When the news broke out that the World Cup of Hockey was to make its stately return in the fall of 2016, Team Canada became the automatic favorites to win the ice-hockey tournament. Just like Olympic Hockey, the best of the bests compete in a vigorous two week international contest on the world's biggest stage.
Gracing the rosters of the eight national teams are a profusion of hockey's current bests. The competition along Team Canada includes Team USA, Team Russia, Team Sweden, Team Finland, Team Czech Republic, Team North America (23-and-under) and Team Europe. Each team consists of 23 players who will compete in a series of exhibition games from Sept. 8-14, with the World Cup of Hockey officially starting on Sept. 17, running until Oct. 1.
When it comes to favorites in hockey, Team Canada is not one to shy away from the limelight. In most cases, they embrace the opportunity to represent the true home of hockey. There's a reason why they call it the hardest roster to crack in hockey! But not all events go according to plan - here are 8 reasons why Team Canada will win the coveted World Cup of Hockey and 7 reasons why they won't.
WHY THEY WILL WIN
15 Possess Most Dominant Center Depth
Looking down the middle, there is no doubt that the other seven teams will have a ridiculously difficult time penetrating through center ice against the dangerously talented Canadian team. With a center lineup of Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and Claude Giroux, there is nothing this Canadian squad should fear. Altogether between the four of them, they have accumulated six Stanley Cup Championships and six Olympic gold medals. That's a ton of hardware for four amazingly decorated hockey centermen.
For Canada, it is extremely vital for them to have a strong center depth because it will give coach Mike Babcock a plenitude of options when it comes to line-juggling. Not only that, Team Canada's all-around depth gives them some security when their puck luck is subpar. On either ends of the ice, face-off wins provide an advantage for a group of players with such incredible, instinctive passing skills. So when another team faces Team Canada at the face-off dot, they better watch out, 'cause they're about to be pulverized.
14 Addition of Corey Perry
Some people were baffled that Corey Perry was left off Team Canada's initial roster, and rightfully so. Captain Perry had just led Team Canada to successfully defending its gold at the 2016 IIHF World Championships. But even that effort left him outside of the bigger picture. After the Canadian roster was officially announced, GM Doug Armstrong personally called Perry to tell him he hadn't been selected. But after it was reported that Jeff Carter was injured and there was a need for a replacement, Corey Perry perfectly fit the bill.
But his inclusion isn't just any ordinary matter. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who should never have been left off Canada's roster in the first place! And not to mention, he also has impeccable chemistry with his longtime Anaheim Ducks teammate Ryan Getzlaf. They will be a dynamic duo during the duration of the World Cup, and even if they don't play together, they will surely have an immense impact on Team Canada's offensive success.
13 Leadership Team
There is absolutely no doubt that Team Canada's leadership team consists of three of the most prominent and talented hockey players of our generation: Sidney Crosby (C), Jonathan Toews (A) and Shea Weber (A). These names are just a snippet of the many deserving players on the talented Canadian roster who could've been given a leadership role. For captain Sidney Crosby, coming fresh off a Stanley Cup victory, he will seek to replicate his success with the Canadian squad in late September. Though tasked with the captaincy of an incredibly skilled team, there is not need to worry because there are many other players who can step up to the limelight if need be. A number of the Canadian players are already captains of their own respective NHL teams, so it's not like the players aren't familiar with leading. Jonathan Toews, a captain of three Stanley Cup championship teams, is no stranger to victory. His remarkable aptitude for instilling a confident mentality in his players is evident in his numerous accomplishments. Along with Shea Weber, they will be exceptional assistant captains for Team Canada.
12 International Debut of Steven Stamkos
For a superstar like Steven Stamkos, it is surprising that the World Cup of Hockey will only be the third time he has represented Team Canada at the international stage. His previous appearances were at the 2009 and 2013 World Championships. He was destined to be a two-time Olympian, but he was selected as a reserve in 2010 and got injured before the 2014 Olympics. For Stamkos, the World Cup will be extra memorable for him because of the missed opportunities earlier in his career to represent Canada.
With the inclusion of Stamkos on Canada's roster, it has more firepower than ever and will definitely boost their offensive proficiency. His remarkable aptitude of goal scoring will only benefit the team and help Canada get on the scoreboard. Stamkos will certainly be aiming to stamp his place on Team Canada and use his goal scoring instincts to guide them to the coveted World Cup.
