Using Canada’s prior roster building to help project the 2022 Olympic team

Using Canada’s prior roster building to help project the 2022 Olympic team

It has been eight years since Canada participated in a true best-on-best tournament, and the landscape of the hockey world has changed dramatically since then.

In February of 2014, Nathan MacKinnon was in the middle of his rookie season in Colorado, still a year away from his multi-year slump before breaking out as one of the biggest stars in the NHL. Brad Marchand’s career high for points in a season was 55, 45 short of the 100 he’d put up five years later. Mark Stone had just been sent back to the AHL again after a handful of NHL call-ups. And, most importantly, Connor McDavid was just in the middle of his OHL career.

While many of the players that will be among Canada’s best in Beijing in February of 2022 got a chance to play in another true best-on-best tournament at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey (notably McDavid, MacKinnon and Marchand), Canada and the USA only being able to select players that were 24 or older in order for Team North America to form their team further muddies what the Olympic roster in 2022 could look like.

How will Canada blend this old guard with the new wave of NHL stars when there is so little recent history to go on?

What We Know

While it’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at Hockey Canada as a monolithic entity that has the same management group making decisions every year, it’s important to look at the people who will actually be making the personnel decisions for the Canadian team in Beijing.

Doug Armstrong (GM of the St. Louis Blues) and Ken Holland (GM of the Edmonton Oilers) are co-general managers for the 2022 Canadian team, and they represent the only members of the management team returning from either the 2014 Olympics or 2016 World Cup. 

The other members of the 2022 management team are Ron Francis (GM of the Seattle Kraken), Don Sweeney (GM of the Boston Bruins), and Roberto Luongo (Special Advisor to the GM of the Florida Panthers).

In terms of the 2022 coaching staff, Barry Trotz (New York Islanders head coach) represents the only connection to either the 2014 or 2016 Canadian team, as he was an assistant coach for the 2016 World Cup team.

He will be joined by Canada’s 2022 head coach Jon Cooper (Tampa Bay Lightning head coach) and assistant coach Pete DeBoer (Vegas Golden Knights head coach), both of whom were assistant coaches for the North American team for the 2016 World Cup, along with assistant coach Bruce Cassidy (Boston Bruins head coach).

This is all important to note as the Canadian team will be taking a collaborative approach to building the roster.

“What we’ve done is we’ve projected out our rosters individually and then you see the synergy,” said Armstrong to NHL.com. “If [four] coaches and five managers have the same guys, they’re probably going to make the team.”

In terms of players we know are already on the team, Canada named Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo to the team in early October.

In addition to these three players, we know that Canada had to submit a list of 50 skaters and five goalies by October 15 that could represent the team in the February tournament.

Carey Price was given an exception to be the sixth goalie on the list due to his decision to enter the NHL’s player assistance program. In addition to Price, the full list of five other goalies has been made public:

One name that has been made public that may be a surprise to some is Calgary Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane. Through this story published by Sportsnet, we also know that Brayden Point made the list in addition to Crosby, McDavid and Pietrangelo, who of course are already named to the team.

https://www.sportsnet.ca/nhl/article/flames-andrew-mangiapane-making-case-team-canada-roster-spot/

The other 45 skaters’ names remain a mystery, although many NHL fans can surely deduce the majority of them.

Based on previous Olympic Games and the roster size being set at 25, we can assume that three of the six goalies will make the team, with the other 22 spots going to skaters (14 forwards, and eight defencemen).

Previous Management’s NHL Influence on Roster Building

Armstrong hasn’t had a chance to be the general manager of the Canadian team before Beijing, but he does have a wealth of experience being a member of the management team for Canada, notably at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, along with the 2016 World Cup.

And we may have gotten an inkling of how much Armstrong values both his connection to Pietrangelo in St. Louis, along with Pietrangelo’s prior experience with Canada on the biggest stage.

“Alex has got a wealth of experience from the [2014 Sochi Olympics] team to the [World Cup of Hockey 2016] team to the captain of a Stanley Cup champion (St. Louis Blues in 2019),” said Armstrong to NHL.com.

This begs the question of how the other two Canadian teams that Armstrong was a part of approached roster building via coaching staff or management team connections to individual players. 

As it turns out, the 2016 World Cup team in particular had more than half of the players on the team with an immediate NHL connection to either a coach or member of the management team.

