Consider it an exercise in what might have been.
There will be plenty of fantastic stories when Team Canada is unveiled Thursday morning in Calgary, but there won’t be the debate that normally surrounds the announcement because of a lack of familiarity with the players and choices involved.
That most certainly wouldn’t have been the case had the NHL chosen to continue its Olympic participation for the Pyeongchang Games. The Canadian brass would have been picking a 25-man roster from a list of at least 50 players with gold-standard bonafides and resumes.
Arguably the most difficult decisions would have surrounded which longstanding members of the team to move on from, especially after the dominant run through the Sochi Games four years ago. Loyalty is always a delicate subject around Team Canada.
With that in mind, here’s how we think the 2018 Olympic roster might have looked with NHL players:
Nathan MacKinnon–Connor McDavid–Steven Stamkos
Brad Marchand–Sidney Crosby–Patrice Bergeron
Jamie Benn–Jonathan Toews–Mark Scheifele
Taylor Hall–John Tavares–Mark Stone
Extras: Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux.
Morgan Rielly–Alex Pietrangelo
Extras: Marc-Edouard Vlasic, P.K. Subban.
Extra: Corey Crawford
Change is afoot here, with only 11 returning gold-medal winners from Sochi. We’ve most notably moved on from Shea Weber, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Jeff Carter – each part of the dominant core of numerous national teams dating back to the 2005 world junior tournament.
In their place we have a top line built entirely with players who would be making their Olympic debuts. They just happen to be three of the most productive NHLers this season.
Keeping Marchand, Crosby and Bergeron intact after their dominant performance at the 2016 World Cup is an easy decision, but then it gets tougher. Scheifele is a smart player who can shift between centre and the wing, if needed, and he grabs the open spot beside holdovers Benn and Toews.
A fourth line of Hall, Tavares and Stone should have the puck all the time. We like Stone in this position because of his ability to kill penalties alongside Tavares.
The biggest opening on the blue line comes behind Keith on the left side, and we’ve rewarded the smooth-skating Rielly for his breakout campaign. He slots in beside Pietrangelo. That leaves Doughty to log big minutes with Keith.
In the past, Team Canada has occasionally been guilty of overthinking the built-in chemistry between NHL teammates. Great players tend not to need much time to find their way with other great players. However, when you have a pairing as dominant Giordano and Hamilton have been for the Calgary Flames, there is a clear benefit in bringing them along as a duo.
Perhaps the most difficult decision still to be made would rest with Mike Babcock and his coaching staff: Who starts in goal?
Price isn’t having his best season and Holtby’s numbers are off as well. Crawford built the strongest case of them all based on recent performance. We’ve decided to name him to the team despite the fact he’s currently sidelined with a concussion.