Ranking each world cup hockey team by position gives us a clear enough picture to predict which are most likely to earn what medals…
World cup hockey will feature compelling games if the pre-tournament games are any indication. A look at each position for each team projects five of seven San Jose Sharks playing earn medals.
Most of their fans will be rooting for their country. It is just icing on the cake that the World Cup of Hockey is the first time Team USA will be led by San Jose captain Joe Pavelski.
However, the most significant presence of Sharks is on Team Canada: Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture wear the Maple Leaf. Still Joonas Donskoi will also play a large world cup hockey role for Team Finland, as will Mikkel Boedker for Team Europe.
Thus, San Jose has four players on the gold-medal favourite (as it is spelled there!). It would require two major upsets to have Canada walk away without any medal.
There is one more Shark each on three of the other five serious world cup of hockey contenders. Chances are very high one of them earns something.
Team Finland almost always medals, but it is never gold. Team USA has been less consistent but is capable of major Olympic runs to the gold-medal game (1960, 1980, 2002, and 2010).
Still, that makes five medals more likely than four. No more than six Sharks can medal. Team Europe is in the same group as Team Canada and Team USA. Only two can advance to the world cup hockey medal round, but at least one is also guaranteed to.
A fine line separates each team from the one that is just ahead or behind them. Every team has a few key things in common.
All the teams have exceptional coaching. All will be motivated to represent their team. Most will be in season form by the time the medal games are played.
Thus, figuring out who earns what medal really comes down to assessing the talent on each team. One of the easiest ways to do this is to examine how each team is set at each position.
Ranking teams in each unit makes an accurate medal prediction possible. Positions are listed in order of importance, however narrow the margin.
Goalies: USA, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, North America, Europe and the Czech Republic.
Putting Canada ahead of the United States as CBS did in their ranking Sept. 1 fails to factor in percentages. Namely, Carey Price looks great but what is the chance he holds up every game against sharper competition?
It is easy to believe in him but even easier to believe in a sharper Jonathan Quick. Price’s uncertainty knocks Team Canada’s ranking in net below Team USA no matter how likely it is he holds up.
No position in the World Cup of Hockey anywhere near as competitive as goalie. San Jose can attest to studs getting left out of the tournament entirely.
The five highest-ranked teams have multiple NHL starting goalies to choose from. Other world cup hockey teams have multiple goalies that could be ready to start at that level. That makes the margin narrow even before factoring in the tendency for goalies to get hot or slump.
Blue line: Canada, Sweden, USA, Europe, North America, Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic.
The position winner is obvious. Team Canada will dress six of the eight best defencemen (again, their spelling) on any given night.
The margin between the next three teams is narrow. Each has a fantastic blue line for even the NHL. All three have both elite players and depth.
The last four are not great, but at least one team will have a worse blue line during the 2016-17 NHL season than three of them. They have some skill at the position and rely on few non-NHL players.
Team Czech Republic is again the exception. It brings up the rear in another world cup hockey positional ranking with a KHL-quality unit.
Forward: Canada, USA, Sweden, Russia, Europe, Finland, North America and the Czech Republic.
All of Team Canada’s forwards are all-star calibre. Team USA and Team Sweden have what would be excellent NHL forward units.
The next two are almost up to par with NHL units. Team Russia has elite scoring lines but lacks depth. Team Europe has depth but lacks star power.
Meanwhile Finland and North America are fielding ample forward talent, but not at a composite level that would succeed in the NHL. The Czech Republic is just below them thanks to recent losses to their World Cup of Hockey roster.
Prediction: Canada wins gold, USA wins silver and Sweden wins bronze. That means the Sharks win four golds and a silver. They also had that same take in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Canadians Burns and Couture replace Dan Boyle and Dany Heatley as the only changes.
Those predictions are not exciting. However, Canada is the only logical champion to predict. This is not to say the outcome is certain.
The Canadians just have too much of an advantage at both skating positions and are as good as anyone in net. The Swedes are clearly the best team in its group, but a goaltending edge wins the Americans a silver.
The best dark-horse medal candidates are Team Russia, Team Finland and Team Europe. All are equally capable of playing for the gold medal. Finally, Team North America is competitive but even reaching the medal round will be tough while any single Czech win is an upset.