Wednesday March 2nd, 2016

The puck won’t drop on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey for another six months, but the fun begins today with the announcement of rosters for the eight-team tournament.

Each country's organization will name an initial list of 16 players. Their remaining seven spots will be filled in early June.

6:45 PM TEAM USA (Official)

Goalies: Ben Bishop (Tampa Bay Lightning); Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings); Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils)

NHL
Projecting Team USA for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey

Defense: Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg Jets); John Carlson (Washington Capitals); Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers); Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild)

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader (Detroit Red Wings); Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks); Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks); T.J. Oshie (Washington Capitals); Max Pacioretty (Montreal Canadiens); Zach Parise (Minnesota Wild); Joe Pavelski (San Jose Sharks); Derek Stepan (New York Rangers); Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg Jets)

The Skinny: Dean Lombardi leaned heavily on veterans of the Sochi Olympics in naming his Original 16 for the World, but by mixing in a couple of fresh faces he's delivered a roster that should be a massive pain to play against.

When you see Justin Abdelkader and Dustin Byfuglien included, and players like Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel and Justin Faulk left off, it's clear that's an aspect he wanted to play up with this group. Abdelkader brings uncanny speed and a relentless presence on the forecheck and the penalty kill. Byfuglien is a man mountain who can change the course of a game with his physical play.

That's not to say that Johnson and Kessel, or others like them, won't be invited in the second group. But by naming these particular players first, Lombardi is making a clear statement about what he expects from this club. And that approach is sure to play well with American fans tired of their team's perennial runner-up status.

Team USA is loaded in net, with two-time Cup winner Jonathan Quick as the likely starter. If he stumbles, coach John Tortorella should be comfortable calling on Cory Schneider or Ben Bishop, who won a bronze with the Americans at the 2013 Worlds.

The core of the D is as good as any in the tournament. Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh and Carlson are veterans of Sochi and bring a right-left balance to the group.

The forward group features three of the NHL's top-25 goal scorers (Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski and Max Pacioretty) along with a good mix of size (Blake Wheeler), truculence (Ryan Kesler) and determination (Zach Parise).

It can't match Canada's skill. But if it comes down to a battle of will? This team might have what it takes. 

6:45 PM: Roberto Luongo is a national treasure:

6:05 PM TEAM CANADA (Official)

Goalies: Corey Crawford (Chicago Blackhawks); Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals); Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)

NHL
Projecting Canada’s 2016 World Cup roster ahead of deadline

Defense: Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings); Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks); Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks); Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)

Forwards: Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars); Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins); Jeff Carter (Los Angeles Kings); Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins); Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks); Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars); Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning); John Tavares (New York Islanders); Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)

The Skinny: Coach Mike Babcock said Canada's early roster selections were a breeze. "They only let us name 16 so it's easy. My wife could've named Canada's first 16. The hard part comes next."

Yeah, it does. Given the talent he had to work with, there was really no way to screw this early group up. GM Doug Armstrong played it safe--and smart--relying heavily on the core of the squad that dominated in Sochi.

Carey Price is a question mark because of his lingering lower-body injury, but is the obvious starter if he's good to go. If not, Canada can "fall back" on Braden Holtby, who is on target to set a single-season wins mark, or Corey Crawford, who has backstopped a pair of Stanley Cup champions. It's an embarrassment of riches that no other country can match.

Doughty, Keith, Weber and Vlasic formed Canada's top-four in Sochi. Impossible to quibble with their selection.

Up front, there are seven returnees and two new faces--Steven Stamkos and Tyler Seguin. It's a group that features two 30-goal scorers (Benn, Seguin) and five additional 20-goal men (Stamkos, Bergeron, Crosby, Toews and Tavares). No other squad can match this depth or their championship experience.

Now comes the debate. Any time a Canadian squad is selected, there are players left at home who probably deserved a spot at the table. There are bound to be questions about why Sochi veterans like Corey Perry and P.K. Subban weren't part of this initial group, or why streaking stars like Brad Marchand, Claude Giroux, Brent Burns or Taylor Hall were overlooked. Odds are most of them will be part of the second group, but there are no guarantees when Canadian teams are assembled. We'll see how this inspires their performance down the stretch.

5:52 PM: Even before the first puck has been dropped, the NHL and NHLPA are committing to making the World Cup a quadrennial event.

“We’re committed to multiple tournaments on a regular schedule,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet. “So, yes, I think we’re committed for 2020.”

“This was the plan – to establish an ongoing event, establish the brand, establish the identity and go forward with it,” said Don Fehr, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association.

