P.K. Subban, Jonathan Toews, John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Does anyone have a chance to dethrone Canada after its 2014 Olympic gold victory? One look at the projected World Cup roster suggests it's still a tall order.
No more appetizers. It's time for the entree. We can haggle back and forth as much as we want over who belongs on which projected roster for the 2016 World Cup, but nothing gets the blood boiling like the old Canada debate, the subject of a million bar-room yelling matches. The 2014 Olympic Canuck squad was pretty much unbeatable. Does that mean we should leave it virtually untouched? Not necessarily. Other nations have improved since then, and a few new Canadian talents have played too well to be ignored any longer. My Canada roster thus has a few surprise picks and the odd surprise omission. Let's get to it and pour kerosene on the comment section fire. And, for the love of god, no one younger than 24 can play for this team. Attaching this warning didn't seem to work for Team USA based on the Twitter rage I received, but I'll try again.
Connor McDavid cannot play for this team. Nor can Aaron Ekblad. Nor can Nathan MacKinnon. Got it? Excellent. Game on.
My boy Rodney Dangerfield deserves some respect, so here's hoping he gets a nod for the World Cup roster, even if he never sees the ice. He's used to playing high-pressure games on an elite team, so Team Canada would feel like home for the Chicago Blackhawks netminder.
Braden Holtby Holtby is arguably the frontrunner to start for Canada. Carey Price is healing slowly and, even if we do see him again before the 2015-16 season ends, he might want to keep his body rested entering 2016-17. Holtby has been the NHL's top goaltender wire to wire so far this year, so he'd be an excellent choice to carry Canada's mail.
Carey Price Price hasn't yet relinquished the unofficial title of "best goalie on Earth when healthy." He still has first dibs on the No. 1 gig if he's willing and able. He was hilariously good for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Games, compiling a 0.59 goals-against average and .972 save percentage while exhibiting cyborg-like poise.
On the bubble: Jake Allen, Devan Dubnyk, Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, Cam Ward
Brent Burns Time for 'Burnsy' to get his due. He's been one of the very best D-men in the game since switching back from forward at the start of 2014-15. He's tremendous at generating offense from the rush, he owns a big shot, and he can play a gritty game. So much to like.
Drew Doughty An automatic selection. Few players in the world make hockey look as easy as Doughty does. There's nothing he can't do on a rink. He can singlehandedly dominate a game, even among elite peers.
Mark Giordano Canada needs some left-shooting defensemen, and Giordano has more than earned his chance. He's a great leader and a potent offensive weapon. Oddly enough, he's the second-oldest player on my projected team. He'll be 32 for the tourney.
Duncan Keith Keith, at 33, will be Canada's oldest player according to my projected roster. He remains one of the best all-around D-men in the game, if not
the best. An amazing puck-rusher and shutdown defender rolled into one. And he logs monster minutes.
Alex Pietrangelo Pietrangelo was a slam-dunk choice for Sochi. He was enjoying an elite age-24 season and wound up fifth in Norris Trophy voting. His play has plateaued or even slightly regressed since then, however. His versatility and ranginess mean he'll still probably make the team, but I have him pencilled in as the No. 7 guy.
P.K. Subban Subban should be more than an afterthought this time around after seeing limited action in Sochi. He still takes a few too many chances, leading to some mistakes, but Subban wouldn't be Subban if he didn't do that. He's daring and creative rushing the puck, and he owns a monster shot. He'll be insulated with so many all-world players that he can afford to take chances, too.
Shea Weber Still a tank of a man, as physically imposing as any defender in the game, whether he's blasting his mammoth slapshot or throwing vicious hits. No reason to split him and Keith up after they were so good together in Sochi.
On the bubble: Tyson Barrie, Jay Bouwmeester, T.J. Brodie, Dan Hamhuis, Travis Hamonic, Kris Letang, Jake Muzzin, Brent Seabrook, Marc Staal, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Jamie Benn In no way do I intend to dis Benn by placing him on the third line. He's one of the top two left wingers in all of hockey and easily Canada's best. He was so dominant in Sochi on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, however, that I don't see a reason to split that group up.
