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World Cup of Hockey 2016: The case for Canada

Canada is the favorite on home ice at the World Cup.

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Pre Tournament-Team Canada vs Team Russia Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We shouldn’t overthink this, right?

Their blueline may not be as good as Sweden’s. They aren’t as young and exciting as North America. They aren’t the United States. But, Canada is the tournament’s best team.

Despite puzzling omissions on defense (PK Subban, Mark Giordano, and Kris Letang say hello) Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Duncan Keith bowing out due to injury, and the existence of North America poaching the country’s best under-23 players, this remains the tournament’s deepest team.

Joe Thornton, for instance, averaged 18:22 per night for the Sharks last season, third-highest among forwards. He hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in a single pre-tournament exhibition. Claude Giroux or Ryan O’Reilly (it will be O’Reilly in the first game) will center the team’s fourth line, meaning that two players who led their teams’ forwards will play on the fourth line.

When Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Ryan Getzlaf are centering your top three lines, you can afford that luxury. When those three are centering your top three lines, you can afford to take only two natural wingers (Brad Marchand and Corey Perry), and assemble an incredibly versatile, responsible forward group consisting almost entirely of centers.

Canada has the second-highest scoring player in the tournament (Crosby), the highest scoring defenseman (Brent Burns), and the player with the second-most assists (Thornton). Four of the NHL’s top 10 goal-scorers (Crosby, Perry, Brad Marchand, and Steven Stamkos) and six of its top 15 goal scorers (plus John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron) are on this roster. That level of scoring depth is unparalleled.

Despite the omissions, the blueline is firmly in the tournament’s upper echelon. Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Drew Doughty were either best or second-best on their teams in zone, score, and venue-adjusted Corsi, and Burns and Doughty represent two thirds of this season’s Norris finalists. Alex Pietrangelo, Jake Muzzin, Jay Bouwmeester, and Shea Weber are all solid-to-excellent defensemen, even if some of their reputations are overstated.

In net, Canada boasts the deepest collection of goaltenders in the tournament. Carey Price (5th), Corey Crawford (12th), and Braden Holtby (14th) are all in the top 15 in even strength save percentage among goalies that have played at least 1000 minutes over the last three seasons. That’s the highest mark of any team in the tournament, and while it looks like they will turn to Carey Price at first, all three goalies are capable of stealing a game if need be.

In all likelihood, it won’t get to that point for Canada. They’re missing two of the league’s top 10 scorers (Benn and Seguin) due to injury, and left arguably their country’s best defenseman (Subban) at home.

Only a team as loaded as this one can afford to do that, and still be the favorite to win the World Cup of Hockey.