The threat of Team Canada's lineup being denuded by a NHL labour settlement seems to have been reduced.
The lockout itself is the big variable, although expecting anything earlier than a January start to a compressed season seems too optimistic by a factor of 10. But the first day passed with word that Mark Scheifele, whose seven-game stint in 2011 with the Winnipeg Jets gives him the second-longest pro tenure on Team Canada, isn't going to be airlifted out of Ufa, Russia in the middle of the IIHF World U20 championship. Hockey Canada's Scott Salmond, according to Eric Francis, has "received similar assurances from NHL GMs representing more than half of the 11 players eligible for recall."
Jets have given Mark Scheifele green light to stay with Canada thru world jr, no matter if new CBA is done #SunWorldJuniors
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) December 12, 2012
There really is no playbook for this scenario. It was known going in Team Canada's roster could be moving target right up until the IIHF deadline on Christmas Day (and defencemen and forwards cannot be replaced after the tournament begins). That had a prominent junior hockey expert speculating about how Canada could lose players after the event starts. It's not out of the realm, but Team Canada supporters ought to take Scheifele and Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounder Morgan Rielly's guaranteed participation as encouraging signs.
It is simple logistics. The NHL teams will have to hit the ground running when/if there's a settlement in time to play a season. Established pros who signed a lockout contract and in some cases have already returned to North America might be in a better mindframe than a teen who has to switch his brain from the CHL to the WJC to the NHL.
Here is Salmond, via Eric Francis:
"The majority are in support of the guys playing on the national junior team and once we go over there they're going to let them stay," said Salmond, whose final roster of 23 players leaves for Europe Dec. 15.
"Our problem is after we register our roster on Dec. 24th we can't replace anyone who leaves to return to their NHL team."
While it seems unlikely an NHL GM would gut Team Canada in the midst of the tourney, Salmond points out it's every NHL team's prerogative to do so, which is why he has been in constant contact with every NHL GM throughout this process.
"They can (pull them) — it's their job to put the best NHL team on the ice they can," said Salmond, who added he's in the business of winning gold medals while NHL GMs are in the development business. (Calgary Sun)
Salmond is outlining a cautionary best-case scenario but that sounds like something far from any Chicken Little scenario that was outlined even after NHL labour talks broke off last week.
As always, this boils down to which teenaged players are really league-ready. National media types always tend to oversell who is ready to be a full-time NHL regular. Just as being a first-rounder does not a Team Canada invitation make, being a high pick doesn't equal turning pro as a teen, but that might be lost on columnists who are on the NHL beat and don't get out to those 'meaningless' major junior games. It is part of selling hope, which is the stock in trade of the sports media. It gets dicey when it's presented as reality instead of a what-if. If Canada was to lose players — and again, who knows when the NHL and NHLPA will have a collective agreement — it would not be many.
From Rob Soria:
This notion that some have about Canada potentially losing almost half their roster, were the lockout to come to an end, is frankly nonsense. Outside of [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins], who exactly would be at any sort of risk of being called away from Ufa, Russia?
Perhaps the likes of a Jonathan Huberdeau, Boone Jenner or Mark Scheifele? How about Morgan Rielly, Matthew Dumba or Griffin Reinhart?
Give me a break.
Of the players just listed, not a single one would fall into the category of a "must have" for any of their NHL teams to start the season. There is little doubt that the Oilers would recall the services of their number one centre, as soon as an agreement were to be reached, but even they might hold off. If Canada were on the verge of embarking on a semi-final or final matchup, one would think Edmonton might think twice about pulling the former first overall selection.
Especially when one considers the on-going relationship between Hockey Canada and the Oilers organization, most notably with General Manger Steve Tambellini and President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe.
While Huberdeau, Scheifele and probably Rielly, would be the only three that would even garner a regular NHL roster spot during a lockout shortened campaign, not one would be looking at playing a potentially crucial role on their club. Toronto Maple Leafs General Manger Brian Burke came out and said as much to the media on Tuesday afternoon. (Oil Drop)
Not that people in the hockey bubble ever think about optics, but there is the fallout to consider. There is anger toward the NHL for having missed the equivalent of two full regular seasons in as many decades due to lockouts. People in Canada will no doubt forgive all in good time, but they also love Team Canada beyond all rationality. How's it going to look if the NHL's problems hurt Canada's chances at a gold medal?
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.