So I, like most Canadians, don’t really care at all about the World Hockey Championship. Sorry Kevin Lowe and Bob Nicholson. It takes place every year (usually overseas in inconvenient timezones) right in the middle of the NHL playoffs. The Canadian team is typically thrown together at the last minute and consists of a mish mash of good players and filler guys who are willing to travel long distances after a grueling season to represent their country in a tournament their country isn’t paying attention to. And until they move the tournament away from the NHL playoffs and consequently allow the best players in the world to participate, it will continue to mean far more in European countries than it does in North America (think of it as the reverse World Junior tournament which has been built up in Canada to mythical proportions for no other real reason other than one day about 20 years ago, TSN decided it should be.)
So all this being said, because Canada has always sent a half-assed entry to the tournament and other countries clearly care about it on a much bigger scale than we do, the team continues to not really do that well there. They’re even ranked as low as 5th this year, mostly because that’s around where the team has finished the last few attempts. And honestly, I don’t think I’m alone in saying “not losing a lot of sleep over this”. Of course I always want Canada to do well but I think we’re all smart enough to know that there’s a caveat with this particular tournament and we can all accept that we’re long past the days when the country could send 20 random guys and they’d win without breaking a sweat. We need to ice the best team possible to win and more often than not, when Canada does so, they win more times than they lose. Since the timing of this tournament is such that this isn’t possible, when they inevitably lose, it’s more of an attitude of “well, they tried their best” rather than the national summits that are held if Canada loses at the Olympics or World Juniors too often.
But it appears as though Hockey Canada isn’t a huge fan of constantly getting their asses handed to them at this tournament mostly because it probably doesn’t reflect so well on the guys running the show. So as the fortunes have dipped we’ve seen the braintrust gradually start to turn up the pressure and the guilt trip on any Canadian player who dares to not wholeheartedly commit to immediately volunteering to play at this tournament barely any Canadian citizen is paying attention to after a grueling 8 months of the grind of an NHL season. Any excuse related to trying to rest or rehab an injury or get back to their family is treated with veiled suspicion and more often than not, patriotism is used as blunt weapon against these claims. More recently, Hockey Canada has made their Olympic GM’s in training (Gretzky, Yzerman, Messier etc) the GM’s of the WC rosters in a not-so-subtle prodding for Olympic hopefuls. The message has been sent in not so many words that skipping the World Championships would not necessarily be the best thing for those on the Olympic bubble and a strong showing in this tournament could be rewarded with the all-important Olympic roster inclusion.
So with this historical context as preamble, it’s worth noting that Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini have really bungled this Jason Spezza situation this year in one of the worst ways possible.
According to Bruce Garrioch, the day after being eliminated in Game 7 vs the Rangers, Spezza proactively contacted Team Canada to play for them in the World Championships and was told that the roster was full and they didn’t need him.
First off, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an established NHL veteran asking to be included on the World Championship team, let alone being rejected. Usually, Hockey Canada has to beg players to participate and have to go to their 3rd and 4th choices once the big guys turn them down (a la Crosby this year). That’s a lot of balls to tell a guy who’s suited up for you on multiple occasions and is a Top 5 scorer in the league this season that you’re full up.
Secondly, there are 13 forwards on the final roster released today (they added Patrick Sharp the day the Sens were eliminated and Alex Burrows yesterday, presumably both had their offers prior to Spezza making his call to Lowe). So, while technically they’re right in saying that they were full, IIHF allows countries to carry up to 25 players and Canada has opted to only take 23 (1 extra forward, defenseman and goalie respectively). So while they could bring someone else along if they really wanted to, they just are choosing to limit their roster internally to 23. Hypothetically, let’s say that instead of Spezza, Sidney Crosby changed his mind and phoned Kevin Lowe with the same offer. Knowing that it was possible to bring him along, I find it hard to believe they’d turn him down just because their 23 man limit had been reached. So at the end of the day, it’s not as much about the fullness of the roster as it is about the willingness of Hockey Canada to accommodate the request which goes back to how much they valued the player making the request.
And OK, even if they didn’t want to take more than 23 players and that was a rigid limit, they honestly couldn’t wait 1 more day to finalize the roster?
If they waited until the end of the Sens-Rangers series, they would have been guaranteed a crack at either Spezza or Brad Richards. Patrick Sharp and Alex Burrows are that integral to the lineup that you couldn’t pass up the chance to gain their commitments ASAP without seeing if other possibilities appeared? This is a forward group that contains luminaries like Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, Teddy Purcell and Ryan O’Reilly. The only established veterans they have in the forward group (Getzlaf and Perry) are coming off pretty down years as opposed to a guy like Spezza who finished in the Top 5 with very little linemate support. For a management group under fire for lack of performance, you would think they would do everything in their power to ice the best team possible. Adding Spezza would immediately put the highest available Canadian NHL scorer on the roster this year. You’d also be including a consistent elite offensive producer who has excelled for Canada on international ice historically and who is at his most dangerous on large surfaces with lots of ice to work with.
To me, it’s just another piece of evidence that Spezza is for whatever reason, criminally underrated by the evaluators who seem to have made up their mind on him some time ago and aren’t changing it any time soon. Spezza is obviously in tough to make next year’s Olympic roster but it’s also ridiculous that his name is not even being mentioned as a possibility when lists are produced with 30-40 names on them.
The shitty thing is that I’m sure the reason Spezza reached out this year is because he realized that he needed to up his profile for the Team Canada brass and change some minds (as mentioned, World Championship performance can weigh heavily in Olympic roster evaluations) and they aren’t even going to give him a chance to make that impression.
The piece de resistance in this entire matter for Spezza personally is that not only was he unceremoniously rebuffed in making this request, he was immediately used by Lowe as some kind of ridiculous propaganda piece for how much Canadian NHLers are dying to drop everything and go to this tournament. Listen to this self-serving BS:
To illustrate the extent that players were lining up to play for Canada this year, Kevin Lowe explained the phone call he received while waiting for a phone call.
“Jason Spezza wants to come,” he said of the Ottawa Senators star who, despite having played in Game 7 against the New York Rangers on Thursday, wanted to join the team.
Not, “Jason Spezza would have been a tremendous addition and our team is weaker for not having him there but we needed to finalize our roster before his series ended for a variety of reasons. We appreciate his extraordinary gesture to seek us out and under any other circumstance we would be ecstatic to have him. Blah, blah blah”.
Nope. “Jason Spezza wants to come” Translation: this is such a great gig and so many of our best players are dying to be here that we can go and tell a Top 5 scorer and Team Canada veteran to go fuck himself when he asked if he could join us.
Yep, such an honour that they have Mark Methot, Luke Schenn and Marc-Edouard Vlasic comprising one half of the defense corps and the universally despised Alex Burrows as their best choice from all the teams eliminated in the 1st round to round out the roster.
I’m sure they’ll do just fine. And I’m sure that both Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini will be back again next year to run the squad into the ground as they seem to consistently be the NHL execs with the most free time on their hands this time of year. Luckily, it’s only the World Championships as opposed to a tournament that Canadians would actually want someone competent running the show.