These truly are interesting days for Doug Armstrong.
As general manager of the St. Louis Blues, he's watching his team battling for its playoff life, and a possible spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Stressful? You bet. Of course, his work there is done. There's nothing he can do now to help that team win a championship other than sit back and work the worry beads.
That's not the case with his other job. As general manger of Team Canada for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey, he's on the verge of making seven critical decisions. Get even one of them wrong, and he might never get another chance like this again.
Armstrong faces a May 27 deadline to finalize his roster for the tournament, which runs Sept. 17 through Oct. 1 in Toronto. And no one has tougher calls to make.
It's inevitable that some very big names will be left off this roster. But unlike other nations, he has the talent pool to assemble a team exactly as he, and coach Mike Babcock, would like. And no matter who he picks, he'll have a team as deep, fast and skilled as any in the eight-team tournament.
Here's who I think makes the final cut.
The Final 7
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins: The second-leading Canadian-born goal scorer (37) closed the deal with an excellent performance at the Worlds (4-3-7, 20 shots). His speed, his penalty killing skill and his chemistry with Bergeron make him a solid bet.
Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks: Was this guy on anyone's short list when the first group was announced? He's old, he's slow ... he's the antithesis of the modern, international player. And if this tournament was being staged on the big ice, there's no way you could take him. But Thornton still knows how to make things happen. He led all Canadians with 63 assists in the regular season and has only upped his game in the playoffs, proving that he can deliver in the clutch.
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers: The recovery schedule for his mid-April hip surgery has him on track for full health by July. It's not ideal in terms of his training, but Giroux is such a reliable and versatile weapon that he outweighs any risks. He's one of the NHL's top scorers over the past five seasons, and brings a strong, two-way presence that will allow him to move from role to role as needed.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks: So many great young players are up for this final spot, but Perry is impossible to ignore. A right shot with a history of scoring big goals, tons of international experience (including a solid turn at the just completed World Championships) and his chemistry with Ryan Getzlaf give him a slight edge over Brendan Gallagher and Mark Stone for the final right-side slot.
Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks: If the regular season didn't cinch his spot, his playoff performance has. He's been a lethal weapon on the power play—always a concern in short tournaments—and he's been excellent in his own zone. That diving save on Vladimir Tarasenko in the conference final proves he's willing to pay a price. And if they ever need a jolt of size and speed up front...
Alex Pietrangelo, St Louis Blues: Size, skating and smarts. And after watching him wear out both Toews and Benn in the playoffs, it's clear he can carry his weight in a shutdown role.
Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames: This might have been Jay Bouwmeester's spot if he hadn't been so painfully unexceptional in the postseason. Giordano can't match his international experience, but he's been such a consistently productive player over the past couple of seasons that he's a much safer pick at this point.
So, how might the pieces all fit together? Here's a look at our projected lines/pairings.
Joe Thornton—Sidney Crosby—Steven Stamkos
Jamie Benn—Tyler Seguin—Claude Giroux
John Tavares—Jonathan Toews—Jeff Carter
Brad Marchand—Ryan Getzlaf —Corey Perry
Duncan Keith—Shea Weber
Mark Giordano—Drew Doughty
Marc-Edouard Vlasic—Brent Burns
One of your favorites fail to make the cut? Got different ideas for the lines? Let us know in the comment section below.