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In a time of transition, filling final spots on Canada’s roster won’t be easy

Canada's Sidney Crosby walks to the practice arena with Jonathan Toews before practice at the Sochi Winter Olympics Thursday February 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Toews and Crosby should be among the first players named to Canada’s team for the World Cup of Hockey.


It may not contribute to marital bliss in his own household, but Canada's World Cup of Hockey coach Mike Babcock made a telling observation about the task facing team managers when they announce their preliminary selections Wednesday.

"My wife could have picked the first 16 players," Babcock said.

What he meant, of course, was that anyone with a pas sing knowledge of the game would have been able to forecast that Carey Price would make the team in goal, Drew Doughty and Shea Weber would anchor the defence, and Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby would be the one-two punch up front.

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All were key members of Canada's dominant 2014 men's team that won Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia. Price's injury notwithstanding, all are still playing at an extremely high level.

The larger challenge will be to fill out the final seven roster spots from a deep pool of legitimate candidates, which has seen a subtle but significant changing of the guard in just over two years.

Seven members of the 2014 gold-medal team were not under consideration for the World Cup – forwards Martin St. Louis (retired), Patrick Sharp, Chris Kunitz and Patrick Marleau; along with defenceman Dan Hamhuis and goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith. Two others look like long shots: forward Rick Nash and defenceman Jay Bouwmeester.

As well, a handful of others are on the bubble, including, curiously, Corey Perry and Matt Duchene, neither of whom made the preliminary roster.

For general manager Doug Armstrong and his staff, getting down to 23 players is going to be no mean feat. Armstrong runs the NHL's St. Louis Blues, and two members of that team – defencemen Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo – played on the 2014 Olympic team. Neither was named to the preliminary Canadian roster.

There are players named to Canada's World Cup team who didn't play in Sochi: goaltenders Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford, and forwards Tyler Seguin and Steven Stamkos. Stamkos was in line to make the Olympic team before he suffered a broken leg in NHL play.

Health issues didn't keep Price off the preliminary roster, but teammate P.K. Subban, a 2014 Olympian, didn't make the first cut.

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Defence remains the most wide-open position, with Canada naming only four blueliners to the team. If Armstrong and his cohorts go with 12 forwards, it means four of the final seven roster spots will go to defencemen.

But the list of candidates is long: Subban, Pietrangelo, Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Kris Letang and Duncan Keith's long-time partner, Brent Seabrook. If he under-23 team hadn't scooped up Aaron Ekblad, he would be pushing his way into the conversation as well.

"We look at that Sochi group – that might have been the best defensive group ever put together for an international competition," said Armstrong. "The number of goals they allowed ranked up with the all-time best. There was synergy between the four players [Weber and Keith, Doughty and Marc-Edouard Vlasic], so we went with those guys, but there's really good competition underneath that.

"When you're talking this level of player, we're not talking specialists. The ones that we say are more tilted toward offence still play 27 minutes a night and kill penalties and do all those things for their NHL teams."

The omission of a handful of older players may actually represent something of a relief, given how they won't have to give up the final month of their summer in order to train for the Sept. 17-Oct.1 event.

Czech Republic's Jaromir Jagr specifically asked not to be on the World Cup roster. Jagr wants to play in the NHL until he's 50, and the only way he can do that at a relatively high level is with plenty of recovery time in the summer.

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It would be the same for someone such as the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton, who was on the 2010 Canadian Olympic championship team in Vancouver, but was bypassed for Sochi four years later in favour of younger players.

Even so, really good players such as Claude Giroux, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan O'Reilly are long shots to make the team, demonstrating once again how many quality players are in the Canadian pipeline.

Armstrong described the choices as being akin "to a kid in a candy store" – but it make the decisions more difficult.

"We're going to have really tough decisions on what we want," Armstrong said. "What Mike likes … is he likes predictability. He likes to know he can play a player in any situation. What we had at the Olympics – and I'm sure at the World Cup too – is you're not going to be able to hide anyone.

"There's no real good match-up when you're playing the Russians – or really any team at this level – so we want to put players out there who can play in every situation against anyone at any time five-on-five."

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More


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