Most World Cup of Hockey snubs have been discussed and put
to rest, as rosters were announced nearly two months ago. After all, at some
point it feels like the hockey world is just having the same discussion every
few years, with the same names popping up every time international rosters are
However, the inclusion of two non-traditional teams – North
America and Europe – means there’s a brand new subset of snubs to deal with,
and one of the most egregious snubs on the Team North America front has barely
been discussed outside of Montreal. 22-year-old Alex Galchenyuk’s omission from
the final roster is puzzling even at a cursory glance (only Brandon Saad, among players eligible to play for North America, scored more
NHL goals this past season), and a closer look at the current roster seems to
support that leaving Galchenyuk off the team is difficult to defend.
The roster as it stands now features 13 forwards, 12 of whom
played in the NHL this past season. (The odd man out is, of course, Auston
Matthews, who played his draft year in Switzerland.)
There’s no reason that Alex Galchenyuk shouldn’t be one of
these 13 forwards. Corsica.hockey tells us that In the most basic terms of production, only three forwards posted
a higher primary points per 60 than Galchenyuk’s 2.07. Johnny Gaudreau leads
the way with 2.34, followed by Connor McDavid at 2.27 and Mark Scheifele at 2.24.
Galchenyuk fares even better when looking at goals scored
per 60 minutes in all situations of play, as, like I mentioned earlier, he sits behind only Brandon Saad.
These aren’t advanced statistics or an in-depth analysis by
any means. However, they’re a basic measure of these forwards’ offensive
results, and in both cases, Galchenyuk ranks ahead of the majority of players
who have a place on the final roster.
Of course, offensive production is only one dimension of the
game, and Galchenyuk’s play has occasionally prompted Canadiens coach Michel
Therrien to criticize his defensive game. If Galchenyuk’s defensive play was underwhelming
in years past, it’s important to acknowledge his growth from his rookie year to
now. He’s never been a liability, and this year he’s shown that he’s ready to
take on the heavier defensive responsibility that comes with playing center.
Defensive performance is harder to quantify than offensive,
but Galchenyuk’s Corsi and Fenwick numbers in all situations once again place
him in the top third of the group. Corsi and Fenwick aren’t necessarily perfect indicators
of possession, as we know, but they’re certainly a passable proxy. Galchenyuk is undeniably
a positive possession player.
By the numbers, Galchenyuk ought to be on Team North
America, and it isn’t even close. However, for better or for worse, numbers
don’t exist in a vacuum. The men making roster decisions aren’t looking solely
at statistics, and whether we like it or not, perceptions of players are
colored by various (often unintentional) biases.
For instance, recency bias certainly worked in Jonathan
Drouin’s favor. Drouin wasn’t included in the initial 16 players announced for
the roster, and it was no wonder: At that point, he’d played only 21 NHL games
before being sent down to Syracuse and being suspended by the Lightning
organization for his refusal to play. Drouin’s electric performance in the
postseason, however, was seemingly enough for his ticket onto the roster
despite Galchenyuk’s more impressive performance during the regular season.
Another factor that may have affected Galchenyuk’s roster
status is the fact that he didn’t play for Team USA in the IIHF World
Championship. His reason for not playing was valid, as he had been playing for
weeks with a broken finger and chose to allow it to heal rather than continuing
to play. However, it’s no secret that putting on a good show at Worlds could
only help a player’s case to land on a World Cup roster.
For all we know, the Canadiens’ miserable season worked
against Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk had a very good year individually, reaching the
30-goal plateau for the first time even with a lack of stability in the lineup.
The Habs’ season as a whole, though, was dismal enough that it may have
unfairly but understandably tainted Galchenyuk’s stock.
Whatever the reason for Galchenyuk’s omission, the fact
remains: Team North America declined to include one of the game’s most elite
young players on their roster.
Even without Galchenyuk, Team North America promises to be
one of the most exciting teams in the tournament. All the same, they may come to regret
not having him on the team. His heavy one-timer from the right circle would be
very welcome on the power play, and Therrien’s fluctuating opinion on what
position Galchenyuk should play has ensured that he’s seen plenty of time on
the wing, even though he’s a natural winger. That sort of versatility is particularly
valuable in international tournaments.
September is still a few months away, and it may be wise to
hold off on criticizing roster decisions until we see the teams in action.
After all, if Team North America goes on to win the tournament, leaving
Galchenyuk off the roster doesn’t mean anything. If they tank miserably, ditto.
But if they fall just short, it’ll be easy to look at Galchenyuk’s omission from Team North America and wonder if he could have been the difference between silver and gold.