formerly the GM of the Stars.

Seguin was the most intriguing choice made by Armstrong, the St. Louis Blues manager who is on his maiden voyage as Canada’s hockey boss. Tougher ones are yet to come.

"I think the really heavy lifting is coming," said Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock. "It gets a lot tighter now.

"If you’re a player who thinks you should have been in the first 16, you’ve got time to fix it."

That’s a challenge to those players who were in Sochi who weren’t on the first list of 16 players – P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were part of the Sochi blueline corps but weren’t named today – and an open invitation to players to think long and hard about accepting an invitation to the world championships in Russia.

Seguin, after all, was a player who did play in the worlds last year, and it obviously put him into the forefront of the selection process for the World Cup team.

"We don’t want to force any player to play in any event," said Armstrong. "But in (the worlds), you want players who are hungry to represent their country."

Having to pick 16 players now, and then add seven more later, does create a different dynamic.

"We get to anger people twice now," quipped Armstrong.

It clearly influenced the decision to name three goalies, when Canada and the other seven teams only had to name two. Armstrong and Co. picked Montreal’s Carey Price, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford of the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, and clearly an element in that decision was the possibility that if Price can’t play after missing most of this season due to injury, the big thinkers for Team Canada didn’t want to have to rely on goalies who didn’t think they were good enough to be picked in the first group.

"If for any reason one of the three can’t, we didn’t want the others to think they were an add-on," said Armstrong.

Team officials laboured over whether to include Price, and had Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, who is also part of Canada’s brain trust, to double check with the team’s ownership group.

"We wanted to make sure Canadiens team and ownership were comfortable with our decision," said Armstrong. "We talked to Carey twice in the month of February. He’s the best goalie on the planet. He was the best player in the world last year. If Carey wanted to be on, he’s on."

Neither Holtby nor Crawford were part of the Sochi effort. Florida netminder Roberto Luongo was, and Armstrong went out of his way to call Luongo today and make sure he knew of Team Canada’s decision before it was made public.

Other players that were in Sochi but weren’t named to Team Canada today along with Luongo, Subban, Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Duchene, Nash and Perry included Arizona goalie Mike Smith, Vancouver defender Dan Hamhuis, Dallas winger Patrick Sharp, Pittsburgh winger Chris Kunitz, San Jose forward Patrick Marleau and the retired Martin St. Louis.

Of all those players, the exclusion of Subban will probably create the most controversy, adding to that already created by the chaotic season in Montreal. With the Canadiens likely to miss post-season play, it will be interesting if Subban takes up the challenge and decides to play in the world championships.

Deciding to pick three goalies probably limited Armstrong to four defencemen, and he went with Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and the under-rated Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Team Canada GM talked about the "synergy" among those four blue-liners, who were Canada’s top four in Sochi.

"Mike (Babcock) likes predictability. He likes players he can play in all situations," explained Armstrong.

Eight Canadian players were also named to Team North America, and of that group, it’s possible that Edmonton rookie Connor McDavid and Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon might have ultimately had a shot at being part of Canada’s World Cup squad.

As it stands, with Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews, Canada is still plenty strong down the middle, although a slow start to the season for Crosby had some worried. He was Canada’s captain in Sochi, and likely will be for the Toronto tournament next fall.

"I never really had any question that he was going to find his game," said Armstrong. "Not only is he on this team, he’s going to be asked to be a huge part of this team."

So there you have it. Other questions remain, like whether Steven Stamkos will get to play centre or will have to play the wing, a bone of contention for the all-star sniper in Tampa Bay this season. Getzlaf without Perry, for the moment, sure seems a little odd.

But this is clearly a powerful team, already with all the necessary elements to win the tournament. Price’s health will be a big story, but the backups look more than good enough.

Sixteen have been named. Now, let the debate on the Next Seven begin.

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