Mike Babcock likes having right handed defensemen and left handed defensemen playing on the correct side. Canada is blessed with an abundance of right-sided defensemen and the lefties (who were seen as a weakness after Keith) have held their own so far this tournament*. Babcock announced after the game that both Sharp and Hamhuis would be back in against Finland, leaving everyone fearing that PK Subban, a brilliant skater and creator of offense would be scratched again in favour of the safer player, Hamhuis. Subban has been playing tough minutes for the Habs and is starting to return to his dominant possession ways. So the question is who should be scratched on defense. The answer may as well be no one.
As crazy as it sounds Canada should take a page from the European playbook and skate eight defensemen and 12 forwards.This would accomplish two roles at once. Hamhuis was used in game one against Norway as a penalty killer and Subban was used in game two against Austria as a power play point man. If the idea is one or the other than maybe the best solution is to utilize both in limited roles and have them available to bail out Canada if they get into a situation where they need an offensive defenseman like Subban or a more defensive orientated one like Hamhuis, they will both be available to play off the bench.
The other problem that dressing eight defensemen solves is the rotation of partners. I thought that Marc-Eduard Vlasic's numbers were a bit rough against Norway and Olivier Bouchard pointed out that his struggles may have more to do with the instability in partners than his actual play.
@HappyCaraT Vlasic and Doughty were pretty good together. Seems the switch-a-roo messed them up.— Olivier Bouchard (@oli_bou) February 15, 2014
By dressing eight defensemen, defense pairings can be set and Babcock does not have to worry about integrating a seventh player into the unit. It also affords him to not have to rotate a forward throughout the lineup, stabilizing the lines to a degree.
Will this happen?
To quote Daniel Alfredsson, "probably not". As far as I can tell the last time a Canadian coach went with a lineup featuring eight defensemen and twelve forwards was Pat Quinn's team at the Ottawa World Junior Championships in 2009. The change was made when Pat Quinn decided that he wanted to take 17 year old Ryan Ellis for his offensive prowess and have a safety valve incase one of the top six faltered or got injured. This way of thinking was successful for Canada as they won the gold medal with a lot of credit going to their unstoppable power play, quarterbacked by Ryan Ellis.
The fear of changing the makeup of the lineup to accommodate all your good players without taking minutes away from other talented players. By dressing eight defensemen and using two as specialist, Babcock would not have to give that pairing big minutes but would have the players available for the special teams they play on as well as a defenseman of each handedness ready to incase a defenseman falters or gets injured. It is easier to replace a forward in a 12 man lineup than it is to replace a defenseman who is hurt with one playing the correct side then having to scramble the pairings to accommodate the injury.
Going with eight defensemen would be a move that Canada has not seen since 2009 but it could pay off for Canada. Babcock would be able to keep the players he sees as his best players from playing their regular minutes. It would also put Babcock in a situation where he may have to double shift one of his top forwards, giving someone like Tavares or Benn more ice time.
Canada has more weapons up front than on the back end because of the obsession with not having a defenseman play on his off side, the answer may be to step outside of the box and dress eight defensemen, allowing for Canada to not have to mess up their pairings to integrate a player so they do not get cold sitting on the bench.
*apologies for linking two French articles but they are probably the most thorough analysis there is on Team Canada. If you have any questions about them, you can tweet @oli_bou and he will answer them.