With the chances of National Hockey League participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics fading with every new COVID-19 case, Hockey Canada has a strategy should a "best-on-best" tournament not be in the cards for Beijing.
In fact, planning is well underway in case the NHLPA, or the league itself, pulls out of the Olympics amid skyrocketing COVID numbers, cancelled NHL games, and concern over isolation protocols should a player test positive while in China.
Sure, Hockey Canada wants to ice a team that features superstars Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo. And sure, fan interest will drop if the big names aren't in Beijing.
But, with safety at the forefront, the organization is ready – regardless of whether the NHL takes part.
"We have a responsibility to Canadians, the International Ice Hockey Federation [IIHF] and the Olympic Games to put our best foot forward in terms of our preparation," says Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada's senior vice-president. "Our approach is the same – I think it's to be ultimately prepared – whether the Olympics include NHL players or not."
NHL participation – a key player demand in the latest round of collective bargaining – is certainly precarious as the league has been forced to postpone numerous games and rejig its schedule, including banning cross-border travel until after the holiday break due to COVID concerns.
"We continue to work on our NHL plan," Salmond said Friday from Banff, Alta. "Our management is still committed. Our coaches are still working. We talked to the players as recently as last week about our plans, and we're giving them updates. So we're working diligently on both sides."
For a glimpse at Canada's potential Olympic roster – minus the NHL – hockey fans can watch highlights of the Channel One Cup which wrapped up Saturday with Canada losing 4-1 to Finland in Moscow. Other possible players were expected to participate in the Spengler Cup, but Hockey Canada announced on Monday the team would not participate in the tournament, scheduled for Dec. 26-31 in Davos, Switzerland.
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Former Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien was scheduled to be behind the bench for both tournaments, and long-time Arizona Coyotes star Shane Doan is the general manager. Julien and Doan will remain in those positions for the Winter Games should the NHL not participate.
"We're using the Channel One Cup to evaluate primarily our players in the KHL out of Russia, but also some players from other European leagues, to get a handle on what that looks like," Salmond said, adding that players from the American Hockey League and the NCAA will also be considered.
"And so then when you mix those groups together, somewhere in there is a roster of 25 players that would represent Canada at the Olympic Games," Salmond said.
Here are some of the top candidates to play for Canada in an Olympics without the NHL:
Goalie Devan Dubnyk: A three-time NHL All-Star, the towering netminder finished third in Vezina Trophy voting and fourth on the Hart Trophy ballot in 2014-15 with the Minnesota Wild. Dubnyk, 35, is on a professional tryout with the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.
Centre David Desharnais: An eight-year NHL veteran with stops in Montreal, Edmonton and the New York Rangers, Desharnais is a deft playmaker with 87 goals and 282 points in 524 NHL games. Now 35, Desharnais is the third-leading scorer for Fribourg-Gotteron in the Swiss 'A' League.
Centre Eric Fehr: A first-round (18th overall) pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Fehr is imposing at 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, solid on faceoffs and comfortable in heavy traffic in front of the net. Over 13 NHL seasons, the Winkler, Man., product collected 113 goals and 221 points in 652 games with Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Jose and Minnesota. Fehr, 36, is a free agent after playing last season with Geneve-Servette of the Swiss 'A' League.
Defenceman Jason Demers: A 12-year NHL veteran, Demers collected 45 goals and 214 points in 699 games with San Jose, Dallas, Florida and Arizona. The free-agent is solid in his own end and eager to join the rush.
Defenceman Brandon Gormley: A member of Canada's star-studded 2012 world junior team, the smooth-skating Gormley played 58 NHL games with Arizona and Colorado. A product of Murray River, P.E.I, Gormley now patrols the blue line for Riga Dynamo of the KHL.
Centre Jordan Weal: At 29, the former Montreal Canadien has nine goals and 23 points this season in 29 games for Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL.
Forward Cory Conacher: The 32-year-old Conacher is in his second season with Bern SC of the Swiss 'A' League. Undrafted and undersized at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Conacher's best NHL season came as a rookie in 2012-13 when he scored 11 goals and 29 points in 47 games with Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
Defenceman Cody Goloubef: The strong-skating Goloubef logged 160 NHL games over nine seasons with Columbus, Colorado, Ottawa and Detroit. He has hockey bloodlines as the nephew of Dick Duff, who won two Stanley Cups with the Toronto Maple Leafs and four with the Montreal Canadiens, but never had the chance to represent Canada at the Olympics.