11 Pre-established Chemistry
Although Team Canada is composed of players from a number of different NHL teams, these players are no stranger to each other. As the best of the bests convene in this year's World Cup, they are undeniably familiar with each other's style of hockey, If they haven't played alongside one another at a previous international tournament, then they have certainly played against them at one point in their unquestionably illustrious careers. As talented as Canada's group of players are, if they cannot successfully work well together as a team, they will not be a menacing threat.
But not to worry, because of the pre-established chemistry between NHL teammates, Team Canada won't have to arduously stress about this issue. Examples include Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin, and Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Surely, Team Canada has a plethora of NHL teammates that can click automatically and give them a significant advantage. Since the two-week tournament forces NHL players to gather together and form a bond, developing chemistry quickly will play an integral role in the each team's degree of success, and Team Canada has the ability to do just that.
10 Amount of International Experience
With a prime-aged, highly skilled group of players, experience will undoubtedly help the Canadians' quest for gold at the World Cup. Of the 23 players on the roster, 14 of them are returning Olympians from Sochi in 2014. That is quite a striking stat because that means over half of the Canadian squad tasted gold in Sochi. This will be one of the key advantages for Team Canada because these players have had experience played with each other internationally. For the players, they will need channel their thoughts to intense game-mode and put on pristine performances, if not better than the way they played in Sochi.
In this two-week tournament, Team Canada will have to use their experience to find unique ways of scoring goals because of the superb talent of the competition. Of the 11 players in this year's tournament that competed at the 2004 World Cup, two of them are Canadian: Jay Bouwmeester and Joe Thornton. These two veterans will need to use their experience to keep up with the fast-paced games and generate scoring chances. When the time comes to drop the puck, Canada will definitely need to compose themselves and trek for gold, exactly like the way they did in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
9 Home-Ice Advantage
In this year's installment of the World Cup of Hockey, for the first time ever, all the tournament games will be played in one centralized city: Toronto, Canada. We all know that the support of the crowd is immensely uplifting for the home team, which means that Team Canada already has the intangibles going in its favor. Toronto is arguably the biggest hockey market in Canada, so for the World Cup to be held there, the fans will definitely not suppress their excitement and vehemence.
With the crowd in their favor, Team Canada will have no room to commit crucial mistakes. No doubt will be fans come roaring out whenever the Canadian squad enters the vibrant arena. It will also unquestionably get louder and louder when the Canadians gain better control of the puck. We all know that Canadian fans are passionate about their hockey team; it is, indeed, the home of hockey.
8 Undisputed Favorites
In addition to the massive support from the home crowd, Team Canada has been widely accepted as the undisputed favorites to win this year's World Cup. Hoping to live up to the expectations, Canada will need to perform flawlessly because of the improved and tough competition, compared to the Sochi Olympics. They will need to face young superstars on Team North Amercia and a determined Team USA. There will absolutely be no room for Team Canada to sit back and relax; it will be taxing, rigorous pursuit to gold, that's for sure.
But amidst the challenges, Team Canada knows what it means to emerge on top. They did it at the 2010 Olympics and successfully defended their gold in 2014. If they come our strong and dominant on both ends of the ice, they will be well on their way to advancing to the elimination rounds. There's a definite reason why Team Canada was deemed the favorites - it's because they have the deepest and strongest roster of all the teams they know how to win. It's no secret that Team Canada had high expectations going into the tournament, so whether they can indeed bring home the World Cup or not, at the end of the day, it is up to them to decide their destiny.
7 WHY THEY WON'T WIN
7. Loss of Jamie Benn
Coming off a career-high season in goals (41) and points (89), this will be a major disappointment for Benn. He was forced to miss this year's World Cup because he is still recovering from a core muscle surgery. Benn would have slotted in either the second or third line, and helped Canada increase their high-quality scoring chances. He would have fit perfectly on the Canadian squad because he plays a fantastic two-way game and can capitalize on the power play.
Benn was an Olympian in 2014 and scored a climacteric goal against the Americans in the decisive semifinals. From there, they advanced to the finals and beat the Swedes 3-0. He was a part of the gold-medal winning team, so it would've undoubtedly been a delight for Benn to try and replicate their success in Toronto this year. Certainly, he is a rising star in the NHL whom you can expect to see top the leader-boards in the coming years.
