World Cup of Hockey: Why Canada snubbed Subban for Vlasic

The reaction on Twitter was loud and fiery when Hockey Canada announced its initial 16 players for its World Cup roster, with the omission of P.K. Subban sparking the most outrage. But the move has some logic behind it, writes Tim Wharnsby.

Montreal star left off initial roster

P.K. Subban is expected to be added to Canada's World Cup of Hockey roster, but he wasn't among the initial four defencemen named. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The reaction on Twitter was loud and fiery when Hockey Canada announced the initial 16 players for its World Cup roster on Wednesday.

There are seven more names to come, and the tournament is still six months away, but heated debate ensued anyway over who was left off Canada's roster.

That's the beauty of this country. Canada won men's Olympic hockey gold in 2010 and 2014, and the world championship nine months ago, yet we pick apart a team that still has three defencemen and four forwards to be added on June 1.

Cases were made for excluded players like Corey Perry, Claude Giroux, Roberto Luongo, Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Brent Burns and, especially, P.K. Subban. 

How the heck could Canada neglect Subban, the critics howled. Instead, the deliberations of Canadian general manager Doug Armstrong, head coach Mike Babcock and the rest of the management team resulted in a blue-line verdict of Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Vlasic over Subban? Picking a safe, defensive player over a dynamic one? That didn't go over well with a lot of fans, but there is logic behind the move.

First, it's a pretty safe bet that Subban will be one of the final three defenceman added in three months. He was part of the 2014 Olympic team in Sochi – although he played in only two games and saw limited ice time – and deserves to be part of this team based on his play in the two years since that golden moment.

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, part of Armstrong's management team, hopes his player's exclusion motivates Subban in the final weeks of the regular season.

"I know moving forward he's going to push hard to be part of this team," Bergevin said. "As general manager of the Canadiens, there's nothing more I want than our players to be there. [Goalie] Carey [Price] is one of them and I would love to see P.K. named for that team."

Defensive juggernaut

Babcock, who coached the Olympic gold medallists in Vancouver and Sochi, is a stickler for having right-shot defencemen playing the right side and left-shot defencemen playing the left side. His 2014 Olympic team carried four right-shot defencemen in Doughty, Weber, Subban and Pietrangelo.

With Price in goal, and a stingy back-checking system in place, the Canadian team surrendered only three goals in its six-game sweep in Sochi. Canada completed its impressive run with eight periods of shutout hockey.

Armstrong wanted to keep that defensive juggernaut, which included Vlasic playing an important role, intact as much as possible.

"We look at that Sochi group, and I think that might have been the best defensive group put together for international competition," Armstrong said. "The number of goals that they allowed rank up there with the all-time best. And the synergy between [Doughty, Weber, Keith and Vlasic], they played as a group, so we went with those guys. There is really good competition underneath that, both on the right side and the left side.

"I would say that as a management group, we think the right side has a greater diversity of style of players. We have some very good offensive players and some very good 200-foot players."

Armstrong refrained from getting into the group of left-shot defencemen who remain in the mix. But he did stress a desire for defencemen who can play in all three zones.

"We're going to incorporate the coaches," Armstrong said. "Joel Quenneville, who is going to run the D, and Mike Babcock obviously is the head coach. What I know about Mike from the Olympics is he likes predictability. He likes to know that he can play a player in any situation.

"What we have here in the Olympics, and I'm sure at the World Cup, is you're not going to be able to hide anyone. There's no real good matchup when you're playing the Russians. There's no good matchup when you're playing really any team at this level.

"We want to get players out there that can play in any situation against anyone, at any time, five-on-five."


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