2014 Canadian Olympic Team

LWCRWLDRDGInjured + Replaced
KunitzCrosbyBergeronKeithWeberPriceStamkos*
BennGetzlafPerryVlasicDoughtyLuongo
MarleauToewsCarterBouwmeesterPietrangeloSmith (DNP)
SharpDucheneNashHamhuisCoach + Management Connection
St. Louis*Subban (DNP)Coach Connection
Tavares (INJ)Management Connection

2016 Canadian World Cup Team

LWCRWLDRDGInjured + Replaced
MarchandCrosbyBergeronVlasicWeberPriceKeith*
TavaresGirouxStamkosBouwmeester*DoughtyCrawfordCarter*
Couture*ToewsPerry*PietrangeloBurnsHoltby (DNP)Seguin*
ThorntonO’Reilly*DucheneMuzzinBenn*
Getzlaf (INJ)

Another element that makes itself apparent on these two rosters is prior chemistry between linemates and defence partners. 

On the 2014 team, Crosby and Chris Kunitz had been long-time NHL linemates, and Bergeron had played with Crosby at three other international tournaments (2005 World Junior Championships, 2006 World Championships, and the 2010 Olympics). Getzlaf and Perry were also long-time linemates, and Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo had been defence partners for a year before teaming up in Sochi.

On the 2016 team, Brad Marchand, who was Bergeron’s linemate in Boston and Crosby’s offseason training partner, was added to the top line in place of Kunitz. Two other dynamic forward duos ultimately didn’t team up due to injury (Getzlaf and Perry once again, along with the Dallas Stars’ top line duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn).

On the back end, the team featured three sets of pairs that had familiarity with each other (Jay Bouwmeester with Pietrangelo in St. Louis, Jacob Muzzin with Drew Doughty in Los Angeles, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic with Brent Burns in San Jose), although none of them ended up as partners by the end of the tournament.

Protecting the Canadian Team

With this context in mind, we can try our hand at projecting the outlook of the 2022 Canadian roster.

Which players are getting bumps for having a connection to the coaching staff or management team, or from playing with other prominent players likely to be on the roster? Which good or bad starts matter, and which ones don’t?

Goaltending

This is almost inarguably the easiest position group to project given we know the six names involved, along with Canada’s depth at the position being questionable relative to other positions.

Locks

When it comes to poor (or incomplete) starts, there may be no better example of it not mattering than with Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price

While Price has yet to take the ice this season since voluntarily entering the NHL’s player assistance program, Fleury began his time with the Blackhawks posting a 1-7-0 record with an .881 save percentage in his first eight starts. 

The 2010 Olympian has rebounded nicely in his last three games to bring his save percentage up over the .900 plateau, but frankly none of this matters much for his candidacy as one of Canada’s three netminders.

Since being left off both the 2014 Olympic team and 2016 World Cup team, the 36-year-old has experienced a major career resurgence with the Vegas Golden Knights, taking the team to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017/18, and winning the Vezina trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 2020/21.

While Fleury’s connection to DeBoer went through its ups and downs in Vegas, it appears to be water under the bridge at this point.

Other Candidates

This is where things completely open up.

Jordan Binnington has had an up-and-down start to his career, but his connection to Armstrong along with his Stanley Cup run back in 2019 boosts his candidacy tremendously. We know Armstrong valued this with Pietrangelo, so the same could apply here.

In terms of big game experience, there are very few goaltenders in the history of the NHL that have a game seven Cup Final performance like the one Binnington had in 2019.

Carter Hart offers an even more extreme case of ups and downs as he appeared to have an inside track at one of the three spots for the Olympic team after two excellent years to start his career in the NHL, but that all came crashing down with a disastrous 2020/21 season.

Before that though, the 23-year-old had a great combination of draft pedigree (48th overall in 2016), early NHL success, and international success (2017 World Junior silver, 2018 World Junior gold, and 2019 World Championships silver, presided over by Ron Francis on the management team). Thankfully for Hart, he’s rebounded so well this season that his stock has soared close to where it had been previously.

Mackenzie Blackwood was the third string goalie on that 2019 World Championships team. While most of the talk in the offseason centered around Blackwood not getting the COVID vaccine, he did get the first dose on October 25, 10 days after Canada named him to the shortlist. The 24-year-old’s body of work this season is small but promising with only five starts, but his prior play in the league is not all too dissimilar from Hart.

Darcy Kuemper has the benefit of leading Canada’s most recent international entry to a gold medal at the 2021 World Championships. Given this team was managed by Roberto Luongo, and Luongo will be relied on for his goaltending expertise in Beijing, this presents a unique advantage that Kuemper may have over the others.

