As the National Hockey League’s odds of participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics wane with each new case of COVID-19, Hockey Canada has a strategy if a “best-over-best” tournament isn’t in the maps for Beijing.
In fact, planning is well advanced in case the NHLPA, or the league itself, pulls out of the Olympics amid rising numbers of COVIDs, NHL game cancellations and concerns about protocols. isolation if a player tested positive in China.
Of course, Hockey Canada wants to put the ice on a team made up of superstars Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo. And of course, fan interest will drop if the big names aren’t in Beijing.
But, with safety at the forefront, the organization is ready whether the NHL is involved or not.
“We have a responsibility to Canadians, the International Ice Hockey Federation [IIHF] and the Olympics to do our best in terms of preparation, ”said Scott Salmond, Senior Vice President of National Teams, Hockey Canada. players or not. “
Participation in the NHL – a demand from key players in the last round of collective bargaining – is certainly precarious, with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers all closed until after the holidays due to COVID-related concerns.
“We continue to work on our plan for the NHL,” Salmond said Friday of Banff, Alta. “Our leadership is still engaged. Our coaches are still working. We spoke to the players just last week about our plans and we are giving them updates. So we are working diligently on both sides.”
To get a glimpse of Canada’s potential Olympic roster – minus the NHL – hockey fans can watch highlights from the Channel One Cup which ended Saturday with a 4-1 loss to Finland in Moscow. They can also attend the Spengler Cup from December 26 to 31 in Davos, Switzerland.
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Former Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien is behind the bench for both tournaments. Longtime Arizona Coyotes star Shane Doan is the general manager.
Julien and Doan will keep these positions for the Winter Games if the NHL does not participate.
“We use the Channel One Cup to primarily assess our KHL players outside of Russia, but also some players from other European leagues, to get a sense of what that looks like,” said Salmond. “And then we’ll use the Spengler Cup later this month to assess Canadian players in Switzerland as well as hopefully some American Hockey League players and potentially even NCAA players.
“And so when you mix these groups together, there is somewhere a list of 25 players who would represent Canada at the Olympics.”
Here are some of the top candidates to play for Canada at the Olympics without the NHL:
- Guardian Devan Dubnyk: Three times on the NHL All-Star Team, the massive goalie was third in the Vezina Trophy vote and fourth in the Hart Trophy ballot in 2014-15 with the Minnesota Wild. Dubnyk, 35, is on a pro tryout with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers.
- David Desharnais Center: Eight-season NHL veteran with stops in Montreal, Edmonton and the New York Rangers, Desharnais is a skillful playmaker with 87 goals and 282 points in 524 NHL games. Now 35, Desharnais is Friborg-Gotteron’s third leading scorer in the Swiss A League.
- Eric Fehr Center: A first-round pick (18th overall) in the 2003 NHL Draft, Fehr is imposing at 6-4, 212 pounds, strong on faceoffs and comfortable in heavy traffic in front of the net. In 13 seasons in the NHL, the Winkler, Man. Product has 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.
- Defender Jason Demers: A 12-season NHL veteran, Demers has 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.
- Defenseman Brandon Gormley: A member of the prestigious 2012 Canadian Junior World Team, skater Gormley played 58 NHL games with Arizona and Colorado. A Murray River, PEI product, Gormley now patrols the blue line for the KHL’s Riga Dynamo.
- Jordan Weal Center: At 29, the former Montreal Canadiens have nine goals and 23 points this season in 29 games with KHL’s Kazan Ak-Bars.
- Before Cory Conacher: Conacher, 32, 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 season in the NHL came as a rookie in 2012-13 when he scored 11 goals and 29 points in 47 games with Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
- Defender Cody Goloubef: The solid Goloubef has registered 160 NHL games in 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.