As we’re all well aware, NHL players aren’t going to compete in the Olympics next month in Pyeongchang. The billionaires at the negotiating tables couldn’t reach an agreement, and as a result hockey fans around the globe will care much less about Olympic hockey this year.
The rosters in Pyeongchang will look wildly different than in Olympic years’ past. Instead, there are names on Team Canada that you’ve never even heard of. There are names that you have heard before, only because they’ve been spit out the bottom of the NHL and are now toiling away in Europe.
Today we decided to put together a hypothetical Team Canada; that is to say, what would team Canada look like if NHL players were permitted to participate?
The hypothetical team is obviously stacked, and it’s a shame for many players whose Olympic windows are closing, as well as those whose windows have just opened. The world will not get a chance to see Connor McDavid represent his country on an international level, and that in itself is a travesty.
As always with Team Canada, there were some tough cuts to make, but with the roster I’ve compiled here, I’m confident Canada would be heading for its third straight Olympic Gold.
The list of players I left off the squad could probably compete for Gold, no doubt. Among them: Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin, Nathan MacKinnon, Shea Weber, Mark Stone. This list goes on.
(I can already hear half of you shouting at me, wondering how I could leave Toews off the list. Shut up, he’s overrated. Deal with it.)
Here’s the roster, starting with the goaltending and working our way up through the forward lines:
20 Carey Price (1G)
Who else could we reasonably name as the Team Canada starter? Carey Price was a brick wall in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, backstopping the nation to its second consecutive Olympic Gold. Price had an incredibly well-structured team in front of him, and you could count the difficult saves he had to make on one hand over the final two games, both shutouts.
Honestly, Price may not be the best Canadian goalie as of right now, but he’s still damn good and he earns this spot based on both merit and his past performance in the Olympics. Now, if Montreal keeps heading in the direction they are there’s no telling what that might do to Price’s confidence over the next four years. If it destroys him, it could mean he’s on the outside looking in come 2022 when NHLers return to the Olympics (book it).
19 Braden Holtby (2G)
Our backup goalie for the hypothetical Canadian Olympic Team in the 2018 Pyeongchang games is Braden Holtby, and why not? The Capitals netminder was the Vezina winner in 2016 as the league’s best goalie, and he was again nominated in 2017, ultimately losing the crown to Russian Sergei Bobrovsky.
This would have been the first time in Holtby’s career that he got to represent Team Canada on the Olympic stage, so it’s a shame for the native of Lloydminster. Who knows if he’ll still be elite when it comes time for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, so this might have been his only shot at the Olympics. I’m not naming a 3rd goalie (because who cares about that one, anyway?), but if I were to do it, it would be a coin flip between Devan Dubnyk and Marc-Andre Fleury.
18 Drew Doughty (1LD)
Canada’s D corps was incredible in Sochi, and it would have been even better if they were allowed to send the cream of the crop to Pyeongchang. Defense is probably the strongest position for Team Canada, and that’s saying something when you see how stacked they are up front. The top pairing would feature 2016 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty on the left side.
Yes, I have Doughty playing his off-side, as my Olympic roster here has four right-handed shots and just two left-handed shots, so someone had to do it. Doughty would most likely be wearing a letter for Team Canada if the Olympics for NHLers were a go, as he won it all with Canada in 2010 and 2014. Doughty is a major talent capable of adjusting to his off-side, if asked to do so.
17 Alex Pietrangelo (1RD)
Doughty’s defense partner in the top-paring on our hypothetical Team Canada is none other than St. Louis Blues rearguard Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo would be another returning member of Team Canada, and rightfully so. He’s having probably the best season of his career—at least from an offensive standpoint—and is in the prime of his career as a D man.
Having Doughty and Pietrangelo as your top pair is a pretty fortunate scenario for any team, and the only nation that could compete with Canada on the back end is probably Sweden. That nation boasts the likes of Erik Karlsson, John Klingberg, Victor Hedman, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, so they’d obviously be a worthy foe. However, thanks to the greed of Gary Bettman and the IOC, we will be robbed of the matchup in 2018.
16 Duncan Keith (2LD)
Duncan Keith has been a Team Canada staple for the past two Olympic Games, taking home Gold in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014. He’s having a bit of a down year in with the Blackhawks so far in 2017-18, and he’s surprisingly still searching for his first goal of the season at the time of writing (he’s notched 20 assists, mind you). Nonetheless, Keith is still an elite defender and earns his spot here thanks to that and experience.
Keith is one of the Canadian Olympians who is probably the most pissed about the absence of NHL players in Pyeongchang, because at 34 years old he’s unlikely to be a candidate for the squad in Beijing in 2022. Of course your heart can only bleed so much for a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time Stanley Cup champion, but still.
15 Brent Burns (2RD)
Brent Burns is also having somewhat of a down year from an offensive standpoint, but the reigning Norris Trophy winner is still a shoo-in on our hypothetical Team Canada. He’d be patrolling the second pairing with Keith, and methinks that would be a pairing that would complement each other well.
