Tom Renney has Plan A and Plan B and maybe even a Plan C in his Hockey Canada office and admits he has no clue whether NHL players will be participating in the Olympic Games next year in Korea.
But he’s getting antsy waiting around for a decision. And there’s little time left for chance.
“We have a lot of lists,” said Renney, the chief executive officer of Hockey Canada and former national team coach from his Calgary office. “We’ve identified talent across the board regarding management, regarding coaches, regarding possible rosters that I believe would serve us well no matter what the circumstances. But there’s only so far you can go with lists.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. At the end of the day, we want to go with NHL players. They’re the best in the world. That’s the best thing for hockey. But if we have to field a team (without NHL players), we’ll do that. I believe we can field a team that is more than competitive no matter what the format will be. And I have a very good memory (from coaching the 1994 silver medal winning Olympic team). I know what we’re capable of.”
That was six Olympics ago. Since 1998, Olympic hockey has been taken over by NHL players. The stars of the gold-medal teams were named Hasek and Sundin and Crosby and Toews and Lemieux and Yzerman. That’s five best-on-best Olympic hockey tournaments, and three gold medals for Canada, which also led the tourney in money spent, angst, preparation, sweat, meetings and lead-up talk and national nervousness.
It is something of a thankless job, running Team Canada. Steve Yzerman was hired in 2007 to head up Team Canada for Vancouver 2010. That gave him almost three full years to put his plan, his players and his coach, in place.
The detailed Yzerman was brought back again, 23 months before the Sochi Games of 2014, to take over Team Canada. The job was so stressful that Yzerman announced just minutes after the second straight gold medal win by his Team Canada that he would never do the job again.
Now here we are, less than a year to PyeongChang and there is no general manager or executive director in place, no coaching staff except on paper, and while the player list may be something most of us could put together within a player or two, the job Yzerman said he’d never again take-on has suddenly become accelerated by the little time left to do it right.
Or the way Hockey Canada and this country expects it to be done.
Doug Armstrong, who has been intimately involved in numerous Team Canada ventures and was GM for the recent World Cup team, described Hockey Canada’s current circumstance as “the proverbial duck.
“They look good on top of water but they’re paddling like hell underneath,” said the general manager of the St. Louis Blues.
“If you look at the Games backwards, not from now but from when they’re played, the product will look no different than it did if NHL players are involved. But I can tell you a lot of moving parts behind the scenes will be different.
“An awful lot goes into the scouting, the preparation, the training, the logistics, the travel, the planning for summer camps, a lot of that would already be in place by now (with a management team in place). It’s not just show up and play. Now you still have to do all those things, but some of it will suffer when you’re doing that much work in this short a period of time.
Should NHL players go to Korea, which Gary Bettman and friends are still dancing around, someone along the lines of Ken Holland or Armstrong would end up as GM. It would be easy to find a coach between Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville and Barry Trotz. The player list would begin with Sidney Crosby and Carey Price, Connor McDavid and Jonathan Toews and the usual suspects like Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber on defence. That’s the easy part.
The non-NHL team: That’s a whole different animal. Renney said there are management and coaching people in mind should it not be an NHL team and names of recently fired NHL coaches Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock should interest them as would recent Spengler Cup coaches Luke Richardson or Doug Shedden. And there is always the venerable Dave King still around: He coached Canada’s Olympic teams from 1984 to 1992.
The players? They would be made up of the best available, whomever they may be.
“We can’t sit around waiting,” said Renney, who is waiting, like all of us, for some kind of answer. “There’s no point in getting nervous or getting all worked up about what’s going on. We have no control over it. All we can do is voice an opinion and be ready to go when the time is right. I will admit there’s a certain urgency to this.”
Time already is running out.