Canadian men's hockey Olympic projection: While we still can

Part of the reason those in hockey media are so excited for the return of the NHL involvement at the Winter Olympics is the opportunity to TALK about the NHL's involvement at the Winter Olympics. And so, because it seems that NHL players travelling to Beijing seems like a 50-50 proposition at best at the moment with new variants popping up left and right, I'm going to do that talking with a series of versions of Team Canada. It's probably best not to take these too seriously.

All-Playoff Pedigree Team | All-Spreadsheet Team | Recency Bias Team | My Team

Last week, before it seemed the tallest hurdle was placed in front of Olympic participation, I compiled three different versions of Team Canada, using the recency bias, analytics, and postseason pedigree as touchstones for GM Doug Armstrong to consider.

The results were.. interesting. All three teams are incredibly impressive, obviously, and could contend at any international event. All three teams also had elements that seemed a bit off, lending credence to the notion that just one thing shouldn't go into player evaluation.

Perhaps surprisingly, only six skaters were named to each iteration, a scenario which could be viewed as either an obvious core group to build around or merely coincidence.

Those six players — Brad Marchand, Nathan MacKinnon, Patrice Bergeron, Steven Stamkos, Cale Makar and Devon Toews — each made my team, which was chosen after completing the research, but also mostly completed intuitively. Toews was really the only one probably pushed over the top by the overwhelming evidence that he should be on the team.

Here's the team I'd bring to Beijing, assuming teams do find themselves in Beijing.

As always, Armstrong's initial selections — Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Pietrangelo — will be honoured.


Brad Marchand-Connor McDavid*-Mitch Marner

Jonathan Huberdeau-Sidney Crosby*-Nathan MacKinnon

Sean Couturier-Brayden Point-Steven Stamkos

Mark Stone-Ryan O'Reilly-Patrice Bergeron

John Tavares, Mat Barzal

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 9: Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on December 9, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steven Stamkos would be a must-have for Canada's Olympic men's hockey team. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Team Canada has the luxury of compiling the most balanced assembly of elite forwards of any other country. There are four of five of the single most extraordinary offensive talents in the sport, complemented here by four or five of the most decorated and dominant defensive forwards league-wide. The gradient from high-end skill to high-end stopping power is what sets Canada apart. Even so, each line is capable of both scoring the big goal and doing its part to protect leads.

Stamkos, Couturier, Tavares and Barzal, for me, are the only selections worth debating. Stamkos has earned his way on any roster with his throwback superstar form this season, leading the Lightning without a major sampling from their superstar core. Likewise, Tavares is having his best season in some time, dominating in ways he hasn't previously. Couturier's Selke resume is too strong for me to ignore, even if it hasn't gone particularly well in Philadelphia this season. Finally, Barzal has played his way off this team for many, but, as an extra, I still covet his speed, his ability to enter the zone, and a potential partnership in the top six with either McDavid or Crosby as well as his value on the power play if the team encounters something unforeseen.


Morgan Rielly-Drew Doughty

Shea Theodore-Alex Pietrangelo

Devon Toews-Cale Makar

Aaron Ekblad, Dougie Hamilton

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 7: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs salutes the crowd after receiving a star of the game after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets during the third period at the Scotiabank Arena on December 7, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
Morgan Rielly has played some of the best hockey of his career this season. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

The combination of Rielly and Doughty entered my consciousness when working on the Recency Bias team, and I can't ignore it at this point. Rielly has been sensational since signing his extension in Toronto, and could be the perfect partner for a proven big-stage performer like Doughty. Theodore has not had a tremendous season, but I value his skillset and the familiarity in a potential partnership with Pietrangelo, even if they aren't normally a pairing in Vegas. Toews and Makar have been one of, if not the top performing pairing in the NHL this season and beyond, and should be a weapon for Canada as a matchup pairing.

Ekblad and Hamilton have been two of the best blue liners from an individual standpoint over the past few seasons. I considered bringing Mackenzie Weegar to pair with Ekblad, but playing time wouldn't be promised and Hamilton deserves to be on the team.


Carey Price, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jordan Binnington

MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 09:  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates during warmups prior to the game against the Montreal Canadiens at Centre Bell on December 9, 2021 in Montreal, Canada.  Marc-Andre Fleury #29 went on to win his 500th career game becoming the third goaltender in NHL history to reach that milestone.  The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Marc-Andre Fleury makes Team Canada in net. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

If Price wants to be there, he's the No. 1 choice assuming he sees some high-level hockey between now and the start of the competition.

Fleury has earned this opportunity, and feels like the perfect backup for this moment, both in terms of presence and ability to perform in a pinch. Binnington is the most proven Canadian netminder, and should be at the top of the list if Price is unavailable.

if Price isn't an option, Carter Hart would be my third.

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