While a common sentiment for roster projection seems to be to take a younger goaltender with upside for the third string role for experience, this is not something that Canada did at the Olympics in 2014, instead choosing to take Mike Smith, who was just short of his 32nd birthday at the time. This would line up with Kuemper’s age exactly. The new Avalanche netminder got off to a rough start to the season, but has nearly a decade of experience to draw on.

Defence

Team Canada’s defence core is primed for a major overhaul in 2022. 

Shea Weber, Dan Hamhuis and Jay Bouwmeester will not be reprising their roles. Duncan Keith, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, P.K. Subban and Jacob Muzzin all have a non-zero chance of making it. Brent Burns is unlikely to be on the team.

Outside of Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty is the only other returning member of either the 2014 or 2016 team likely to be considered.

Projected Defencemen on List of 55

NameAgePositionNameAgePosition
Byram, Bowen20LDDoughty, Drew31RD
Chabot, Thomas24LDEkblad, Aaron25RD
Chychrun, Jakob23LDHamilton, Dougie28RD
Giordano, Mark38LDMakar, Cale23RD
Morrissey, Josh26LDParayko, Colton28RD
Nurse, Darnell26LDPetry, Jeff33RD
Pelech, Adam27LDPietrangelo, Alex31RD
Rielly, Morgan27LDPulock, Ryan27RD
Theodore, Shea26LDSpurgeon, Jared31RD
Toews, Devon27LD
Weegar, MacKenzie27LD

Locks

Alex Pietrangelo has already been named to the team, and brings the versatility to play either the right side, as is his typical position with the Vegas Golden Knights, or the left side, which he played alongside Brent Burns on the 2016 Canadian team.

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar seems to be the only other rearguard that is safe to pencil into the lineup. The 23-year-old trails only John Carlson for points per game among defencemen since joining the league in 2019/20, and his dynamic skating ability is a major factor in every phase of the game.

Other Candidates

It is difficult to not immediately go to chemistry with so many potential defence pairings that have already played together in the NHL.

Shea Theodore is a borderline lock without considering a potential pairing with teammate Alex Pietrangelo, as he’s coming off two straight seasons of finishing sixth in Norris voting as the top defenceman in the NHL, along with being connected to DeBoer on the coaching staff. While the two aren’t regular defence partners, they still play together intermittently.

Devon Toews and Makar formed one of the best pairings in the league last year in Colorado. Of the 57 pairs that played 350+ minutes at 5-on-5 in the 2020/21 season, Toews and Makar represented one of two to have both a GF% and xGF% North of 60%, according to Evolving Hockey. 

The highly touted Bowen Byram filled in superbly on Makar’s left side this season while Toews was working his way back from an undisclosed offseason surgery, although unfortunately went down with a concussion himself on November 11. Islanders coach Barry Trotz is of course very familiar with Toews having coached him on Long Island for two years.

Two others that Trotz is very familiar with are Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. These two have been inseparable since Trotz joined the Islanders in 2018/19, forming arguably the best shutdown duo in the league. Among the 57 pairing that played 350+ minutes in 2020/21 that maintained 60% or above in both GF% and xGF%, Pelech and Pulock were the other duo in addition to Toews and Makar, except the Isles duo played more than twice as much together as the Avs duo did.

The main issue presented here is that Pulock will miss the next four to six weeks with a lower body injury. Given Pelech is the higher profile player of the two though, he represents a serious threat to make the team with or without his defence partner.

The last duo that has familiarity together is the Florida Panthers top pairing duo of MacKenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad. While the 27-year-old Weegar broke out in a major way last season after 25-year-old Ekblad went down to injury, the two have played together the last two seasons while both are in the lineup. Weegar would also give Canada versatility given he’s a right-handed player that most commonly plays the left side.

If Canada were to simply go with these four pairings that all have familiarity playing together, along with having some kind of connection to either the management team or coaching staff (with the exception of Makar), it could certainly be argued that it would be more than good enough to get the job done.

But if they don’t get the job done, decisions to leave off more highly touted blueliners would be heavily scrutinized.

At the forefront of that conversation are Edmonton Oilers number one defenceman Darnell Nurse, and New Jersey Devils number one defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who finished seventh and fourth in Norris voting last season respectively. The two mammoth blueliners are similar in both stature and play, as both are not shy of firing the puck on net, ranking in the top five for both shots and goals among defencemen since the start of the 2020/21 season. 

Nurse takes a more physical approach to defending, while Hamilton relies more on his gigantic reach. Nurse also has the added benefit of his general manager being on the management staff for Canada, along with playing on the less competitive left side of the defence.

