The recent extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement until 2026 is positive news. While most of the focus has been on the NHL’s Return to Play plan, the agreement also includes potential Olympic participation in 2022 (Beijing) and 2026 (Milan/Cortina). I say potential because let’s be honest, there is still plenty of time between now and then for Gary Bettman and the boys to drop the ball.
However, if the NHL and the International Olympic Committee are able to iron out key details such as insurance and marketing rights, we will see NHL stars return to the Winter Games. With that in mind, let’s take a way-too-premature look at which Boston Bruins may get the nod to suit up for their country in 2022.
The Bruins iced skaters from six different countries this season, so we will see a number of B’s playing different roles in Beijing. From spare skaters to potential tournament MVPs, each player falls into one of three categories based on the likelihood they make their national team.
First off, we have the bubble boys. The Jake Gyllenhaals, if you will. Players on the bubble have an outside shot, but for one reason or another may just miss the cut. The B’s have seven skaters who find themselves in this grouping, including three Americans and a four-pack of Slovakians.
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Next, we have the probables. No, we aren’t talking about the eleventh Stallone-Schwarzenegger-Statham flick, although I’m sure it’s in the works. This group consists of Bruins who are likely to make their national team but aren’t exactly cemented into place. Whether it’s related to age or inconsistency, these guys should be on an Olympic roster, but don’t be floored if they miss out.
Finally, we have the locks. Barring any major injury or catastrophic drop-off in performance, these gentlemen are guaranteed to make their national club. With five players in this category, Boston looks poised to be one of the most well-represented NHL clubs in Beijing.
While the Finns have a logjam of options for the backup goaltender, their starting netminder will be Tuukka Rask. As one of the best goaltenders in the world, Rask owns the Finnish net. Juuse Saros, Antti Raanta, Joonas Korpisalo, and Mikko Koskinen can duke it out for the backup job.
Team Czech Republic
The Czech team could have the most Bruins, as David Pastrnak, Andrej Kase, and David Krejci all hope to represent their country. Although (spoiler alert) Pastrnak is a lock to lead the Czechs in 2022, the same cannot be said of his teammates. Injuries and inconsistent play could hamper Kase’s chances, while Krejci may find himself in a battle with Father Time.
Although it was especially difficult to put Krejci in this category, he is not a guarantee at this point. Despite leading all Czech-born centers in scoring this season, the knock against Krejci come Olympic time will be his age. When the tournament begins, he will be 35, and it’s difficult to project where his game will be. Although he is still likely to crack the Czech lineup, younger options like Thomas Hertl, Martin Necas, and Pavel Zacha will be looking to eat away at his minutes.
Finally, in the first best-on-best international tournament in eight years, the Czech Republic will be led by one of the NHL’s best goal-scorers in Pastrnak. Pasta will need to use every tool in his arsenal to lead his team’s top-heavy offensive attack, as they might be quite thin on the backend. The NHL’s reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner will likely need to also lead the Olympic tournament in scoring if the Czechs are to have any real shot at competing for a medal.
The American roster in 2022 could be the greatest collection of players ever to don the red, white and blue. With young superstars like Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel joining veterans like Patrick Kane, the U.S. will be among the favorites entering the tournament.
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Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo will have to take major steps in their game next season in order to be in contention for a spot on the U.S. blue line. Charlie Coyle may also be in consideration as an extra forward if management looks to put together a checking line. Ultimately, the Bruins trio will have to claw their way past Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, and Brady Tkachuk just for a spot in the press box.
As for the locks, a pair of Bruins rearguards should find themselves in the fight for top-six minutes. Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are both excellent puck-movers and would slot in nicely almost anywhere in the lineup. With stiff competition from Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and John Karlsson, look for McAvoy to lock up a spot in the bottom four, while Krug may be relegated to spot duty.
While Coyle, Carlo and Grzelcyk may find themselves on the outside looking in, the B’s Slovakian contingent is far more likely to lace ‘em up in Beijing. Interestingly, the main question surrounding the Slovaks is not will they make the club, but will the team make it to the dance at all. Despite qualifying for the Olympics in 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018, Slovakia must finish in the top three at the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in August 2021 to participate in 2022.
As for our four-pack, we have a mixed bag of veterans and AHLers vying for spots. Despite landing on the wrong side of 35 when the tournament begins, Zdeno Chara (43) and Jaroslav Halak (35) should be locks for the club. Providence Bruins Robert Lantosi and Peter Cehlarik are also likely to secure spots on the roster, as only six Slovakian skaters played over 14 NHL games this season.
Lantosi previously represented Slovakia at the 2019 IIHF World Hockey Championship and finished second among Slovakians in AHL scoring. Cehlarik claimed the top spot in that category, while also picking up one assist in three contests with the big club. In the end, the fate of rookies and veterans will remain unknown until at least next August.
Okay, I’m going to need you to take a deep breathe here, because this one is going to hurt. Patrice Bergeron might not make Team Canada. I’ll give you a moment to grab your torches and pitchforks. I hate to say it, but with the incredible number of young Canadian stars emerging, there is a possibility that Bergy may age out by the time 2022 rolls around. With players like Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Mathew Barzal as projected final cuts, Team Canada could be a juggernaut. I still believe he’ll be riding shotgun alongside Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand, but at 36 years old, there is no guarantee.
Speaking of guarantees, Brad Marchand will again find himself glued to Crosby’s hip. Although everyone’s favorite agitator will have some stiff competition from fellow lefties Johnathan Huberdeau, Ryan O’Reilly, and Sean Couturier, his undeniable chemistry with Sid the Kid will lock him into the top nine. I would also like to reiterate that Bergeron will very likely slot in on that right side, as I can see the glow of torches off in the distance.
Too Soon to Tell
Overall, the Bruins can ice one of the best rosters of Olympic hopefuls in the NHL. From players on the bubble to MVP caliber combatants, Boston fans will undoubtedly be proud of their Olympic contingent. Now, all we can do is hope that the NHL brass can hammer out a deal with the IOC. Don’t blow this, Bettman.
Jeremy is a teacher and hockey coach at several prominent Canadian Prep Schools, involved in player development both on and off the ice. He has primarily served as assistant coach responsible for defencemen, special teams and video. Jeremy has helped develop many athletes that are now playing at the next level, including the CHL, NCAA Division I, World Championship (Canadian U-18), and NHL (2017 Draftee).