5:50 PM: Here's a better look at that sweet Team North America sweater:

5:15 PM: TEAM NORTH AMERICA (Official)

Goalies: John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks); Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg Jets); Matt Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins)

NHL
Projecting North America’s World Cup roster

Defense: Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panthers); Seth Jones (Columbus Blue Jackets); Ryan Murray (Columbus Blue Jackets); Morgan Rielly (Toronto Maple Leafs)

Forwards: Sean Couturier (Philadelphia Flyers); Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres); Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames); Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings); Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado Avalanche); Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers); J.T. Miller (New York Rangers); Sean Monahan (Calgary Flames);  Brandon Saad (Columbus Blue Jackets)

The Skinny: "There's not a whole lot for us to lose in this situation," Connon McDavid said of the makeshift U-23 squad. "People aren't expecting too much from us. But we have the talent to surprise people."

Yeah, they do. It starts in net where Team NA boasts an All-Star in Anaheim's John Gibson alongside Connor Hellebuyck, who won seven games and posted a 1.37 GAA while helping Team USA to an unlikely bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships. The defense is loaded with size, speed and playmaking ability, led by the 20-going-on-30 Aaron Ekblad. And up front there are some of the most gifted offensive talents in the game, including Johnny Gaudreau, the NHL's sixth leading scorer with 63 points, and three additional 20-goal men: Brandon Saad, Sean Monahan and Nathan MacKinnon.

And then there's McDavid, the brilliant rookie who is averaging 3.68 points per 60 minutes, second only to NHL leading scorer Patrick Kane.

Clearly there's enough manpower on the North American bench to surprise any team in the tournament. What they lack is experience. These are all capable players who have shown they can handle big moments at various levels. But now they have to prove themselves in a big moment against Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar and Kane. And that's where this team could find itself in trouble.

Several surprising snubs on the early roster, including Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere, Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau and Columbus' Boone Jenner. Most of those players will show up in the second group, but the competition for jobs speaks well for the depth and potential of this team.

4:33 PM: TEAM EUROPE (Official)

Goalies: Frederik Andersen (Anaheim Ducks); Jaroslav Halak (New York Islanders)

Defense: Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins); Roman Josi (Nashville Predators); Dennis Seidenberg (Boston Bruins); Andrej Sekera (Edmonton Oilers); Mark Streit (Philadelphia Flyers)

Forwards: Mikkel Boedker (Colorado Avalanche); Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton Oilers); Jannik Hansen (Vancouver Canucks); Marian Hossa (Chicago Blackhawks); Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings); Frans Nielsen (New York Islanders);Tomas Tatar (Detroit Red Wings); Thomas Vanek (Minnesota Wild); Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers)

The Skinny: Team Europe GM Miroslav Satan had his choice of players from every country outside of Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. He ended up drawing from seven different nations to form his original 16.

The challenge now? “We have a new group of players who have just played against each other,” he said. “We have to make it so this new logo is something to play for.”

NHL
Team Europe leadership ready to build World Cup squad from scratch

That won't be easy, especially when players like Mark Streit and Marian Hossa have spoken out against the concept. Once the guys get in the room though, they might be inspired by the assembled talent and the chance to make noise in a way that they probably couldn't with their own national teams.

Denmark's Frederik Andersen might not be a star, but he's proven himself a solid NHL starter. He'll give the team a reliable presence between the pipes. Jaroslav Halak has 21 games of international experience with Slovakia, but it could be his Islanders teammate, German Thomas Greiss, who ends up pushing Andersen for time if he's named as part of the second group.

The D corps has a quality leader in Roman Josi. The Swiss vet has established himself as one of the top-10 defenders in the game over the past two years. As he goes, so will this unit. Zdeno Chara is the wild card. At 39, the Slovakian legend is edging close to his best-by date, but he may still have some elite hockey in him.

There's a nice mix of experience and youth up front. Slovenia's Anze Kopitar and Slovakia's Marian Hossa both have won Stanley Cups and will be relied on to set the tone in the room. Germany's Leon Draisaitl is an emerging talent whose speed and physicality set him up to be a difference maker.

Interesting to see Marian Gaborik and Nino Niederreiter left off the list. Both players would seem to bring the speed and finishing touch this group will need to stay competitive.

4:25 PM: Finland goes for an old-school look. I think it works:

4:23 PM: Here's a good look at the new Czech Republic jersey. Note the Adidas three-stripe logo down the sides:

4:15 PM: The Team North America jersey has leaked and it...is...awesome.

Who else wants one?

4:09 PM: Bill Daly: "I don't know if [Team North America and Team Europe] are long-term solutions...I guess we'll see. But I can say the excitement around those two teams is pretty amazing."

2:35 PM: Well, one pressing pre-tournament question has an answer...sort of.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet's Hockey Central at Noon on Wednesday that there will be no national anthems played before or after World Cup games. That's a good thing, because it means no one has to stand for some phony compromise song that means nothing to anybody before the Team Europe and Team North America contests.

