With the NHL season well underway, and less than three months until the Olympic men’s hockey gold-medal game, the Canadian roster is beginning to take shape.
Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Alex Pietrangelo were already named to the team, with the final list to be announced in January.
But while Canada’s decisions at forward and on defence tend to become debates about various all-stars, the goaltending position appears to be a major question mark.
Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong told CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo that Canadiens goalie Carey Price was “pencilled in” as the starter following last year’s playoffs, when he led Montreal to the Stanley Cup final.
“And now there’s things that are so much more important than playing hockey and he’s going through some of those things right now, and if he gets his game up and wants to come and he’s playing to that level, he’ll be the guy again,” Armstrong said.
WATCH | Armstrong discusses Team Canada roster decisions:
Price, 34, recently returned to the Canadiens after spending 30 days in the NHL’s player assistance program for substance-abuse treatment. The Anahim Lake, B.C., native has not yet practised with his team, but Armstrong said he heard Price may return soon.
The goaltender posted a .924 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average (GAA) over 22 starts during the Canadiens’ playoff run.
Armstrong, who also serves as GM of the St. Louis Blues, pointed to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy as the top goalie in the world after the Russian led the Lightning to two consecutive Stanley Cup titles.
“The good thing is the guy who won before him is a Canadian and the really good thing was, for me, [that it was] Jordan Binnington. So [for] my day job it’s good to have Binner with us, and he’s played well this season too,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong also noted that Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart is a contender for the team. Hart, 23, has played even fewer NHL games than Binnington. After a strong two seasons to open his career, the Sherwood Park, Alta., native cratered badly last year before rebounding with a strong 2021-22 campaign thus far.
Marc-Andre Fleury, of Sorel-Tracy, Que., won the Vezina Trophy last year as the league’s top goaltender with the Vegas Golden Knights, but has struggled following an off-season trade to Chicago.
Non-NHL contingency plan
Of course, the ultimate decision could be meaningless if the NHL pulls its players from the Games due to a change in the COVID-19 situation.
The Ottawa Senators were recently forced to postpone three games due to a breakout within the team. More postponements could make it more difficult for the NHL to take its planned three-week Olympic break in February.
To that end, Armstrong said Hockey Canada is also putting together a contingency squad featuring non-NHLers.
“That’s [Senior Vice President of hockey operations] Scott Salmond and Hockey Canada’s [job] to take care of the other team,” Armstrong said
“Our focus right now as NHL GMs and NHL coaches is if NHL players go. I certainly respect the NHL, the NHLPA, and IIHF wanting to make sure that the players’ safety is at the forefront and making sure that if they go abroad that they can go safely and come home safely. But our focus is 100 per cent on that we’re going to go.”
NHLers last competed at the Olympics at Sochi 2014, when Canada won gold. The Canadians settled for bronze at Pyeongchang 2018 when NHL players were not allowed to attend.