The World Cup of Hockey gets underway Saturday, with the start of a round robin that will see each of the eight teams play three times. The two best records in each group move on to the single elimination semis before a best-of-three final. If that sounds like a quick tournament, it is—the whole thing will wrap up in two weeks, tops, which doesn't leave much room for slow starts or building chemistry.
In theory, that means that anything can happen. In reality, this isn't exactly an even field. There's a clear favorite, a handful of teams with a puncher's chance, and some serious long shots.
Oh, and even though it's an international tournament, a quarter of the teams aren't real countries. Don't ask.
Today, we break down the best and worst of each of the eight teams.
Let's be honest... this group exists in order to get Team Canada and Team USA into the semifinals, potentially setting up the NHL's dream matchup in the final. It would be a surprise if it didn't play out that way.
International history: There have been 12 true best-on-best tournaments played since the inaugural Canada Cup back in 1976. Canada has won eight of those, including four of five since the turn of the century.
Biggest NHL stars: The entire team is packed with them, so much so that P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall and Kris Letang aren't here even though they'd all be first-line players on most others team in the tournament. They've got the best player in hockey (Sidney Crosby), each of the last two Vezina winners (Carey Price and Braden Holtby) and the reigning Norris winner (Drew Doughty). They're good.
Coach: Mike Babcock, who gets to spend two weeks with this group of all-stars and then go back to coaching the Maple Leafs.
GM: Doug Armstrong, with help from pretty much every other NHL GM other than Steve Yzerman, who bailed after leading Canada to back-to-back Olympic gold medals.
Strength: As always when it comes to Team Canada, the depth up front is ridiculous, so much so that when Jeff Carter got hurt, they just swapped in a former MVP in Corey Perry, and when Tyler Seguin went down this week, they could turn to one of the league's best two-way centers in Ryan O'Reilly. Think of this way: Depending on how the lines shake out, superstars like John Tavares, Joe Thornton and Ryan Getzlaf will be asked to play supporting roles. That's scary.
Weakness: While the forward ranks are stacked, it's almost entirely with natural centers, which could create some issues with guys having to make quick adjustments to playing out of position. And the blueline, while good, is nowhere near as stacked as the rest of the roster.
Realistic best case: They run the table, going undefeated in front of the hometown crowd and winning yet another international title.
Realistic worst case: Pretty much anything short of that would be considered a disaster.
Most likely outcome: There are no sure things in international hockey, where every game can be crucial and one hot goaltender can singlehandedly stop a powerhouse. But it will be a surprise if Canada doesn't win it all.