But organizers aren't entirely off the hook.

"We're only going to play anthems when something is won from a tournament perspective," Daly said. "In that context, we are working on potential anthems for the two select teams."

Odds are pretty long that either select team will win this thing, but anything can happen in a short tournament. Our suggestion? "I Believe In Miracles" by The Ramones for Team North America.

And for Team Europe? Gotta be "The Final Countdown," right?

2:03 PM: Here’s a look at the team’s logos on the tournament puck. Best Team USA look ever? Sharp logos for Team North America and Team Europe as well.

1:15 PM: TEAM SWEDEN (Official)

Goalies: Henrik Lundqvist (New York Rangers); Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver Canucks)

Defense: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes); Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning); Nicklas Hjalmarsson (Chicago Blackhawks); Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators); Niklas Kronwall (Detroit Red Wings); Anton Stralman (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom (Washington Capitals); Loui Eriksson (Boston Bruins); Filip Forsberg (Nashville Predators); Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche); Daniel Sedin (Vancouver Canucks); Henrik Sedin (Vancouver Canucks); Alexander Steen (St. Louis Blues); Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings)

The Skinny: Still stinging from their loss to Canada in the Olympic gold-medal game in Sochi, Sweden comes into this tournament with a roster capable of finishing the job.

No surprise that their strength will be on the back end. Ten years after his 2006 Olympic heroics, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is still capable of carrying this team on his back. He can be a difference maker in this event. Jacob Markstrom is in as the backup, and coach Rikard Gronborg says Robin Lehner and Jonas Gustavsson are in the mix for the third slot. Not that it matters. The backup and the third stringer may as well leave their skates untied. This is Hank's show, from start to finish.

NHL
Coyote Oliver Ekman-Larsson is NHL’s best bargain

Not that he'll have to do it on his own. Sweden's defense, led by reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, stacks up with Canada's as the best in the field. There's an enviable mix of size, skill and mobility, along with vast international and Stanley Cup experience. Victor Hedman, inexplicably left off the roster in Sochi, will be a key addition. He's a player who can drive possession and establish himself as a dangerous physical presence in his own zone. Oliver Ekman-Larsson should also play a larger role after being marginalized by former coach Per Marts in Sochi. John Klingberg of the Dallas Stars is a notable omission, although that's certain to be addressed when the final group is named. His 53 points rank fourth among all Swedish players in the NHL. Tough to overlook that in the final analysis, even if he is only brought on as the seventh D.

The Sedin Twins remain part of the forward group, but they're no longer the focus. This tournament continues the handover to the next generation of Swedish stars led by Nicklas Backstrom, Filip Forsberg and Gabriel Landeskog. While not quite on par with Canada or Russia, this is a highly skilled group that should have no trouble generating offense. They'll be particularly effective off the rush, generating speed in transition and catching defenses on their heels. Keep an eye on Backstrom. He'll have plenty of motivation after missing out on the final in Sochi over a banned substance violation.

11:01 AM: TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC (Official)

Goalies: Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings); Michal Neuvirth (Philadelphia Flyers); Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg Jets)

Defense: Radko Gudas (Philadelphia Flyers), Michal Kempny (Avangard Omsk, KHL); Roman Polak (San Jose Sharks); Andrej Sustr (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Forwards: Michael Frolik (Winnipeg Jets); Martin Hanzal (Arizona Coyotes); Tomas Hertl (San Jose Sharks); David Krejci (Boston Bruins); Ondrej Palat (Tampa Bay Lightning); David Pastrnak (Boston Bruins); Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens); Vladimir Sobotka (Avangard Omsk, KHL); Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers)

The Skinny: It could be a very short tournament for the Czechs.

First: No Jaromir Jagr? No surprise there. The legendary forward announced his retirement from international competition at the end of the 2014 Worlds, but the Czech committee is giving him time to (hopefully) change his mind.

“I’m not going to try and convince him,” Czech GM Martin Rucinsky said Wednesday. “If I put myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t be happy either if somebody would come to me and try and talk me into it. I think Jags deserves a lot of respect for all of us because of what he did for national team … and Czech hockey.

“That’s why we’re going to give him some time and see what he thinks, how he feels, after the season.”

If he decides he wants to go by June 1, Jagr will be part of the final seven. Or he may take a look at the rest of the roster and decides it's not worth the effort.

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Why Alex Ovechkin is NHL’s best all-time goal scorer

Even with Jagr, the Czechs will be hard-pressed to medal. The strength of this team is the forward corps led by David Krejci and Jake Voracek, along with next-gen wingers Ondrej Palat, David Pastrnak and Tomas Hertl. There's talent here, but the problem is the mix. There are plenty of playmakers but the team lacks a natural finisher. As a groupl, they've scored just 87 goals this season. Hertl is the team's leading sniper with 15. Can the 19-year-old Pastrnak fill that role? That's asking a lot. Or does someone like Jiri Hudler come in via the second group to handle the task?

