The National Hockey League and NHL Players’ Association’s announcement that NHLers won’t take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics leaves fans and players thinking about what could have been.
And that includes Craig Button, who has spent the past 20 months projecting what Canada’s Dream Team would look like going into Beijing.
With no best-on-best tournament to look forward to in February, TSN’s Director of Scouting has unveiled his final roster projection for the Games.
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was part of the Canadian team that won gold in Vancouver in 2010 but did not see playing time behind Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo. Button not only put him on the 2022 team, but also pencilled him in as the starter over Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart.
“He’s found his form from last year and played his way into that spot,” explained Button.
Having a veteran No. 1 in Fleury leaves Montreal Canadiens goaltender and 2014 gold medal-winner Carey Price out of the mix.
“We know Carey is a big-game player and recognize his capabilities,” said Button. “But there’s just no way he can be there as he’s still recovering from knee surgery and not yet playing.”
On defence, 2014 holdover Alex Pietrangelo would have been joined by new crop of Olympians that include Vegas teammate Shea Theodore, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly, Aaron Ekblad, Cale Makar, and Thomas Chabot. While Chabot’s Ottawa Senators have struggled this season, the 25-year-old’s play has been a positive in the nation’s capital.
“He put himself on the roster with his completeness, competitiveness and all-around game,” said Button. “And Ekblad was playing fantastic hockey before suffering a broken leg last season.
“This season, he’s back and his play is saying, ‘I’m on this team.’”
Rounding out the blueline is Edmonton Oiler Darnell Nurse, who brings his physical play and dependability. “Nurse is an ideal partner for Cale Makar to let him play his game,” Button explained.
Connor McDavid would have headlined Canada’s forwards and hockey fans will miss out on seeing him and Sidney Crosby together for a second straight Games.
“They would have been a superb dynamic duo,” said Button. “But could we see Sidney Crosby reprise a veteran role for Canada in 2026 like Mario Lemieux did in Salt Lake City in 2002?”
Missing out on Beijing is also tough for Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who was named to Canada’s 2014 gold medal-winning team but did not play because of injury. Putting the two-time Stanley Cup champion on the 2022 team was easy.
“He would have been that perfect shooter for McDavid,” said Button. “McDavid wants a finisher? Steven Stamkos is that finisher.”
Another member of the Lightning who would have made Button’s team is Anthony Cirelli, a key player for a Tampa team that has played most of this season without Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov up front.
“He’s another player – who Lightning and Team Canada head coach Jon Cooper knows well – with a big, successful body of work and superb play at both ends of the ice,” explained Button.
An injury kept John Tavares out of the medal round in Sochi in 2014 and the Toronto Maple Leafs captain made it clear prior to this season that he wanted to be back “really bad,” even if he was a bubble player.
“He isn’t a bubble player,” Button explained, giving him a spot on the 2022 team. “His play has made him a part of this team and he’s a player on this team – period.”
Craig Button's 'Could Have Been' Team Canada
|Jordan Binnington (StL)||28||8||6||3||2.87|
|Marc-Andre Fleury (Chi)||37||9||10||1||2.86|
|Carter Hart (Phi)||23||7||8||4||2.74|
|Thomas Chabot (Ott)||25||28||1||16||17|
|Aaron Ekblad (Fla)||25||28||8||16||24|
|Dougie Hamilton (NJ)||28||27||6||11||17|
|Cale Makar (Col)||23||23||13||13||26|
|Darnell Nurse (Edm)||27||23||1||12||13|
|Alex Pietrangelo (VGK)||32||31||5||17||22|
|Morgan Rielly (Tor)||27||30||4||22||26|
|Shea Theodore (VGK)||26||29||6||16||22|
|Patrice Bergeron (Bos)||36||25||10||13||23|
|Anthony Cirelli (TB)||24||28||9||9||18|
|Sidney Crosby (Pit)||34||18||4||14||18|
|Jonathan Huberdeau (Fla)||28||29||10||23||33|
|Nathan MacKinnon (Col)||26||17||3||21||24|
|Brad Marchand (Bos)||33||21||11||16||27|
|Mitch Marner (Tor)||24||24||6||15||21|
|Connor McDavid (Edm)||25||29||17||32||49|
|Ryan O'Reilly (StL)||30||27||5||13||18|
|Brayden Point (TB)||25||16||7||6||13|
|Mark Scheifele (Wpg)||28||24||8||11||19|
|Steven Stamkos (TB)||31||29||14||21||35|
|Mark Stone (VGK)||29||19||6||17||23|
|John Tavares (Tor)||31||29||13||19||32|