5 fun things to look for from Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey

USATSI_9529887_168381339_lowres
Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

Hey, guess what – the World Cup is almost upon us! And by that, I mean the games that actually mean something in-tournament. Exhibition games for a preseason tournament is fun and all, but it makes for better competition when the results actually count, when winning a game actually means something beyond pride.

The tournament officially kicks off this Saturday, Sept. 17. The night game on Day 1 will feature Team Canada taking on Team Czech Republic. And hey, we here at the Nation Network cover mostly Canadian-based teams, so it stands to reason that a fair number of us are Canadian and will be rooting for the Canadian men’s national team. So let’s take a look at just what we’ve got to look forward to when it comes to the team representing our home and native land.

1. It’s the best with the best

Canadians love hockey and Canada produces more professional hockey players than any other country. So whenever there’s an international hockey competition, there’s always a lot of attention given to just who makes Team Canada’s roster. There are so many players to choose from, and a lot of elite level guys are inevitably left off the roster. 

This isn’t the Olympics, but it’s kind of the next best thing. A 30 team salary capped league isn’t conducive to stacking all of the best players on one team together, so best-on-best international tournaments is our best chance to watch the best players in the world play on a team composed entirely of players that are ridiculously good at hockey.

Of course some players bowed out due to lingering ailments, but then again, this brings us back to the earlier point: elite players are always left off the roster, but Canada has enough elite depth that even when one bluechip talent goes down (Jamie Benn), there’s another player waiting to take his place (Logan Couture).

The Olympics are pretty much the only other time we get to see the very best playing alongside each other. (Well, that and the All-Star Game which is, uh, the All-Star Game.) Let’s embrace it while we can.

2. Fun line combos

A fun fantasy exercise is to imagine how certain players would perform together. We get dynamic duos in the NHL, like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, but you know what’s fun? Seeing really, really talented rivals suddenly be forced to play on the same line.

Crosby on a team with Claude Giroux? Hell, yes. How about Crosby playing with Brad Marchand, a player everyone except Boston Bruins fans love to hate? Or with Joe Thornton, the very player he faced off against just in June in the Stanley Cup Final?

Team Canada has so many centres, a lot of them have to be relegated to the wing. They also have so many high-level players that they have a deadly power play pretty much by default. You’re going to get Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and John Tavares all on the ice together in five-on-four situations. At the same time! 

That level of firepower on just one team is awesome. And the possibilities for Canada’s lineup are pretty much endless.

3. How’s the defence going to hold up?

T.J. Brodie. Mark Giordano. Kris Letang. P.K. Subban. All four are Norris-calibre defenseman and none of them are on Team Canada’s roster. 

And sure, one could make the argument that it’s a case of Canada having so many good players that some high-end defenseman simply have to be left off the roster. But it’s more likely that Canada has simply chosen to go a suboptimal route, for some reason. 

team canada defence

Chart via Corsica. Click on the chart for a full-sized version. Top left is most difficult circumstances, bottom right is comparatively easier; dark blue is a positive relative possession player, while dark red is negative.

I know I’m biased, but looking at a basic usage chart and seeing Brodie and Giordano somehow not on the roster is mind boggling. It’s especially confusing when you factor in Canada’s apparent obsession with keeping pairs together – the defence is comprised of two Blues, two Kings, two Sharks, and one Predator Hab. Team Canada brought three pairs, but decided not to go with the duo that combined for 101 points while playing in the toughest circumstances, Marc-Edouard Vlasic aside? Sure. Okay. 

It’s easy to quibble on this while forgetting that the seven defencemen Team Canada did select are all still very high level players, but that sort of second guessing is as much a national pass time as the game of hockey itself. What’s going to be interesting is to see how Team Canada’s defense hold up against the competition and whether or not the team incurs a cost for not choosing some of the best players available for the World Cup tournament.

4. Welcome back, Carey Price

In 2015, Carey Price did something only six goalies before him have accomplished: he won the Hart Trophy. 

Price took Canadiens team that permitted shots against at a high rate and struggled to control the run of play and led them to the top of the Atlantic Division. He started 66 games for the Canadiens and allowed one goal or fewer in 29 of those starts. His .933 save percentage was the best among all regular starters; his .942 save percentage at even strength, the same. Price also got Montreal – almost singlehandedly – to the second round of the playoffs.

In short: the Canadiens would have been screwed without him. And indeed, in 2015-16, Price put himself in the running for the Hart Trophy once again. An MCL sprain kept him sidelined for most of the season, and without him, Montreal looked like the structurally flawed club they were all along. As Price convalesced, the Canadiens floundered after an excellent start (that Price was in net for most of, incidentally).

