Canada scouts focus on ‘bubble players’

Team Canada’s management group continues to traverse the continent with an eye on assembling a squad capable of winning Olympic gold in Vancouver.

Team Canada’s management group continues to traverse the continent with an eye on assembling a squad capable of winning Olympic gold in Vancouver.

Executive director Steve Yzerman has kept a pretty busy travel schedule over the first seven weeks of the NHL season — as have executives Kevin Lowe, Doug Armstrong and Ken Holland.

“We’ve been around to see both East and West — and quite honestly north and south,” Armstrong said Thursday from Dallas, prior to watching the Stars host Columbus. “Steve’s down in California this week and I’m going there in two weeks. I’m out East next week when he’s in the central . . .”

The idea is to have different members of the management group see players on a variety of nights. For example, Yzerman took in the Stars-Red Wings game at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday before Armstrong watched Dallas play at home the following evening.

With just six weeks remaining until the 23-man roster is unveiled on Dec. 31, the search is clearly narrowing.

“You don’t want to call them bubble players, but you have a group of probably five or six players that are fighting for two or three spots,” said Armstrong.

“My view is you want to give them the best opportunity. And the way to do that is you have to see them on multiple occasions.”

Armstrong has spent almost two decades working for NHL teams and is enjoying the more focused nature of his job with the Olympic team.

When he goes to a game now, he’s doing it to evaluate specific players. That isn’t always the case when he does work for the St. Louis Blues.

“You’re scouting for a purpose,” Armstrong said in describing his Olympic role. “When you scout for your NHL team, you’re watching players, but very rarely is it because there’s someone you’re specifically watching. That might happen one or two times a year.”

It’s happening with a little more frequency these days.

The management group got together earlier this month and is scheduled to do so again in December. In the meantime, there’s plenty of ongoing dialogue between Yzerman and his executives about the status of potential players.

“We’re in constant communication,” said Armstrong. “We’re probably talking five, six times a week. It can be 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, could be an hour.”

It’s the kind of conversation any Canadian hockey fan would love to listen in on. No matter what the final 23-man group ends up looking like, one thing remains certain.

“At the end of the day, there’s going to be 23 extremely happy and excited players and there’s going to be probably 50 or 60 very disappointed players,” said Armstrong.

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