With the NHL officially pulling players out of the 2022 Winter Olympics due to numerous COVID-19 disruptions to the regular-season schedule, Hockey Canada now has less than six weeks to build a squad of players to compete in the men's hockey tournament.
While that isn't a lot of time, Hockey Canada vice president Scott Salmond says work has already been done on what the new roster will look like in anticipation of the NHL's decision.
"I think we've always prided ourselves on being prepared regardless of if that's an NHL plan or not," Salmond said in an interview on The FAN Drive Time Wednesday. "We do have and always had players that were non-NHL players on our long-list so we're thankful for that because those are the players we're going to be selecting from."
Salmond said Shane Doan will assume the general manager responsibilities for Team Canada from Blues GM Doug Armstrong and Claude Julien will be the head coach in Beijing, replacing Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper. He added that the organization will look to fill out staff around Doan and Julien, but veteran Hockey Canada scout Blair MacKasey has been watching players in Europe since September in the anticipation of the situation the organization now finds itself in.
As for the players, Salmond said the team could feature a number of people familiar to NHL fans and added that the roster Canada sent to the Channel One Cup in Moscow earlier this month gives some indication of who might be considered. The team will be made up mostly of players currently playing in Europe, but more discussions will need to be had before it can be determined whether NCAA players and those in the AHL will be allowed to play.
"Now we're back grinding out here on some video and using our network of Canadians across the globe, to make sure we can select the possible group of players -- similar to 2018 -- and take a run at a gold medal," Salmond said.
"I think that people will be surprised when they see what our roster is, of the type of players and some of the recognizable names."
Hockey Canada was expected to finalize a roster of NHL players in early January and the management team, led by Armstrong, spent more than a year scouting NHL players.
In an interview on The FAN Drive Time Wednesday, Armstrong said most of the roster had been selected but added that there were still some decisions towards the bottom of the lineup that ultimately won't ever be made.
"We had our last in-person meeting (during) the first week of December in Florida where we all got together as management and then incorporated the coaches in the calls," Armstrong said. "We were probably three lines deep and four defencemen, two pair, deep on the back end as what we were determining as locks at that point. And we were going to spend the next, at that point, six weeks honing in the rest of that group to fill out that roster."
Armstrong refused to tip his hand on who those locks were, only revealing Nathan MacKinnon was among them, leaving fans no answers to the many roster debates that have taken place from coast-to-coast this year. While the roster ultimately won't be what fans had in mind when the NHL announced it was returning to the Games earlier this year, Salmond said he was confident the group that does play will do their best to make Canada proud.
"It's not NHL players, it's not best-on-best, we get that," he said. "But I know the guys that we end up picking and going over there will have the same type of approach and feeling of responsibility to try to deliver it for Canada."