Patrice Bergeron It's a testament to Canada's insane depth at center that Bergeron, the best faceoff man of his generation, doesn't even play center at even strength. He and Sidney Crosby are such a nice pair, so let's keep that going, too, with Bergeron on the right wing.
Jeff Carter Carter's a guy whose regular season numbers rarely match his talents. The same can be said for Doughty, though. They're both products of their system in Los Angeles. Carter's speed, shot and reach still make him employable for Canada. He can get hot and be the best forward on the ice certain nights.
Sidney Crosby Remember when Crosby was "finished" as a superstar a few months ago? Good times. He'll be The Man and captain again.
Ryan Getzlaf Getzlaf probably peaked in 2013-14 when he scored a career-best 31 goals and finished second to Crosby in the NHL points race with 87. Getzlaf remains a dominant player as a 30-year-old, however, big, strong, mean and blessed with great passing skills.
Claude Giroux Is it finally time for Claude? His pure scoring ability certainly meets the sky-high Team Canada standard. He also put in his time at the World Championship in 2013 and 2015, racking up 18 points in 18 games. I like him as the swingman since he's a center who can play the right wing.
Taylor Hall Hall still has a long way to go defensively and even acknowledges that. He told me as much when we spoke last month. He said coach Todd McLellan is working with him to help him become more of a two-way player. Still, aren't Hall's skill and wheels good enough for him to make this team regardless? Canada has more than enough 200-foot forwards.
Brad Marchand Oooh, the controversy. 'The Nose Face Killah' on the top line? First off, if Marchand makes Canada, he may as well play with his Boston Bruins teammate Bergeron. Secondly, Canada is no stranger to "gimmicky" Crosby linemates. He played with Bergeron and Chris Kunitz in Sochi. Lastly, Marchand has earned this spot. He's hurtling toward his first 40-goal season, he's fast and very nifty with the puck on his stick, and
he's an outstanding possession player. He, Crosby and Bergeron would probably register some astronomical Corsi number around 65 percent. Dominant.
Corey Perry A great goal scorer and a pain in the neck to play against. Perry's soft hands make him an ideal power play specialist, too. I'll keep him with his Ducks teammate Getzlaf, even if the Ducks aren't doing so these days.
Tyler Seguin It's almost like questions about the fun-loving Seguin's character held him off the Sochi roster. Not this time. He's just too good. He's a dominant scoring machine. Probably has to move back to wing for this tournament, which is fine, as his lightning-fast release plays well there. And there's always the option of uniting him with his Dallas partner in crime Benn if Canada needs a spark.
Steven Stamkos It's not quite the Olympics, but the World Cup offers a nice opportunity to see 'Stammer' on a big stage after he missed Sochi with a broken leg. It's tempting to try him as Crosby's right winger, I must admit.
John Tavares Johnny T would center the top line on every other team in this tournament but has stiff competition. Maybe coach Mike Babcock moves him to a wing just to get him more ice time? Tavares is certainly deserving of it.
Jonathan Toews Seniority probably gives Crosby the captaincy again. Otherwise it would be 'Captain Serious.' Toews will log big minutes as one of the team's top two pivots and should draw key defensive assignments.
On the bubble: Logan Couture, Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, Brendan Gallagher, Mike Hoffman, Ryan Johansen, Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Patrick Sharp, Wayne Simmonds, Jeff Skinner, Joe Thornton, Tyler Toffoli
OTHER WORLD CUP ROSTER PROJECTIONS Feb. 17: Team Finland
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-finland/ Feb. 18: Team Sweden
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-sweden/ Feb. 19: Team North America
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-north-america/ Feb. 22: Team Russia
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-russia/ Feb. 23: Team Czech Republic
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-czech-republic/ Feb. 24: Team Europe
http://www.thehockeynews.com/blog/projected-world-cup-2016-roster-team-europe/ Feb. 25: Team USA
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin