The rosters for September’s World Cup of Hockey were finally finalized yesterday, with 173 National Hockey League players named to the eight teams. Some eyebrows were raised, though, by the small number of Calgary Flames players named to the competition.
Top-six forwards Johnny Gaudreau (North America), Sean Monahan (North America) and Michael Frolik (Czech Republic) are headed to the World Cup, along with blueliner Jyrki Jokipakka (Finland) and pending unrestricted free agent Jakub Nakladal (Czech Republic). Not headed to the tournament, at least for now, are everybody else on the Flames roster including the three best defensemen (Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton) and the rest of their top six (Mikael Backlund and Sam Bennett).
Honestly? I’m kind of happy more Flames aren’t going.
If I’m an NHL general manager, I’m not a huge fan of the World Cup.
It takes place a couple weeks before the season starts and places many of each team’s best players in a really unpredictable environment. Considering the parity in the league, how jam-packed the Pacific Division has been in recent years and how important a good start will be to the Flames’ success in 2016-17, I’m not overly upset that more of the Flames’ important players aren’t taken.
But when you look around at the number of important players from divisional rivals, suddenly the World Cup begins to get really, really interesting.
- ANAHEIM: both of their goalies (restricted free agent Freddie Andersen and John Gibson), one of their defenders (restricted free agent Sami Vatanen) and three key forwards (Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg).
- ARIZONA: two defenders (Zbynek Michalek and their best player Oliver Ekman-Larsson) and two forwards (Martin Hanzal and restricted free agent Tobias Rieder).
- EDMONTON: their top defender (Andrej Sekera) and four forwards (Lauri Korpikoski and three key players in Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins).
- LOS ANGELES: their starting goalie (Jonathan Quick), their two best defensemen (Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin) and three forwards (Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and their best player Anze Kopitar).
- SAN JOSE: three defenders (pending unrestricted free agent Roman Polak and their two most important blueliners Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic) and four key forwards (Joonas Donskoi, Joe Thornton, restricted free agent Tomas Hertl and Joe Pavelski).
- VANCOUVER: their backup goalie (Jacob Markstrom), a defender (Luca Sbisa) and three forwards (Jannik Hansen and their two most important players Daniel and Henrik Sedin).
Most of the Pacific Division teams have a lot of skin in the game, and the top Pacific Division teams – the clubs that the Flames need to topple in order to return to the post-season – all have a really big chunk of cap space and talent tied up in the September tournament. In particular, San Jose has their big guns and the Kings and Ducks have their goalies (and other key figures there). The Flames don’t have a netminder signed for next season and other than Freddie Andersen, none of their likely future goaltenders are in the tournament. (See you at training camp, Freddie!)
There are some risks, but Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan get a few weeks in some intense competition to get going and they’re younger than the core players going from every other team aside from Edmonton. Meanwhile, the players that the Flames are going to rely on the most – their skilled defensemen – will be fresh as a daisy and perhaps a bit antsy after watching hockey for two weeks. Considering how important Giordano, Brodie and Hamilton are to the team’s success and how rough they were last October, having them fresh and motivated will be crucial to the Flames clawing their way back into the post-season.
The World Cup runs September 17 to October 1, 2016 in Toronto.