Of all the Canadian hockey players who are probably pissed at the absence of NHLers at the Olympics this year, this second pairing is probably the most irate. He wasn’t selected to the 2014 team, but would have certainly made it this season. Sure, he has a chance to make the team in 2022, but at that point he’ll be pushing 37 years old. It’s not impossible that he’ll be there, but Dan Hamuis was the oldest rearguard on the 2014 squad at 31, so, yeah.
14 Marc-Edouard Vlasic (3LD)
While I actually tend to disagree with the line of thinking that you need a true “checking line” on an Olympic Team, I do believe that you need a few defensemen who are capable of calming things down. Marc-Edouard Vlasic served that purpose in 2014, and he’d have served it again in 2018 if the IOC and Gary Bettman had allowed it.
“Pickles” is widely regarded as one of the best defensive D-men in the NHL, and this probably is his last kick at the can as well. He’ll be in his mid-30s when it’s time to go to Beijing in 2022, and it’s more than likely that Team Canada execs will be looking at more youthful options when the time comes. Vlasic has his Olympic Gold, but I’m sure he’d like to try for one more.
13 P.K. Subban (3RD)
Rounding out our top-six defense is P.K. Subban, who sort of served as an extra defender in Sochi in 2014. Subban has his fair share of doubters across the league, most of whom subscribe to the old school ideology and don’t have time for Subban’s on-ice antics, such as enthusiastically celebrating goals and appearing to have a good time playing hockey (the gall!).
Subban is young enough, however, that he stands a decent shot at making the 2022 Beijing squad as well. Heck, he could even be wearing a letter at those games. Rumor has it the NHL is keen on sending its players to Beijing in an attempt to grow the game, and who better to grow it than Subban? I’m actually surprised the NHL doesn’t use Subban more in its marketing, but that brings me right back to the dated old-school ideology that plagues the “200 hockey men”.
12 Brad Marchand (1LW)
Brad Marchand just seems to keep getting better, much to the chagrin of 30 NHL teams. Before Marchand hit elite status he was already the most hated player in the league, so the fact that he puts up more points than 99% of his peers in the process now is frustrating to many. Players simply hate playing against Marchand, which is why he’d be a no-brainer for Team Canada if the NHL were sending players to Pyeongchang.
The World Cup of Hockey last year (does anyone remember that stupid thing?) featured Marchand on a line with Sidney Crosby, and it was quite a dangerous unit. That’s why I have Marchand on the top line here—he’s probably not the best Canadian LW (though he's close), but he has proven he can produce on Crosby’s flank, and Crosby still holds the coveted spot as the best player in the world, IMO.
11 Sidney Crosby (1C)
Speak of the devil. Of course Sidney Crosby is the top-line center for our hypothetical 2018 Team Canada. Come 2022 it’s likely that the torch will be passed to Connor McDavid, but for now the reigning Cup and Conn Smythe captain gets the honor. Crosby has done nothing but deliver on the national stage, so he’s earned this spot. He'd be captain of this team for sure.
If the NHL is trying to grow the game globally (they’re on record saying that they are), then sending players to the Olympics would have been a pretty big step in that direction. Crosby will likely still be part of the festivities in 2022, but he’ll be out of his prime by then. Yes, the world will have McDavid to marvel over, but they miss out on one of the greatest players of all time in his prime with Crosby here.
10 Jeff Carter (1RW)
Might as well load up the top line with veterans, and Jeff Carter has shown he has what it takes on the big stage. Carter won with Canada in Sochi in 2014, and he is also a two-time Cup champion. He often plays center in L.A., but he’s been shifted to the wing in international play thanks to the depth down the middle, and that’s where he ends up on our hypothetical depth chart.
Carter obviously hasn’t played much this season, suffering an injury in the first week of the year that’s going to keep him sidelined until around the Olympics. That said, Carter deserves to be there based on his year last season, and also factoring in international experience. Hockey Canada likes to pick winners, and Carter has at least proven to be that. He was also led all Canadian forwards in points in Sochi in 2014.
9 Jamie Benn (2LW)
Jamie Benn was the only member of the 2014 Team Canada in Sochi that did not get invited to the initial camp in the summer prior (2013). The winger worked his way onto the team, and ended up being part of one of the more potent units on Team Canada, lining up with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf in 2014. That’s a pretty intimidating trio.
It’s tough to imagine Corey Perry being selected to this team based on recent results, so that line likely wouldn’t have been reunited if NHLers were headed to Pyeongchang. Benn is still arguably the best Canadian LW on the planet though, so he would factor into Team Canada’s top six for sure. I’ve actually made the bold choice to leave Tyler Seguin off this squad (there are simply too many centers), so he won’t be on a line with his buddy from Dallas.
8 Connor McDavid (2C)
If Sidney Crosby is still the best hockey player on the planet, then Connor McDavid isn’t far behind him. The reigning Hart Trophy winner skates like no other human on the planet, and if you’ve watched an Edmonton game over the past two seasons, you know that’s not a hyperbolic statement. While he has anchors for wingers in Edmonton this year, that would not have been the case if NHLers were sent to Pyeongchang.
Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has all but stripped the winger cupboard in Edmonton, which is likely a major reason why McDavid is not atop the NHL scoring race. In any case, Canada’s top two centers on this hypothetical roster also happen to be probably the top two hockey players on the planet right now, so if I were playing for any other nation I would be somewhat relieved NHL players aren’t going to Pyeongchang.
7 Claude Giroux (2RW)
Claude Giroux was probably the biggest snub off of the 2014 Sochi roster. Giroux is perennially an offensive leader in this league, and although you’d count his 58 point 2016-17 campaign as a down year, he’s right back up to his old self this year. The Flyers moved him onto the wing, and since that helped him so much that’s what we’re doing here on hypothetical Team Canada as well.
Giroux’s being put in a position to succeed here, playing with Benn and McDavid. It feels like a good mix of players, as McDavid can be the set-up guy for both wingers, and both Giroux and Benn are also able to distribute the puck if need be. It would be a tough trio to defend against. All three players are young enough to have a shot at Beijing 2020, so perhaps this ship hasn’t quite sailed.
6 Taylor Hall (3LW)
After getting left off the Canadian Olympic squad in 2014, Taylor Hall has done enough in my opinion to earn a spot on the 2018 hypothetical team. Heck, he’d probably done enough to earn the spot in Sochi, considering that he finished the regular season as the NHL’s leading scorer among LWs. If NHL players were heading to Pyeongchang, Hall would be playing a major role.
As I stated earlier, I don’t believe in the whole “you need to build a best-of-the-best team the same way you build an NHL team” ideology. So no, you will not find any Kris Drapers on my Olympic roster here. All four lines on my hypothetical Olympic will be a threat to score, as illustrated by Hall being on the 3rd line.
5 John Tavares (3C)
John Tavares is having a fine season with the New York Islanders, situated among the league’s leading scorers (conveniently for him, in a contract year). He was of course a member of the 2014 Sochi Gold Medal team, but that was likely a bittersweet event for him, as he went down with an injury that ended his season during the tournament (which must have just thrilled the Islanders).
Tavares finds himself pivoting the 3rd line on our hypothetical Team Canada, which is fair. Don’t hate me, but I actually gave this spot to Tavares over Steven Stamkos, who you will soon see I actually shifted to the wing. The reasoning here is that Stamkos has spent NHL time at both positions (and has succeeded), whereas Tavares has been a pivot his whole career.
4 Steven Stamkos (3RW)
You know when you have Steven Stamkos as your 3rd line winger, you’re in an enviable position. That’s what our hypothetical Team Canada has, and Stamkos is slotted into a line with Tavares and Hall. Yes, all three of the third liners here are currently in the top 20 in NHL scoring, in case you were wondering how stacked this Canadian Olympic Team could have been. Stamkos would be playing in his first Olympics, missing the 2014 games due to injury.
Stammer has battled injuries over the past few seasons, but 2017-18 has been not only healthy but productive for the 27-year-old. He, along with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov make up the best line in the NHL, and it’s not very close—especially since the Blues' Jaden Schwartz went down with an injury, breaking up his line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Brayden Schenn.
3 Jaden Schwartz (4LW)
Speaking of Jaden Schwartz, here he is on our hypothetical Team Canada as a fourth liner! I could have made the fourth line up of three centers who are arguably actually better than Schwartz, but that being said he was right among the league scoring leaders this season before suffering an injury that has kept him sidelined since Dec. 9.
He’s slated to be healthy again right away (perhaps he already is as you read this), which would be just in time for the 2018 games in Pyeongchang. If Schwartz keeps up his elite level of play for the next few years, there’s plenty of reason to believe we’ll be seeing the talented winger in Canadian silks come the 2022 games in Beijing. Alas, the world will have to wait until then.
2 Ryan Getzlaf (4C)
I’ll probably get some flak for including Ryan Getzlaf here instead of Jonathan Toews, but have you honestly watched the two players play hockey over the past few years? With due respect to Toews, he’s not an elite-level performer anymore, and Getzlaf still has the ability to control a hockey game better than almost any other player.
Getzlaf is 32 years old, which makes him the oldest forward on our roster. While 32 is getting up there for an NHL forward, I’d venture to say Getzlaf has miles left in the tank. Speed has never been his calling card, as he’s more the type of player who calms things down on the ice and dictates the pace himself. As a two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, Getzy would wear a letter for our hypothetical Team Canada.
1 Brayden Schenn (4RW)
Perhaps one of the more surprising names on the list is our fourth line right winger, Brayden Schenn. Schenn and Schwartz of course play on a line together in St. Louis these days with Vladimir Tarasenko, and Schenn usually centers that unit. Here we’ve reunited Schann and Schwartz, but shifted Schenn to the wing and put Getzlaf between them.
Again, I can hear you all griping, saying “if you’re going to move a center to the wing anyway, then why not Toews instead?” I’ve already told you, Captain Serious is overrated and doesn’t deserve a spot on my hypothetical Team Canada, and I’ll fight whoever disagrees—unless you’re actually Jonathan Toews, then I rescind my challenge. Getzlaf of course won’t be part of the 2022 squad, but there’s a decent chance you’ll find at least one of Schenn or Schwartz in Beijing.