A morsel of me dies every time Gary Bettman announces there will be no best-on-best international hockey.
The commissioner signed the death certificate of the proposed 2021 World Cup earlier this week, so we’ll have to wait for the 2022 Olympic Games for our next shot at a true global tournament — and Bettman is already starting to pour cold water on that.
At minimum, we’ll have to wait five and a half years between these events, the most recent being the 2016 World Cup. All those kids from the beautifully electric Team North America are growing up before our eyes, and we’ve been deprived the treat of seeing Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel go head-to-head with Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon on the world stage.
It’s a massive blown marketing and entertainment opportunity for the sport.
Allow us to fantasize, then, in our NHL Power Rankings: The Lost Team Canada Edition, as we consider the front-runners for Canada’s ultimate hockey roster plucked from each of the NHL teams were a best-on-best contest to be held tomorrow.
As usual, the clubs are listed according to their current level of awesomeness, while the write-ups take a quick look into the Canadians who would have the best shot to crack my make-believe national squad now.
Braden Holtby, 30, didn’t see action as Canada’s third goalie at the 2016 World Cup, but he’s won a Vezina Trophy and a Stanley Cup since then. His winning record and big-game experience have to put him in the running. Also: Imagine the wrinkle of unpredictability Tom Wilson would bring as Team Canada’s fourth-line winger.
We see no justifiable reason to not reunite Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with Sidney Crosby on Canada’s top match-up line.
Hands up if you want to see Team North America alumnus Nathan MacKinnon paired with Connor McDavid on Canada’s scoring line and top power-play unit? We’d seriously consider carving out a spot for 21-year-old Cale Makar, too. The kid is that dynamic.
We can’t imagine building a reasonable case against veterans Ryan O’Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo, especially now that they have added “Cup champion” to their resume. We’d toss Brayden Schenn and Jordan Binnington camp invites, too.
Mathew Barzal, 22, has improved his two-way game under Barry Trotz (our pick for Team Canada’s head coach) and emerged too late for Team North America. His skating ability alone earns him a chance to crack the bottom six.
The rare Canadian on an American-heavy blue line, right-shot Toronto native Dougie Hamilton (30 points in 31 games) — the top Canadian in the 2020 Norris race — would need to be considered for one of the puck-moving D-men slots. Pair him with a veteran like Pietrangelo or — hey, Flames fans! — Mark Giordano.
It pains me to say it, but I think Claude Giroux loses his spot to a younger winger. Carter Hart isn’t quite ready for the prime time of a best-on-best. But I’d seriously consider giving a look at Travis Konecny as a depth forward. Dude has hands and an edge.
Mark Scheifele is a no-brainer, and defenceman Josh Morrissey can play on my team any day.
Two years ago, we’d seriously consider Matt Murray in for Team Canada’s starter. Right now, he might not even be our Penguins starter. Kris Letang gets a camp invite, but he’d have to wow us. Sidney Crosby is captain, no questions asked.
10. Dallas Stars
Unfortunately for the deadly duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who could’ve wreaked havoc had NHLers attended the 2018 Winter Games, there’s a chance both might end up on the outside looking in had a 2021 World Cup become reality. Seguin still earns serious consideration.
11. Arizona Coyotes
Arizona’s top performers are American or European, except for Vezina dark horse Darcy Kuemper. The Saskatoon native doesn’t have the bona fides of the more experienced star Canadian goalies, but a .935 save percentage gets him to the tryouts.
12. Calgary Flames
Sean Monahan is a bubble guy for the bottom six, and although his age (36) is of serious concern, we could imagine Mark Giordano’s poise and desire coming to the fore on the international stage.
Steven Stamkos’s one-timer puts him in the mix, but five-on-five, we’d be more apt to give ice time to Brayden Point. The Calgary native’s speed, playmaking and checking would make for a heck of a 3C.
Mark Stone is on the team, full stop. And with all due respect to Carey Price, if you had to pick one goalie to come up big for his country today, is it not Marc-Andre Fleury? (Also, it never hurts to keep Sid happy and the room light.)
John Tavares and Mitch Marner come pre-packaged with built-in chemistry. Buddies Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie both get a crack at the bottom pairing and second power-play quarterback.
16. Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau leads Aleksander Barkov’s Panthers in scoring and is on pace for back-to-back 90-point seasons. He’s arguably the most under-discussed elite Canadian in hockey. Maybe he gets left out because the country has so many incredible wingers. Or maybe he lights it up on the power-play and has himself a golden coming-out party. (Aaron Ekblad gets some consideration, too. And Joel Quenneville joins Trotz’s bench.)
17. Edmonton Oilers
We slap an A on Mr. McDavid’s chest, pop some corn, then watch No. 97 lead a best-on-best tournament in scoring.
We still recall Matt Duchene’s enthusiasm when he got the emergency injury call to join Canada’s World Cup squad in 2016, and as a loyal trooper, he’s won three golds and a silver for his country at the senior men’s level. He gets a chance, but defenceman Ryan Ellis might have the upper hand when it comes to Preds donning the red and white.
Captain Bo Horvat’s character, defensively responsibility and face-off prowess earns him some consideration for Canada’s fourth-line centre.
20. Buffalo Sabres
With respect to Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner, the Canadian winger depth is just too rich to include any Sabres. Buffalo’s best talent make Team USA a formidable foe.
21. New York Rangers
Mississauga’s Ryan Strome (26 points in 30 games) is quietly having a career campaign, but the multinational Rangers don’t dress a Canadian worthy of best-on-best.
22. Minnesota Wild
Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba deserve some consideration in what would be a competitive blue line to crack. Also: We wouldn’t mind Bruce Boudreau as an assistant on our Team Canada bench.
Brendan Gallagher could be pain in the butt on Canada’s fourth line, but he’s a bit of a wild-card pick. Shea Weber’s golden resume and sheer presence assure “Man Mountain” of a spot. Although it would cause a commotion, Carey Price is no longer our starter.
As much as we appreciate Pierre-Luc Dubois’s game, we don’t see a roster spot for a Columbus Blue Jacket on Team Canada 2020.
Do you keep Jonathan Toews, 31, in the fold because he’s won everything — and most things twice or thrice? Does he accept a third- or fourth-line pivot role? Toews could be the pivot piece in the argument of youth versus experience.
26. Anaheim Ducks
World junior gold, World Cup gold, Olympic gold twice… Hockey Canada thanks 34-year-old Ryan Getzlaf for his service but regrettably moves on.
27. San Jose Sharks
As a 200-foot complete package, Logan Couture has to be part of the group. At 34, Brent Burns (minus-21 this season) is no longer guaranteed a spot.
28. Ottawa Senators
Despite his brilliant season, Jean-Gabriel Pageau ends up on the outside looking in. Thomas Chabot earns more serious consideration — we’d love to see what he could do surrounded by great forwards and a dependable partner —but may need more seasoning.
Individually, Drew Doughty is enjoying a bounce-back season, and there are few competitors like him when motivated. We want the 30-year-old to go for yet another gold.
Did you know? Among Canadians, the much-discussed Taylor Hall is tied for 60th this season in even-strength scoring, with the likes of Brandon Tanev, Darnell Nurse and Derick Brassard. Yet we saw the heights a motivated Hall can reach as recently as 2018, when he won the Hart Trophy. He’s on the bubble.
The Red Wings top Canadians are Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha. Skilled young guys, to be sure, but they don’t make the cut.