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 — all week long — with a series of versions of Team Canada. It's probably best not to take these too seriously.
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If one thing is certain, Canadian Olympic GM Doug Armstrong won't be relying exclusively on a spreadsheet to assemble his roster for Beijing.
This Stanley Cup champion and long-time Hockey Canada executive seems to appreciate the more intuitive element of team-building, and promises to build an NHL-style roster for the Olympic event.
Still, relying exclusively on numbers, or some sort of simulation, yields an astoundingly talented Canadian roster, and maybe the best any country could possibly assemble.
So maybe run that simulation?
Jonathan Huberdeau-Connor McDavid*-Mitch Marner
Brad Marchand-Sidney Crosby*-Nathan MacKinnon
Mark Stone-Brayden Point-Steven Stamkos
Sean Couturier-Phillip Danault-Patrice Bergeron
John Tavares, Brendan Gallagher
When it comes to the forwards, it's possible that there simply wouldn't be enough puck to go around. The all-situations production from this group over the last few seasons truly knows no bounds.
Canada's top six features five of the top eight total point producers over the last three-plus seasons, in addition to Sidney Crosby, who ranks ninth in per-game production over that span. Five other forwards chosen rank in the top 25 league-wide in production rate over that same time period, including Steven Stamkos, whose 3.5 points per 60 minutes ranks inside the top 10 league-wide.
What's particularly special about this forward group is that it's also loaded with defensive talent. In addition to being prolific scorers, Mark Stone, Patrice Bergeron, Mitch Marner, Brad Marchand and Brayden Point are some of the best defensive forwards in the league.
Even so, there are two shutdown specialists and analytical aces with histories of neutering top-end talent included on the fourth line, with Phillip Danault and Sean Couturier, to ensure Canada is prepared for matchups against the likes of Auston Matthews and Nikita Kucherov.
The one surprise inclusion is Gallagher, who sneaks onto the roster as the extra forward on the basis of the best even-strength expected goals percentage among all Canadian forwards over the last few seasons, in addition to a top-30 individual production rate.
Shea Theodore-Dougie Hamilton
Devon Toews-Cale Makar
Adam Pelech-Alex Pietrangelo*
Mackenzie Weegar, Jared Spurgeon
I'd say here's where it gets more controversial — but wait until you see the netminders.
One of the key protagonists of the analytics debate, Dougie Hamilton, is a top-pairing defenceman on this team on the back of his incredible on-ice results over the past three-plus season. His 57.7 percent expected goals in his last three seasons in Carolina was the best league-wide. It's remained strong in New Jersey.
Colorado teammates Makar and Toews (who also made the postseason pedigree team as a pairing), along with Shea Theodore, have also been monsters in that key metric, filling out the rest of the top four.
Pelech, Spurgeon and Weegar have been particularly stingy over the last few seasons, making the roster primarily through limiting shots, chances, and ultimately goals.
One of Armstrong's three initial selections, Pietrangelo has not been as analytically dominant as the others, but has most certainly logged the most difficult minutes of the bunch. We'll give Armstrong a pass.
Listen, it hasn't been a banner time for Canadian netminders.
Nevertheless, Jarry leads all Canadian goalies in Goals Saved Above Average over the last few seasons, and ranks behind only Andrei Vasilevskiy, Connor Hellebuyck, Igor Shesterkin and Juuse Saros. Limited to 40 starts, Driedger ranks third in GSAA rate.
Talbot as been arguably Canada's most consistent netminder over the last few seasons, turning in between a .915 and .920 save percentage while persistently chipping away at a positive GSAA.
All stats courtesy NaturalStatTrick and Hockey Reference.
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