Canadian National Hockey Team: The 8 Best And 7 Worst Players To Wear The Maple Leaf

If you needed any reminder which country owns the title of "greatest hockey nation," look no further than the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for the answer.

As they have done for decades, Canada flexed its muscles on the road to renewed validation of its supremacy within the sport as they broke down one stacked opponent after another en route to the 2016 World Cup championship.

That has been the story, for the most part, since 1998, when NHL players were first allowed to participate in the Olympic Games. Canada has been able to assemble some of the greatest rosters the sport has ever seen - some argue that they could easily send two separate teams to any major tournament and both teams would still have a legitimate shot at winning it all.

Despite this, several Canadian rosters have included some questionable decisions - choices that had us wondering what the thought process was then and now.

Over the years, Canada has iced some of the greatest players to ever wear the Canadian Maple Leaf - at times, they've also left many of us scratching our heads with questionable roster choices. At the end of the day, the strange decisions have been glossed over - besides 2006, it hasn't really mattered.

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15 Best: Martin Brodeur

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Are you surprised to see Martin Brodeur on this list? Of course you aren't.

Even without his prestige accomplishments with Canada, Brodeur has a Hall of Fame resume to say the least which includes four Vezina Trophies along with three Stanley Cup Titles in 1995, 2000 and his final in 2003. His legacy in net is still celebrated till this very day.

All Brodeur has ever done is win games and that's exactly what the doctor ordered in 2002 when Canada was looking to finally end its unfathomable Olympic gold medal drought. Brodeur's play dipped during his final two Olympic experiences (everyone in Canada suppressed the memories of 2006 awhile ago), but in Salt Lake City and at the 2004 World Cup, Brodeur was almost unbeatable cementing his legacy as one of the greats to dawn the jersey.

14 Worst: Jay Bouwmeester

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Jay Bouwmeester is a tough sell on this list, as he's been one of the country's most solid defensemen since the early 2000s - there just seems like there's a lot left to be desired when it comes to the big Blues' defenseman.

Bouwmeester has been a stalwart on multiple bluelines over the course of his career, be it in Florida, Calgary or St. Louis - but for a guy who's good for 20-40 points over the course of an NHL season, a bit more could (and should) be expected from him on the international stage (2 points in 22 Olympic and World Cup games).

Perhaps the question (more recently anyway) is this: was Bouwmeester a better choice than the list of defenseman that Team Canada could have gone with - a list that included Kris Letang, Marc Giordano and P.K. Subban, among others?

13 Best: Jarome Iginla

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Jarome Iginla might come as a surprising choice on this list, but there are a couple of very good reasons for his inclusion. For one, he was always a heart and soul kind of guy. Even when wasn't at his best, Iggy would try to mix it up and stir the pot, as he was a constant gamer night in and night out.

He also leads all active NHL players with 14 points in 19 Olympic games - and he's come up on multiple occasions in the three Olympic Games he's played in. Besides the fact that Iggy was the setup man on what is arguably the biggest goal in Canadian hockey history (sorry, Paul Henderson), Iginla is a proven commodity on the international stage and has come through time and time again while wearing the red and white maple leaf.

12 Worst: Vincent Damphousse

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Vinny Damphousse was an offensive dynamo on multiple NHL teams throughout his NHL career, but perhaps there was a reason why he only represented Canada at one international tournament throughout his entire NHL career.

After several successful years leading the Montreal Canadiens offense, Damphousse was selected to the 1996 World Cup roster, making it Damphousse's first time donning a Hockey Canada jersey. Through eight games, the Montreal native mustered only two goals while finishing the tournament a disappointing -5.

Damphousse was able to rebound once he returned to NHL play, playing nearly eight more years in the NHL, but he understandably was not selected to follow up that performance in 1998 when the NHL first sent players to the Nagano Games - or any other international competition, for that matter.

11 Best: Eric Lindros

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As its been the case for most of his life, we are left to wonder "what if" when it comes to Eric Lindros. Luckily for him, the prime of his career fell right into the sweet spot of professional hockey's initial foray into the international scene.

Lindros managed to play in 20 Olympic games (winning silver in France in 1992) and capping of his international career with a gold in Salt Lake City. Over 36 Olympic and World Cup games played, he managed to put up 28 points and continued to prove why he was one of the most highly touted prospects in the history of the sport and, in his prime, one of the game's most dominant players, while further justifying his eventual Hall of Fame selection.

10 Worst: Sylvain Côté

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Sylvain Côté managed to put together a solid NHL career, but the name itself certainly doesn't pop off the list of names on the 1996 World Cup roster, which included the likes of Rob Blake, Paul Coffey, Adam Foote, Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens.

Côté, drafted 11th overall by Hartford in 1984, put up solid numbers in the years leading up to his selection, but was a clear notch below in terms of overall natural talent. Côté didn't have much of a shot of breaking into that top-six and displaying some of the slick puck moving ability that propelled him through 13-year NHL career.

It was the first and last time Côté represented Canada in a best-on-best (Olympics or World Cup) event during his 19-year NHL career.

9 Best: Carey Price

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The sample size might still be a bit too small to vault him up this list, but talk to almost anyone in the hockey world and they'll tell you that Carey Price has been able to put together one of the most dominant stretches of international play in the sport's history.

The timing didn't work out all that great for Price - once tabbed as the Vancouver 2010 starter, the Habs MVP wasn't even able to crack the roster and if the NHL doesn't go to Toyko in 2018, Price will likely end his career with only one Olympic experience.

