Projecting the 2018 Canadian Olympic Hockey Team Roster
Canada is still basking in the glow of its third gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the last four editions.
You'd think we'd let the country enjoy it for a while before looking ahead to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.
Heck, there's no guarantee NHLers will even be allowed to participate.
But the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament wouldn't be the same without the world's best players, and we don't want to envision a world that allows that to happen, so we'll get going on an early look at what the next version of Team Canada will look like.
Considering how completely it dominated at the 2014 Sochi Games, you'd think Team Canada would make as few changes as possible. But with an aging group of guys and plenty of young and talented players looking to push their more experienced colleagues out in four years' time, you might see some movement.
Here's an attempt at getting in the heads of the country's new management team and picking the forwards, defensemen and goaltenders for Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Keep your fingers crossed that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman enjoyed the last tourney as much as we did.
- Logan Couture—Sidney Crosby—Steven Stamkos
- Matt Duchene—Jonathan Toews—Patrice Bergeron
- Taylor Hall—John Tavares—Claude Giroux
- Jamie Benn—Ryan Getzlaf—Corey Perry
Extras: Tyler Seguin, Nathan MacKinnon
In: Couture, Stamkos, Hall, Giroux, Seguin, MacKinnon
Out: Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Patrick Sharp, Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis
Canada was flawless at the Sochi Games, and it's hard to imagine a group of forwards as deep or talented. But with Steve Yzerman leaving his post as executive director, there will be a new boss picking the squad, and so surely new blood will be brought in.
There are so many options, this group could look very different. But why mess too much with perfection?
Some of the older guys will surely be left off—sorry to Kunitz, Marleau, St. Louis, Nash, Sharp and Carter—with fresh faces coming in to both groom for future Olympic appearances and to ensure team speed doesn't dip.
If not for a hand injury, Couture probably would have made the 2014 team. Yzerman wasn't the biggest Giroux fan, but if he continues to improve and is among the league's elite four years from now, he'll get his shot. Stamkos is a no-brainer if his surgically repaired leg doesn't rust. Hall will have to mature his game to make it, but his talent is undeniable, so he makes this list too.
MacKinnon is only 18 now and will be 22 when the 2018 Pyeongchang Games roll around, but he's a special talent who should be brought along for the experience. Seguin has shown this year just how talented he is and would be a great fit in the Duchene role four years from now.
- Duncan Keith—Shea Weber
- Jay Bouwmeester—Alex Pietrangelo
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Drew Doughty
Extras: P.K. Subban, Ryan Murray
Out: Dan Hamhuis
It's hard to imagine any member of this group aside from the little-used Dan Hamhuis not being back barring a massive decline in his NHL performance over the next few years.
Yes, age is a bit of an issue here, with Keith and Bouwmeester already 30 and Vlasic (26) and Weber (28) passing that number as well in four years. Still, this collection was so good in Sochi, one of the NHL's rising stars will have to be very impressive to supplant them.
One kid who could do that is Ryan Murray of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who is already a very good two-way thinker who will only get better.
Vlasic and Bouwmeester might not have been as popular to the Canadian public as choices going into Sochi, but they proved to be smart ones.
Others who could be on the radar in four years include the Toronto Maple Leafs' Morgan Reilly and Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche.
- Carey Price
- Jonathan Bernier
- Braden Holtby
In: Bernier, Holtby
Out: Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith
Price was outstanding in his first Olympic Games. Then again, he had by far the best team in front of him, so was he a product of that system and that support, or was he legitimately the 2014 tournament's best goaltender?
That's the big question Canada is going to have to ask itself in four years, when he'll be the returning starter but pushed by a very good young goalie in the Toronto Maple Leafs' Bernier.
The third man on the totem pole could be Holtby, who had a horrible start to this season to eliminate himself from contention this year but is young and talented enough to have a chance in four years' time.
Biggest X-Factor: Who's Calling the Shots?
With Steve Yzerman telling reporters in Sochi he would be stepping down as executive director of Canada's Olympic team following back-to-back gold medals, someone else on the current management team—or someone entirely new—will be picking the players if the NHL goes to South Korea in 2018.
That means sticking points for Stevie Y, like his steadfast selection of balance when it comes to right-handed and left-handed shooters on defense, may not be problematic for the new guy.
Another aspect of change to consider is at head coach. If the new executive director wants to go with a different coach, does that mean the strategy Sochi bench boss Mike Babcock had in place goes by the wayside?
Canada allowed just three goals against in six games, earning a second consecutive Olympic gold medal under Babcock's guidance, so it would be a smart move to bring him back.
Best Asset: Gold-Medal Pedigree
With gold performances in the last two Winter Olympic Games, Canada will carry over some excellent experience if the NHL allows its players to participate in Pyeongchang.
The team's biggest asset in Sochi was its commitment to the type of game coach Mike Babcock knew it would take to dominate the tournament. That makes it important to bring as many of the core group of players from 2014 back to South Korea in 2018.
Despite having more bona fide NHL offensive stars than any other country, Canada was all about patience and commitment to defense, scoring when the opportunities came and controlling the puck for most of the game.
Biggest Concern: Will They Be Too Old?
The average age of Team Canada's roster in Sochi was just over 28. With many of the same faces likely to return, is there a risk these guys will be too old to keep up the same kind of pace they pushed in Russia?
Some of the bigger birthday dilemmas include defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Duncan Keith, who will be 34 in 2018. They both rely on their strong skating and speed—or at least the ability to cover a lot of ice quickly—and that does typically depreciate as a player ages. There's a reason San Jose Sharks D-man Dan Boyle was left off the Sochi roster.
Up front, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry will be 32 when the next Olympic tournament begins. And while they'll still have plenty of NHL contract remaining after signing massive deals nearly a year ago, it's possible their best years will be behind them.
The age factor will be one of the biggest challenges for whoever takes over for Steve Yzerman in picking the next team.
Will They Be Better Than the 2014 Team?
Honestly, that would be next to impossible.
If the 2014 Olympic version wasn't the most skilled Team Canada ever assembled, it was certainly the most cohesive.
So even if you use the logic that the players who come in to replace those who will not make the 2018 edition are more talented, it doesn't necessarily make the team any better.
A healthy Steven Stamkos and the possible addition of Claude Giroux would definitely offer some elite hands in spots held by slightly less dynamic forwards.
The big question is whether or not the newcomers can mesh as quickly as these guys did into the team concept that brought them their third gold in a span of four Winter Games tournaments.
Will they be as good? Maybe. But better? No chance.