The NHL has prohibited its players from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic men's hockey tournament -- meaning that the league will not send anyone to the Winter Games for the first time since 1998. What could have been if the top pros had been allowed to compete? Senior writer Greg Wyshynski and national NHL reporter Emily Kaplan came up with their ideal rosters and predicted finish for each of the teams that would have contended for medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics ... if the world's best players were present.
It's arguably the most talented Team USA roster ever. The Americans have remarkable depth, especially on defense -- which led to some tough cuts. Byfuglien, Carlson and Faulk are close misses, while rookie McAvoy would make a strong roster case, especially after shouldering hefty minutes for the Bruins this season.
A theme in building this roster is blending veteran experience with the next wave of stars. For example, while Suter is a mainstay at manning the blue line, four of the eight defenseman are younger than 24. This sets the U.S. up for Olympic cycles to come.
Team USA beefed up its center position with Eichel and Matthews. Miller makes the cut for his versatility. And while the Americans could infuse even more youth -- inviting rookie of the year candidates Boeser and Clayton Keller -- the forward group is mostly filled with recognizable faces like Kane, Kessel and Pavelski. Anything less than than a silver would be considered a disappointment for this stacked roster. --E.K.
There isn't an area of concern on this team. Those Crosby and Toews lines could lead Canada in scoring or play a shutdown role, and it would be fine either way. Price could falter, and Holtby could win gold. It's frankly unfair to the rest of the world that the Canadians are this good.
As usual, Team Canada has enough talent in its pool to fill about three Olympic squads, but some players had to be left off the "A" team. At the forward spot, I added two players who are having outstanding seasons in the NHL, under the assumption that they would get in on that merit: the Flyers' Couturier, a terrific potential shutdown guy if Canada needs one; and Hall, simply for the salt-in-the-Edmontonian-wound of watching him score a goal-per-game with McDavid.
I assume Mike Babcock would coach Team Canada if the NHL had decided to go; and so, on defense, I figured Babcock would go with familiarity and bring on Rielly -- his Leafs workhorse -- which meant leaving a worthy Giordano off. Finally, as much as Crawford has earned a shot, Team Canada has to start grooming Murray (who's only 23) for a potential 2020 gig. --G.W.
Just missed: Nikita Gusev, Valeri Nichushkin, Ivan Telegin.
It's a familiar situation for Team Russia: The group is stacked at forward and has elite goaltending, but defensive depth is once again a problem. Bobrovsky is the likely No. 1 goaltender, despite his recent struggles in Columbus. The 23-year-old Vasilevskiy will make a strong push for ice time, however. He's having a terrific season for the Lightning.
If you think Kucherov has talented linemates in Tampa Bay -- well, there won't be much of a drop-off for him in this tournament. Perhaps he'll stay with Namestnikov for chemistry's sake, and be paired with a center like Malkin. As usual, the Russians boast some of the NHL's best snipers in Ovechkin and Tarasenko, and Panarin will get to shine on an international stage. As usual, a podium finish is the expectation for Russia, though it might not have what it takes to compete with Canada or the U.S. -- E.K.
The most difficult decision here was trying to figure out if Sweden would take the Sedins at their advanced age for another Olympic run. Since both appear to still be breathing in and out, I think the answer would be "yes." Leaving Honrqvist and Eriksson off might come as a shock to some; but -- assuming the Sedins are there -- Sweden has to make room for the newbies, like the Devils' dynamic Bratt and William Karlsson, the ace sniper for the Vegas Golden Knights, whom one presumes would have played his way onto the team. (Backlund, meanwhile, gets the call over Wennberg as a versatile, bottom-six talent.)
With an offensively dynamic blue line -- assuming Erik Karlsson finds his smile again after escaping Ottawa for a while -- and one of the best big-game goalies in hockey history, in Lundqvist, all Sweden would need is for Backstrom's line to click and one more year of Twin Magic to win another medal after taking silver in Sochi. --G.W.
The word "transition" comes to mind when looking at the Team Finland roster, four years after its win over the United States for Olympic bronze. Are brilliant young offensive players like Laine, Barkov and Aho ready to lead the first post-Teemu Selanne group to a medal? Or would the Finns have to rely their usual recipe of great goaltending and peerless tenacity rather than offensive flourish?
As for the snubs, Puljujarvi might be the most notable. But at 19 years old and now just getting his sea legs in the NHL, he has time. --G.W.