SIMMONS: McDavid, Makar, MacKinnon being robbed by lack of best-on-best in hockey
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The ending was as perfect as only a sporting ending can be.
The new best player in baseball meets the old best player in baseball. Best batsman competing against the best batsman of his era.
The two are teammates in Anaheim. Best-on-best on a different, energetic, emotional level – the final attack of the much criticized and much discussed World Baseball Classic.
There was Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, both of the Angels, going head to head on Tuesday night. Four MVPs in between. Five second places. On paper, the winner of the tournament was officially Team Japan. Big picture: The winner was baseball and we all with the TVs on.
As I watched Ohtani pitch Trout, the WBC’s final at-bat, then reset it and watched it again, all I thought about was Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar – the top three players in hockey, all the Canadians – who have been given opportunities to perform for various reasons throughout their careers. Most of these are unexplainable.
Major League Baseball’s season should start this week — not next week — to capitalize on the wondrous momentum of the WBC. To keep the feeling alive The tournament will be back in 2026, and those who committed – and those who participated are at the top of this list – can’t wait to do it all three years from now.
Meanwhile, hockey, the pro sport that is most conducive to the best, awaits waiting and wonders, providing excuse after excuse for why this can’t happen now.
There was no best-on-best men’s Olympic ice hockey in 2018 or 2022. The last 2014 best-on-best Olympiad was Canada’s crowning glory, a celebration of a team rather than a celebration of the game. But what a time it would be to play best-on-best hockey when so many of the sport’s biggest scorers come from a parade of nations.
McDavid is Canadian. Leon Draisaitl is German. David Pastrnak is Czech. The top 10 scorers in the National Hockey League today are three Canadians, two Americans, two Russians, one Czech, one Finnish and one German. Ten players from six different countries.
According to statistics, the best goalkeepers in the game are Sweden, Americans and Russians, in no particular order. The best defenders in ice hockey are Canadians and Swedes, as well as Finns and Americans.
This isn’t like an America vs. the World WBC. In ice hockey it would be world against world.
McDavid has never played for Team Canada since graduating in junior hockey. That seems particularly wrong considering Sidney Crosby has competed in two Olympics and would still be part of a national team if selected today.
Americans have a depth in hockey they’ve never had before. Auston Matthews, Tage Thompson and Matthew Tkachuk, three children from Arizona, and Jason Robertson from California have never played in a best-on-best professional tournament in Team USA colors. Neither did the Hughes brothers Jack and Quinn. The US is so far ahead that you can count to 12 and wonder if you can find room for Kyle Connor or Dylan Larkin or JT Miller.
The USA would have Jake Oettinger or Connor Hellebuyck in goal. You’d have Charlie McAvoy and Adam Fox and Quinn Hughes and Jaccob Slavin – all All-Star caliber – on defense. You would probably be coached by Mike Sullivan.
I would immediately sign up for a best of seven event between Canada and the US if it were available.
Now in Russia you add whether you want to call them that or not. And if you have to decide who will start in goal – Andrei Vasilevskiy, Igor Shesterkin or Ilya Sorokin. And get this, the goalie you don’t pick would be better than anyone Canada would start.
At the top they would have Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin and Kirill Kaprizov, three of the most explosive players in the game. And they would be surrounded by Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Valeri Nichushkin.
A Swedish team would start with Linus Ullmark in goal, with a deep defense from Victor Hedman, Rasmus Dahlin, Hampus Lindholm and Erik Karlsson, with Elias Pettersson, William Nylander, Elias Lindstrom and Mika Zibanejad up front.
With Mikko Rantanen, Sasha Barkov and Sebastian Aho in attack, with Juuse Saros in goal and the amazing Miro Heiskanen in defence, that would be four super teams before you even look at Finland.
Who would play for Canada today?
McDavid and MacKinnon, either in the middle or level with Brad Marchand.
Crosby would still be there, as would Patrice Bergeron.
Mitch Marner would be on the wing and there would be spots for Brayden Point, Zach Hyman and Mark Scheifele somewhere in the lineup.
The difficulty would be in goal with no obvious choice outside of old Marc-Andre Fleury.
Then there are the smaller teams, such as Germany with Draisaitl and Tim Stutzle or the Czech Republic with Pastrnak, David Krejci and Martin Necas or Switzerland with Nico Hischier.
The event couldn’t help but be spectacular like the WBC was spectacular. Only I don’t know when it will happen in hockey or where or under what circumstances. Hockey is built for best-on-best.
McDavid and MacKinnon and Makar are being robbed by sport – and so are we.
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