Now Price is healthy. He’s playing again for the first time since Nov. 25, 2015. And while there’s no doubt there’s rust to be shaken off, it’s going to be fun to watch the 2015 Vezina winner battle it out with his teammate, Braden Holtby, the 2016 Vezina winner, as he works to return to the form that unequivocally got him named to Team Canada.

5. Mike Babcock doing Mike Babcock things

The World Cup isn’t the Olympics. It doesn’t hold the same level of prestige; it probably never will. But Team Canada has the same head coach they’ve had in place when they won the Gold Medal in back-to-back Winter Olympics. 

Remember how dominant Team Canada was in 2014? They didn’t score all that much and it didn’t matter. I remember that 1-0 semi-final win against the Americans and it was the most dominant 1-0 game I’ve ever seen. The result was never in doubt, even though all it would have taken was one shot to change things.

Or, to look at it from a different angle: Babcock is now one year into his tenure as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a notably terrible team. Before Babcock, in 2014-15, the Leafs controlled 46.43 percent of shot attempts at five-on-five and with Babcock in 2015-16 – with a roster designed to fail, mind you – they jumped up to 51.34 percent. 

And now Babcock gets to work with actually good players again (and before Leafs fans get uppity, good players who are at the peak of their careers now, with no waiting required). It’ll be fun to see how it goes this time around. Can Babcock lead Canada to another tournament win?

    • Spydyr

      Steady as a rock. Makes very few mistakes. Makes the right first pass most times. Uses his size well. Has lots of international experience.

      That is just a few things I thought up in a minute. I’m sure there are more.

    • The Dave

      Canada has a ton of talented right shooting defenceman (most aren’t on this team ironically). J-Bo shoots left, skates well (which probably factors in on the larger ice surface) and Doug Armstrong is the GM of the Blues and Team Canada.

      Although things got weird when Pietrangelo (also on the Blues) got shifted over to play on the right side, so that he got the chance to earn his -3 against the Americans.

      Meanwhile P.K Subban is warming the pine at home.

      I’m actually kind of not into Team Canada at all this tournament. This team reminds me of the 2006 Turin Olympic team. No young guys (I get that the U23 team sniped a bunch, but there were still good ones available), mostly older, slower, bigger players for an International ice surface. Meanwhile we’ve got that nice chart showing defencemen in this post – the 3 guys with nice big red dots all made the team, while better players got cut.

      Normally the appeal is seeing superstar combos but instead of pairing Crosby with Stamkos they opted to play him with Brad Marchand. You know, the classic trigger man.

      What a joke.

  • The Sultan

    I dream of a day I can come here and not read anything related to Edmonton or how bad the Oilers suck. It’s fun, but gets boring after 11 years without a playoff appearance.

  • Hockeyfan

    Looks good for JG so far being by far the best player on team NA. AM or the nugget should not be on this team, Mcd should not be captain, too young, hasn’t proven anything, what leadership?
    Good thing the gm and coach are running things, they will realize there is more to hockey than skating really fast and being a -1 whenyour team scores 7 goals, eh Mcminus and nugget. oilers will be a very bad team again.

      • Hockeyfan

        How can i resist. There is nothing but material when it comes to the oilers ineptitude at the game of hockey. There is so much to bash and so little time, the season is starting soon, oil fans fantasy season comes to an end and the spiral to record setting futility continues. By Jan you all will be planning lotto parties and nicknames for your new saviour.

  • A-Mc

    I’d be lying if i said I’m mostly interested in Team Canada; Team NA all the way! If NA and Canada are playing at the same time, I’ll change the channel to the NA game for sure.

    The NA team is exciting to watch and i can’t wait until their next game.

  • A-Mc

    I’d put money on the Team Canada roster being what it is because of familiarity from prior teams that have won. I bet you that Mike Babcock has a huge say in the matter as well, and he values experience and knowing what to expect out of guys (he’s said so himself).

    If mike babcock says he wants Bowmeester, then he gets Bowmeester. The guy keeps winning and you can’t argue with that.

    • Hockeyfan

      Sorry man, Babsy did everything but win last year. Way overated, now under the Shamaplan, which is basically oil rebuild model 2.0, he will be losing for the next 6 years at least.

      • A-Mc

        I’m talking about his team canada coaching record, not his DET/TOR coaching record. He has had significant input in the team composition in the past, and the team keeps winning. This is why i say that the team comp for this year is likely because Babcock trusts the roster and it’s proven to be a winner in the past.

    • Randaman

      The “guy” keeps winning??

      I could’ve coached the team to gold in 2010!

      Babcock is vastly overrated. He’s a good coach but the team wins, not Babcock

      • A-Mc

        Yea i get that but the team doesnt pick itself. The GM and Coach do and if the coach is saying to grab bowmeester over PK Subban, then he gets Bowmeester over Subban.