In Sochi, however, Price set a Canadian record with a .972 save percentage (which is good enough for the best all-time among Canadian Olympian goaltenders) and his most recent performance in Toronto puts him at or near the top of every Canadian World Cup statistical category.

Canada's coach Mike Babcock said it himself, Price's calmness is truly something else and something Babs has never seen before.

8 Worst: Chris Kunitz

via olympic.ca

Don't get too offended, Penguins fans - Chris Kunitz is a great hockey player. He's one of the few who has been able to click with All-World Penguins captain Sidney Crosby on a consistent basis - so let's not pretend that wasn't the major reason he was brought to Sochi in 2014.

The selection of Kunitz over several big-name offensive stars, including Claude Giroux and Logan Couture, left many wondering about the Team Canada’s management team’s mindset.

Once they actually got to Sochi, Kunitz was unable to muster much of anything alongside his Pittsburgh teammate, scoring only one goal in six games. Crosby didn't do much in terms of point production in 2014, either, but still managed to fill a substantial role and make an impact when needed.

7 Best: Joe Sakic

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Joe Sakic has always been a major part of Canadian hockey lore and his spot in hockey history was solidified during the 2002 Olympic Games.

Besides the fact that Sakic is nearly a point-per-game player in his Olympic career, Sakic took on a major offensive and leadership role in Salt Lake City, with seven points in six games, including four in the gold medal game, a performance that helped him secure the tournament MVP award and a spot in the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, and World Hockey Championship gold).

The image of Sakic streaking down the right wing to seal the deal in the final moments of the gold medal game and sliding into a frenzied celebration as his bench erupted is a lasting image that will never be erased from the memories of Canadians across the country.

6 Worst: Barry Beck

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Considered one of the best defensemen in Rangers history, there's no doubting that Canada could have done worse than Barry Beck in 1981. The former Rangers captain was a consistent point-producer and liked to play the game with a bit of an edge.

His spot on the 1981 Canada Cup roster raises some eyebrows, however. That team wasn't the greatest Canadian roster ever assembled, but it had plenty of talent to go around.

Beck was a solid player during his career - albeit an injury-riddled one - but he was a clear notch below the likes of Ray Bourque, Larry Robinson and others.

Beck, known for his offensive capabilities, put up no points in 7 games during the 1981 Canada Cup, a tournament in which Canada scored goals by the truckload on multiple occasions.

5 Best: Mario Lemieux

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An easy selection if there every was one. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, Mario Lemieux was just as good wearing a Team Canada jersey as he was wearing the Pittsburgh Penguins black and gold.

Since Super Mario was entering the twilight of his career during the 2002 Olympics and 2004 World Cup, a lot of his value was expected to come from his leadership ability and wealth of international experience (besides the fact that he was a walking, living, skating legend walking into a room of players tasked with ending a 50-year gold medal drought).

Despite slowing down (by his standards, at least) at the end of his career, Lemieux played in integral part in helping Canada reclaim hockey gold in 2002 - and let's not forget his role on the stacked 1987 Canada Cup team.

4 Worst: Bryan McCabe

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In a Golden Era for Canadian defenseman, it might come as a surprise to note that Bryan McCabe played every game Canada participated in during the 2006 Olympics. A slew of injuries were likely the main reason McCabe was tasked with a role during that disastrous Olympic experience for the Canadians, but McCabe was still considered a solid, capable defenseman at that point in his career, and he (among others, granted) failed to produce much of anything on the world's biggest stage, putting up a goose egg in the points column and finishing -3 on the tournament.

McCabe could seemingly never recover from the entirety of the 2006 season, as his numbers began their slow but steady decline as he stumbled his way to the end of his NHL career.

3 Best: Sidney Crosby

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Sidney Crosby may never rise to the levels of Super Mario or The Great One, but he'll get close. One thing he has proven, though, is that he has been one of the best international player of the past three decades. He's led Canada to two Olympic golds, played an integral role in the 2015 World Championship team and dominated in all aspects during the best-on-best World Cup of Hockey, capped off by his second major MVP award of the summer.

If NHL players are truly done going to the Olympics, the debate is likely over - Sidney Crosby would go down as one of the greatest NHL Olympians of all-time and has arguably put together one of the best bodies of work internationally in Canadian hockey history.

2 Worst: Mike Liut

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Mike Liut put up solid win totals throughout his NHL career and in international competitions, but a deeper dive into the numbers show that on any other team, Liut's win to loss ratio numbers might be the other way around.

A career 3.49 GAA / .881 SV% in the NHL (with worse numbes in the WHA, by the way), Liut rode Canada's vaunted 1981 Canada Cup roster to the finals before getting smoked by the Soviets in the finals, letting in eight - you read that right - in the tournament's biggest game. Granted, the team in front of him seemingly did not show up to play, but a quick look at the game tape shows the Liut could have done much more on several of the shots that got by him.

1 Best: Wayne Gretzky

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Even though The Great One never won an Olympic medal (let alone gold) as a player (he did win one as part of the 2002 management team), it's hard to keep him off the top of any "all-time" list, regardless of what aspect of the sport you are talking about. Gretzky piled up 64 points in 39 World Cup games and added four points in six games in Nagano during the 1998 Olympics, a moment in hockey history that will always be remembered for Marc Crawford's decision to leave Gretzky on the bench during the semi-final shootout against Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic.

Above all, he remains the greatest player of all-time and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would think that Canada wouldn't have won multiple gold medals had Gretzky been allowed to participate in a few Olympic games during the prime of his career.

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