National Junior Trouble?
Imagine this scenario.
Team Canada plays its first game at the world junior championships in Ufa, Russia on Boxing Day, presumably registering a victory against Germany.
Then the next day six or more of the team's best players are summoned back to North America to participate in 10-day NHL training camps prior to the commencement of the 2012-13 season, leaving Canada will only a shell of a roster.
It would be national disgrace, and would all but kill Canada's chance of even getting a medal at a tournament it has dominated.
Right now, however, it could happen.
In news broken first by Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos on Friday night, it was revealed that as of Friday afternoon, Hockey Canada has been unable to secure the assurances of a variety of NHL clubs that if their players are chosen to represent Canada at the world juniors, they will be permitted to complete that committment even if the NHL lockout ends.
Players affected could be centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton), centre/left winger Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), centre Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg), defenceman Dougie Hamilton (Boston), rearguard Ryan Murphy (Carolina), centre Boone Jenner (Columbus), centre Ryan Strome (N.Y. Islanders) and defenceman Morgan Rielly (Toronto).
Of that group, only Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was willing to say that if Rielly accompanies the team to Finland for pre-tournament training, the Leafs would not then pull him back if the lockout ends.
It was initially thought this would only be an issue for Nugent-Hopkins. But now all these clubs are proving to be reluctant to commit to leaving the players to skate at the world juniors if picked for the team.
Selection camp for the team opens Tuesday with 36 invitees. Colton Sissons, a right winger with the Kelowna Rockets and a Nashville draft pick, was invited but has had to pull out because of injury.
All the players listed above are viewed as virtual shoo-ins for the team, which is searching for its first gold medal since 2009. However, head coach Steve Spott and other team personnel might have to look at passing over some or all of those junior stars if they cannot be certain they won't be yanked from the team at the last moment.
Once the tournament begin, players on the 23-man roster who can't play cannot be replaced. So if a group of Canadian players was recalled to North America, Spott might end up with fewer than 16 skaters.
The best hope right now for Team Canada organizers might be if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announces the cancellation of another two weeks of games next week. Currently, the league has cancelled games through Dec. 14.
For the past 20 years, the hard and fast rule for the Canadian team has been that to play for Team Canada, players had to be with the squad from the beginning of the selection camp, with no exceptions. However, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson said earlier this week that because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the team because of the NHL lockout, the Canadian juniors might have to consider changing some of those rules.