For Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla, going this deep into the off-season without a contract for next season, especially when both have expressed interest in returning to the NHL for at least one more campaign, has to be at least somewhat disappointing. However, there may be an unexpected upside for the pair of 40-year-olds: a chance to suit up with Team Canada.
On Tuesday, Hockey Canada officially announced its management group and coaching staff for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, with Sean Burke set to take the helm as Team Canada’s GM. In speaking with TSN 1050's Overdrive following the announcement, Burke was asked about the possibility of including the two veterans, Doan and Iginla, on the Olympic team should they still be without NHL contracts come February, and the new Canadian GM wasn’t opposed to the idea.
“Obviously, both are near the end of their NHL careers and not sure where their minds are as far as how much they have left to play in the NHL. But those are guys that we will definitely consider, guys we will definitely think a lot about.”
That said, Burke did make sure to add that he believes the team that’s assembled for the Olympics is going to be competitive, and bringing either or both of Doan and Iginla aboard can only be done if they’re going to be players who can contribute to the effectiveness of the roster. And while, to some, it may seem a no-brainer to bring any NHL-calibre talent possible to the tournament, it’s not as if either veteran winger is still in their prime or can contribute as a top-six player any longer, especially not in a best-on-best tournament.
Doan, for example, hasn’t seen national team action since the 2009 World Championship, where he captained Canada to a silver medal, scoring one goal and seven points along the way. Since that season, though, Doan’s production has slowed with age and he’s coming off of a six-goal, 27-point season. It was his worst full-season performance since 1998-99.
Likewise, Iginla’s 14 goals and 27 points this past campaign were the fewest he’s ever scored in a season. Not even in the lockout-shortened campaign did Iginla manage fewer points. Similarly, it’s also been quite a while since Iginla suited up for Team Canada. His last appearance in the red and white came at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where he assisted on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal. He hasn’t played in a single international tournament since then, however.
So, if two longtime NHLers who are only one season removed from active big-league duty are only maybes for the Canadian Olympic team, where does the roster come from? Well, according to Burke, the KHL might be the best place to look.
“As it sits now, and I don’t see it changing very much, most of our guys will be from Europe, playing in the KHL, which, if you’re looking at it in a rating system, is probably the second-best league in the world next to the NHL,” Burke told TSN 1050’s Overdrive. “A lot of our players are guys who were high draft picks, guys who ended up playing in Europe for various reasons but are excellent hockey players playing very well in other leagues.”
That’s not to say the players have to be solely from the KHL, however. Burke added that there will be a chance that a high-end AHL player can crack the squad if he’s on an AHL-only contract — we broke down some possibilities for the Olympics last week — as well as an opportunity for a college player to earn himself a trip to Pyeongchang if he can impress early in the season. For the most part, though, it seems Burke and Co. will spend most of their time and energy on scouting and evaluating throughout Europe. And we might already have some idea as to what the team could look like.
Over the course of the next month, Team Canada will participate in two tournaments, the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov, that will give management a look at potential talent for the upcoming Olympics, and the rosters for both squads have already been released.
True to Burke’s assessment, more than half of the contracted players on the August tournament rosters are from the KHL. In fact, the breakdown is as such: 21 players from the KHL, seven from the Swedish League, seven from the Swiss League, five from the German League and four players who are without contracts for 2017-18. There are several familiar faces on each roster, too.
From the Sochi Hockey Open roster, offense is the strength, with Gilbert Brule, Daniel Paille, Mason Raymond, Max Talbot and Linden Vey as the players most likely to be recognized by North American fans. Netminder Justin Peters also spent part of the past season with the Arizona Coyotes. Brandon Kozun may be the sleeper of the roster, though. He has skated in just 20 NHL games, but the 27-year-old finished ninth in the KHL with 56 points in 2016-17.
The Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov roster, however, has strength on the blueline, with recent NHL retiree Kevin Klein joined by Carlo Colaiacovo, Cam Barker, Stefan Elliott and Marc-Andre Gragnani. All told, the group boasts nearly 1,600 games of NHL experience. There’s some talent up front, too, with Derek Roy and Ryan Garbutt, who have more than 1,000 combined games in the NHL, as the most instantly recognizable names.
There are several players not listed on either roster, however, who could still make the cut come the Olympics. Defenseman Chris Lee, who drew NHL interest this past summer, is a possibility for the Olympic team, especially after his performance at the 2017 World Championship, and forwards Matt Ellison, Kyle Chipchura, Carter Ashton and Jonathan Cheechoo all have NHL experience and produced well in the KHL this past season. Wojtek Wolski could also be an option, though he’s recovering from a serious spinal cord injury suffered last season.
At this point, however, there’s nothing more than speculation. Things can change in a hurry once these tournaments, and the respective European leagues, begin play next season. Thus, with the next few months potentially determining who makes the squad and who falls short, it should give North American hockey fans all the more reason to pay attention to what’s happening across the pond.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.