6 Russia's Firepower
With the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Pavel Datsyuk, Nikita Kuchervov and Artemi Panarin, their roster is in absolute no shortage of offensive firepower. Just naming their forwards scare the heck outta me! It's preposterous to think how their country can cultivate so many high-quality scoring forwards, but I guess that's just Russia's specialty.
To defeat Team Russia, the Canadian defense will really need to stand their ground and not allow the adroit forwards to penetrate their line of defense easily. No doubt will the Canadians find it difficult to hold off the Russian firepower, but they will also have to find a way to defeat the Russians in the scoring aspect of the game. With Ovechkin leading the pack of Russians, they will definitely come out firing out on all cylinders and use their scoring instincts to their advantage.
5 Loss of Duncan Keith
The 2-time Norris Trophy winner and 3-time Stanley Cup Champion was forced to miss the World Cup, who is still rehabbing from a right knee injury. Keith is considered among one of the best defenseman in his generation because of his offensive production and defensive steadiness. His many accolades, including a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2015, prove his on-ice dominance.
The Canadian defense is definitely not thin on any level, but they are missing a huge part in Duncan Keith. He played an integral role on the gold-medal winning teams in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, so without his presence, Team Canada's defense will have to perform without his veteran guidance. He was expected to play a big role for Canada and shut down other team's first line, but this time around, his expertise will not be available. His absence leaves room for other rising defensemen to step up to the plate and prove their worth.
4 Speed of Team North America
With the addition of a newly formed team: Team North America, it adds a unique element to this year's competition. Though only 23-and-under are qualified for this team, these players have no shortage of striking talent. With names like Connor MacDavid, Jack Eichel, Shayne Gostisbehere and Auston Matthews gracing their roster, they are a threat to be taken seriously. It is quite easy to write this team off, but their talent combined makes up for this international inexperience.
Judging by the pace of the exhibition games, the actual tournament games will be quite a lot faster than the average NHL game, which means that the youngsters will have a slight advantage. While many of their players are still in the early process of their NHL development, they definitely do not lack speed in any way, shape or form. When I say they can skate - they CAN skate! It will be particularly tough for Team Canada to keep up with the quick pace of the young North Americans, solely because of their youthful exuberance and effervescence.
3 Loss of Tyler Seguin
After being snubbed off of the 2014 Olympic roster, hockey fans were anxiously looking forward to witnessing Seguin play at another of the world's biggest stage: the World Cup. It has been quite a disappointing year for Seguin, after missing the playoffs because of hamstring and Achilles injuries and now the World Cup because of a hairline fracture in his heel. If he was healthy, he would've formed a dangerous, dynamic duo with Dallas Stars teammate Jamie Benn.
Losing one of the rising stars in today's game against such a tough competition is never easy. Team Canada will have to create new ways to produce scoring chances. Seguin's puck-handling skills and hockey IQ will definitely be missed, but it's not like Team Canada has the slightest shortage of that. If they want to win though, they will have to do it without a masterly skilled individual.
2 Tenacity of Team USA
Surprisingly, for many years now, Team U.S.A. has been left hanging out to dry and has not won any major international championship since the inaugural instalment of the World Cup in 1996. That was 20 years ago. They haven't been able to create a meaningful bond and find success in international tournaments in recent memory. The last time they seriously challenged for gold was at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when they battled in sudden-death overtime against Canada, but alas, they fell just short.
Now, it's 2016, and they are patently hungrier than ever before. With the fiendish John Tortorella as their head coach, there is no doubt that he will attempt to instill a mentality of mercilessness and belligerence. Veterans like Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter, who have nothing to show for, in terms of international accolades, will definitely be yearning to place their stamp on history.
1 Unpredictability of Carey Price
Now, you may be wondering why Carey Price, the 2015 Hart Trophy winner, may be a liability for Team Canada. The truth is, he really isn't. However, there is a big question mark with him because he hasn't played in a professional hockey game in the last 300 days before the start of the World Cup. Sure he is playing well in the exhibition games, but can he maintain his high level of excellence after such a lengthy break from hockey?
There is no doubt that he is still one of the top goaltenders in today's game. Price has exceptional mobility, a well-suited frame and a swift glove hand. Although his talent is quite spectacular, we cannot assume that he is in his best form after coming straight back from rehab. His performances will be a paramount factor in determining whether Team Canada can eventually hoist the World Cup. Will he be able to return to form and emulate his 2015 Hart Trophy-winning season self? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.