        There is no argument from me that the roster is stacked. I share your sentiment that a monkey could probably coach that team to victory. That still doesn’t change the fact that the coach is the same for a reason, and he helps to select a similar roster for a reason.

  • Derzie

    This tourney is weird. I’m rooting for players, not teams. Rooting for a team with Corey Perry on it, or that snubbed Gio & Brodie is not my cup of tea. Rooting for a team with Todd, McDavid & RNH is wrong as a Flames fan. I’ll enjoy the hockey and root for players I appreciate from teams I don’t despise 🙂

  • Spoils

    Team North America is fun, team Europe is better than Slovakia and Germany and Switzerland providing mulch for the trough.

    BUT I would vote for under 23 world players (so all teams have to play without stars (Johnny Hockey would be a nice add to Team USA and if they lose to Sweden is that fair).

    And, nice Team Europe for team world making it a B Team for all good players not selected either because they weren’t picked – see Taylor Hall, or their country didn’t get picked – see Kopitar.

    Replaces a weak Europe with a crazy B Team filled with Canadians and selects like Kopi.

    Makes team North America a little better.

    that is all.

  • KACaribou

    It’s funny here how the coach means everything one minute, and nothing the next.

    Babcock either makes the team or anyone could coach the team. Meanwhile the Flames’ woes were completely and utterly Coach Bob’s fault.

  • boil-in-the-oil

    “1. IT’S THE BEST WITH THE BEST”

    Respectfully, I totally disagree. Team Canada is woefully missing a few of the best…
    No Connor McDavid,
    No Sean Coutourier,
    …and possibly others.

    This series is not an international best on best tournament. It has robbed the opportunity for these young men to represent their country. I don’t like it.

    • piscera.infada

      Because the Canucks have been consistently good at producing high-end Canadian talent? When was the last time they had an elite player on their roster with a Canadian passport?

      • A-Mc

        I think maybe Luongo was the last Canadian Olympian to have played for the Canucks.

        If he wasn’t the last, then he’s atleast the only one that is coming to mind for me. *thinks*

        • @Hallsy4

          Wasn’t Dan Hamuis on the Last gold medal team as well? Shortly after that, he made the mistake of talking when he should have been listening to baby Nuge, and has never been the same since.

        • Seanaconda

          Yeah I think it was price Luongo and either ward or fleury at the last Olympics in net. Edit whoops Mike smith was 3rd in net that must of been after his good year.

  • @Hallsy4

    There can only be one Robby. Haha, I’ve heard he’s a really nice guy. I’d imagine he’s not a problem in the room, but I don’t know. There’s gonna always be weird picks on Canada, cause there’s so many good players. I think Muzzin is a weird pick, but it’s hard to complain if they win. I think Babcock has a lot to do with the choices probably. I’m not a huge fan of the wise eagle and think he’s overrated, but I’m fine with the team they picked. Sometimes the best players don’t make the best team. Think back to when NYR would but all superstars before the Cap. Jagr, Kovalev, Holik, Lindros etc. On paper they were stacked, but they never won anything.

    • @Hallsy4

      Is Raffi Torres Mexican? I think I’ve heard that. Also, if Tavares name was Raffi Torres he would have been suspended 50 games for the hit on Kesler.. I dislike Kess but that was a dangerous hit.

      • Bob Long

        Actually I think Austin Matthews mom is from Mexico, so there you go.

        I think its hilarious that people “thumb down” me not wanting Marchand to be successful and call themselves Canucks fans. That toucan faced rat deserves none of it.

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        If Taveres name was Raffia Torres and Kesler’s name was Sydney Crosby, then maybe.

        But Taveres is no Torres and Kesler seems to have been on a strict diet of asshole casserole once again–he’s the perfect manifestation of Torts’ coaching style and the poster child for Canadians everywhere who take delight in seeing the Americans lose when they play like les sacs de douche.

  • Admiral Ackbar

    It’d be nice if there were a piece on ‘What if Team North America didn’t Exist’. McDavid would likely be on team Canada. The only other on the bubble would be Ekblad and that’s a stretch.

    The team I truly see missing out is the US. They could have definitely used Gaudreau on the PP. I bet they could have used Eichel and Saad’s scoring touch.

    It’s nice to pummel the Americans, especially when they’re acting like punk bullies but I’d rather beat the best team they could possibly put together.

  • Spoils

    I posted this already and got 7 down votes. I wanted to add the 3rd point…


    1) Team World under 23 – all players under 23 can only play for this team.
    2) Team World over 23 – all players not picked to a team can play for this team.
    3) Rankings from the Olympics should determine the 6 other teams in the World Cup.