That's a mild concern though compared to the defense. All three of the NHLers named to the squad play on their team's bottom pair, and none are particularly mobile or adept in transition. The inclusion of KHLer Michal Kempny might be a reaction to that. The undrafted 25-year-old is enjoying an excellent first season in the Russian league, tallying 21 points in 59 games for Avangard Omsk, but that doesn't mean he's capable of handling first-pair minutes at this level.

With that kind of talent, it's easy to imagine this team getting bogged down in its own end for long stretches. That puts the pressure on Petr Mrazek (the likely starter) or Michal Neuvirth to steal one if the Czechs are going to advance out of the round-robin. Both rank among the top-eight in save percentage and goals-against average this season, so it's possible..but not likely.

TEAM RUSSIA (Official)

Goalies: Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets); Semyon Varlamov (Colorado Avalanche); Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Defense: Dmitry Kulikov (Florida Panthers); Andrei Markov (Montreal Canadiens); Dmitry Orlov (Washington Capitals)

Forwards: Artem Anisimov (Chicago Blackhawks); Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings); Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning); Nikolay Kulemin (New York Islanders); Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals); Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins); Vladislav Namestnikov (Tampa Bay Lightning); Alex Ovechkin (Washington Capitals);  Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks); Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues)

NHL
Ilya Kovalchuk hits doghouse in KHL, but NHL return still unlikely

The Skinny:The Russians will ice a ferocious group of attackers. Six of the 10 forwards named on Wednesday rank among the NHL's top 30 scorers, and as a group they've combined for 204 goals this season. Alex Ovechkin, an eight-time 40-goal man, is the ostensible headliner, but the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov could change the dynamic of this group, possibly for the better. Vladislav Namestnikov is the most interesting name on the list. The 23-year-old has never played for the national team at a major men's event. The challenge for coach Oleg Znarok will be fitting all these pieces together. There are some natural combinations, but chemistry is always an issue for Russian sides.

The short list of blueliners highlights the team's lack of depth on the back end. Dmitry Kulikov and Andrei Markov are the only two Russians who are averaging at least 20 minutes per game in the NHL. Dmitry Orlov is seeing more time since John Carlson was injured in Washington, but he's still acclimating himself as an NHL regular. There are seven other Russians currently skating in the league, but this unit could end up drawing heavily from the Kontinental Hockey League.

The goaltending is solid, with Semyon Varlamov likely to carry the load. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the future of Russian goaltending, could get a look.

Valeri Nichushkin is the only name that is conspicuous by its absence. The Stars forward has scored 24 points in a bounceback season, but needs to show some consistency down the stretch in order to be one of the final seven. That group is likely to feature several KHL vets, including forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Mozyakin and defenseman Nikita Zaitsev.

TEAM FINLAND (Official)

Goalies: Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins); Pekka Rinne (Nashville Predators)

Defense: Esa Lindell (Dallas Stars); Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins); Rasmus Ristolainen (Buffalo Sabres); Sami Vatanen (Anaheim Ducks)

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov (Florida Panthers); Joonas Donskoi (San Jose Sharks); Valtteri Filppula (Tampa Bay Lightning); Mikael Granlund (Minnesota Wild); Jussi Jokinen (Florida Panthers); Mikko Koivu (Minnesota Wild); Leo Komarov (Toronto Maple Leafs); Lauri Korpikoski (Edmonton Oilers); Jori Lehtera (St. Louis Blues); Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago Blackhawks)

NHL
2016 Hockey World Cup primer: teams, groups, schedule, GMs

The Skinny: The strength of recent Finnish rosters has always been in the collective value. The names don’t stand out individually, but years of playing together combined with a shared sense of purpose adds up to a team that consistently punches above its weight.

Finland will rely heavily its veteran netminders to keep their games tight. Tuukka Rask is likely to start, but Pekka Rinne is coming on strong of late and should see some time between the pipes. The blueline is mobile and strong in transition but very inexperienced. Esa Lindell, the only surprise on this list, has just four NHL games on his résumé, though he made a strong impression at last year's World Championships. Each of the others has played fewer than 200 NHL games. This group may be buttressed by imports from various European leagues.

The real area of concern is up front. Not one of Finland’s attackers has scored as many as 20 goals this season; only two, Barkov and Komarov, have topped 15. Scoring by committee will be the key to success.

There were no obvious snubs, although the recent play of Minnesota's Erik Haula probably had him on the bubble to be named today. He's likely to be named in the final group of seven, along with Calgary's Jyrkki Jokipakka, Chicago's Ville Pokka and Detroit's Teemu Pulkkinen.

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