Others looking to crack that left side based on merit will be Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly, Senators Thomas Chabot, and Winnipeg Jets Josh Morrissey. On the right side, long-time Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon represents a safe, reliable veteran presence on the blueline, and Colton Parayko brings a big, rangy presence that Armstrong is all too familiar with in St. Louis.

If Canada wants more experience on the back-end with such a dramatic overhaul from 2016, Mark Giordano and Drew Doughty could fill that need. Giordano went from being captain of the Calgary Flames to captain of Francis’ Seattle Kraken, and Doughty started off his season on fire before suffering a knee injury early in the year. If Doughty is able to regain a semblance of his form from any of Canada’s previous tournaments he’s participated in (2010 Olympics, 2014 Olympics, or 2016 World Cup), it would be a major addition to the team.

Two defencemen that may have fallen out of the picture due to poor starts this season are Jakob Chychrun and Jeff Petry. Chychrun falls into a similar territory to Nurse and Hamilton in terms of goal-scoring talent from the back-end, along with having one of the most active defensive sticks in the league, while Petry’s smooth puck-handling and pinpoint accuracy have been a staple on the Montreal blueline for years now. It has been a disastrous start for both defencemen and their respective teams though, so it’s difficult to project them on the team at this time.

Forwards

The forward group could be thought of as difficult to project with so many players to name to the team, but Canada possesses such elite talent up front combined with effective veteran talent, that the process of narrowing it down may not be as daunting as one may think.

One area that is difficult to project, however, is which forwards may or may not have gotten the invite in mid-October.

There are young players such as Max Comtois, Nick Paul and Gabriel Vilardi that made really strong strides last year and were included on Canada’s 2021 World Championships team that would certainly be considered longshots to make the Olympics roster, but may have still been included on the long list in the hopes that they would take a step to start this season. We see that very same sentiment coming to fruition with Andrew Mangiapane

Could a highly touted winger like Alexis Lafreniere be on the list despite a poor rookie season if the Canadian brass were hoping for a breakout?

It’s also difficult to know if veterans like Ryan Getzlaf and Matt Duchene would have been included. They both have a long history playing for Canada, including at the Olympics, but their hot starts this year weren’t exactly expected when the list was submitted in mid-October.

Projected Forwards on List of 55

NameAgePositionNameAgePosition
Barzal, Mathew24CHall, Taylor30W
Bergeron, Patrice36CHuberdeau, Jonathan28W
Couturier, Sean28CHyman, Zach29W
Crosby, Sidney34CMangiapane, Andrew25W
Dubois, Pierre-Luc23CMantha, Anthony27W
Horvat, Bo26CMarchand, Brad33W
MacKinnon, Nathan26CMarner, Mitch24W
McDavid, Connor24CStone, Mark29W
O’Reilly, Ryan30CVerhaeghe, Carter26W
Point, Brayden25CWilson, Tom27W
Scheifele, Mark28CCirelli, Anthony24W/C
Seguin, Tyler29CGiroux, Claude33W/C
Suzuki, Nick22CKyrou, Jordan23W/C
Tavares, John31CReinhart, Sam26W/C
Toews, Jonathan33CStamkos, Steven31W/C

Locks

With no explanation required, Connor McDavid was already named to the team. One interesting area to track will be if he lines up at centre, along with who he’ll be playing with. 

Jonathan Huberdeau, a natural left wing, and Mark Stone, a natural right wing, are two players that could find themselves playing with McDavid.

Huberdeau has experience meshing very well with another elite centre in Aleksander Barkov, along with carrying his own line away from Barkov, ultimately placing fourth in scoring over the last four seasons among Canadian players.

Stone is well established as one of if not the best defensive winger in the NHL, placing top five in Selke voting each of the last three seasons, along with having a connection to DeBoer on the coaching staff.

Should Canada wish to team McDavid up with more of a pure shooter, Nathan MacKinnon will be available as a centre whose game should translate well to the wing. The last time Jon Cooper got to coach MacKinnon on Team North America in 2016, the now 26-year-old still hadn’t broken out as an elite player in the league. Cooper will now get to deploy arguably the best combination of power, skill and speed in the league where he pleases.

A tempting option may be to combine the Nova Scotia trio of Sidney Crosby (already named to the team), Brad Marchand and MacKinnon, but Marchand’s 12-year linemate Patrice Bergeron will almost assuredly combine with the two to reprise one of the most dominant lines Canada has ever had in international play.

There’s a good chance that these three linemates will be the three oldest members of the forward group, all between 33 and 36 years old. Crosby has started off slowly coming back from a wrist injury, while Marchand continues to put points on the board, trailing just McDavid and Leon Draisaitl since the 2016 World Cup. 

Bergeron is fresh off of his 10th consecutive season being a Selke finalist, and is shaping up to do it again, leading the entire NHL in almost every suppression metric (corsi against, fenwick against, expected goals against) according to Natural Stat Trick, along with being just a shade under a point per game. He also combines with his linemate Marchand to form a formidable short-handed duo.

Another player that will surely be used on the penalty kill is 2019 Selke and Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly. This is where the definition of “lock” becomes much more murky, as one could argue a player such as Sean Couturier possesses many of the same qualities as O’Reilly: elite level defence, dominant faceoff ability from the left side, fantastic playmaking skills, and the ability to dictate play. 

Where they differ, however, is Armstrong went out and traded for a then disgruntled O’Reilly from the Sabres for a package that included a recent former first round pick along with an upcoming first round pick, and the 30-year-old went on to lead Armstrong’s Blues to a Stanley Cup title, taking home MVP honours.

A player with zero doubt of making the roster is Brayden Point. While McDavid is the most impactful player in transition in the NHL, Point may be the most efficient at it. Similar to Bergeron, he also occupies a unique role on the power play in the bumper position. 

Despite being only 25 years old, he has a good argument for being the most proven big game performer on the team, having historically strong back-to-back playoff runs. There is no chance that Cooper won’t have his top line centre with the team in Beijing.

Other Candidates

This only leaves a handful of spots, five to be precise. 

As with the defence group, there are numerous options to consider as a result of chemistry.

Maybe the hottest debate on the roster is whether to include Zach Hyman on McDavid’s left wing. The 29-year-old played with elite players his entire career in Toronto, including Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and two other fellow Canadians that will be in serious contention to make the roster, John Tavares and Mitch Marner

The argument for a player like Hyman is that he’s a player that can do all the heavy lifting defensively on the line he’s on, creating more space for other talented players. The argument against Hyman would be bringing players with more talent that can hopefully replicate a lot of those elements that Hyman brings. A player like Stone comes to mind for that.

Marner seems like a safer bet to make the team over Tavares due to position and penalty kill usage, but Tavares has the history of playing on both the 2014 and 2016 teams, along with having a very strong start to his season. 

The Lightning have a couple intriguing options to put alongside Point in Steven Stamkos and Anthony Cirelli. Both players are natural centres, but Stamkos has played on Point’s left and Cirelli is currently playing on Point’s right with Nikita Kucherov injured. Stamkos represents a more intriguing option as he presents a rarity on the Canadian roster: an elite right-handed shot that can be used at the left circle on the power play. MacKinnon will surely occupy this spot on one unit, but Stamkos could certainly fill in in this spot alongside Point in the slot on another unit.

Two forwards that may find themselves on the outside looking in are Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. The 2020 Selke winner Couturier could easily fill a role as a centre or as an extra forward with his versatility, but Canada may opt to select a natural winger instead.

Giroux now slots in as a natural left wing, yet possesses unique faceoff-winning ability as a right-hand shot. The only other player projected to be on the roster that possesses a similar ability is Bergeron. Giroux has long been just short of making the team, and this year may be shaping up to be more of the same.

There are numerous players who are in the process of breakout seasons that could stake their claim to a spot, the most intriguing options being Calgary Flames winger Andrew Mangiapane, Florida Panthers winger Carter Verhaeghe, and St. Louis Blues winger Jordan Kyrou. All three are building on their strong play last year, with Mangiapane scoring at nearly a goal per game clip, Kyrou flashing his patented speed alongside O’Reilly on the top line, and Verhaeghe producing with or without Barkov as his centre.

On the other end of the spectrum, veterans Jonathan Toews and Tyler Seguin likely were extended invites due to missing such large amounts of time, but seem unlikely to make the roster at this point.

The most interesting debate for a spot may be Islanders centre Mathew Barzal, as his skating and puck control ability is among the very best in the league. He also has a connection to Barry Trotz on the coaching staff. The issue with projecting Barzal to the roster, however, is that Canada already possesses so much speed and skill with players like McDavid, MacKinnon and Point. You can never have too much, but Canada may prefer a more well-rounded player in his place.

Winnipeg Jets top two centres Mark Scheifele and Pierre-Luc Dubois also offer Canada a couple of different options. Dubois’ speed could be an asset, and Scheifele offers the ability to play the bumper role on the power play. While Dubois has had a strong start to the season, Scheifele has been one of the more consistent point producers in the league, ranking sixth among all Canadians in points since the start of 2016/17.

Leave a Reply