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New Hockey Canada GM Doug Armstrong has tough decisions ahead

Doug Armstrong was part of the Canadian management group for the past two Olympics. Abelimages/Getty Images

TORONTO -- Seeing first-hand the torment that Steve Yzerman lived through as Canada’s two-time Olympic general manager makes you wonder why anyone in their right mind would want the job.

And did we mention Yzerman led Team Canada to two Olympic gold medals?

But it is the adrenaline rush from succeeding under so much pressure that hockey people live for.

And so, Doug Armstrong didn’t give it a moment’s thought. He accepted Hockey Canada’s offer to run the hockey-mad country’s entry in next year’s World Cup of Hockey without blinking -- despite very much knowing just what Yzerman went through since Armstrong was part of the Canadian management group for the past two Olympics.

"He and I talked about that," said Armstrong, smiling on Monday after a news conference to announce him as Canada's GM. "When I was asked to do this, he [Yzerman] was the first person I called to make sure that he still had that same desire not to participate in it. He had certainly earned the right to if he wanted to, but he felt it was time for other people to move ahead. But I’ve talked to him on numerous occasions about this process and I plan on talking to him."

Yzerman stepped down right after the team he assembled for Sochi won Olympic gold in February 2014 -- the pressures of that build-up taking its toll in the aftermath of Martin St. Louis asking for a trade from the Tampa Bay Lightning after he was initially omitted from the Olympic roster even though he was added to the team as an injury replacement.

Yzerman, Tampa’s GM, left the Team Canada head honcho position with a perfect two-for-two record in terms of Olympic championships, and now Armstrong jumps into those big shoes.

Not only will Armstrong still pick Yzerman’s brain, but he has some great options on his Team Canada management staff, which was also announced Monday: Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings, Marc Bergevin of the Montreal Canadiens, Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks, Rob Blake of the Los Angeles Kings and Scott Salmond of Hockey Canada -- lots of high hockey IQ there.

Armstrong, the St. Louis Blues GM, also plans on making another call to the man who assembled the 2002 Canadian Olympic squad and the 2004 Canadian World Cup of Hockey team.

"At some point, I’d like to reach out to Wayne Gretzky to get his opinions on the difference of the format and putting that training camp together versus the Olympics team together," said Armstrong.

What remains unclear at this point is who will be the head coach. Mike Babcock was at the helm behind the Canadian bench for the past two Olympics, so that puts him back in the thick of the discussion. But by no means is he a sure thing.

"There’s a lot of really good coaches out there," Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney told ESPN.com Monday. "Mike’s done an incredible job for Canada and the international game, obviously. We all respect that and we will continue to. He’ll certainly be a big topic of conversation when it comes down to the coaching staff. But there are other guys who have done a great job. Alain Vigneault did a great job in New York this year. Q [Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville] just keeps doing what Q does, three out of six, I mean, c’mon, you got to pay attention to that. There’s such good coaching in this league. You’ve got other guys who have the international experience, Lindy [Ruff], Claude [Julien], Tipp [Dave Tippett]. ... Plus you’ve got Darryl Sutter. So, we’ve got to talk this through."

Armstrong said that the depth of Canada's player pool and the depth of Canada's coaching pool is the "greatest in the world."

"You can’t deny what Mike has accomplished [in] the last two Olympics," Armstrong said. "And most certainly he’s on everyone’s short list. But I think we want to be fair to the process. You have Joel Quenneville who has won three Stanley Cups, you have Darryl Sutter that’s won two, Alain Vigneault has won two Presidents' Trophies with two different teams, there’s a great list of coaches. We’re going to take our time."

Always dangerous to read between the lines, but I wonder since there’s been a change in GM if Hockey Canada won’t also feel it's good timing for a new face behind the bench. Having said that, it’s not like you can make a bad choice between Babcock, Quenneville, Vigneault or any of the top names.

The real tough part always comes in the form of the final few player selections on a roster that’s ultra-loaded.

Armstrong and the Team Canada management staff held a meeting Monday going over their original player roster thoughts.

"A small group of us got together at the general managers’ meeting [in March] and put together a ghost roster," said Armstrong. "We said, 'Let’s watch the playoffs, let’s watch the world championships. And put another roster together.' So now we’re going to go through the similarities of the first one and the similarities of this one. I know on my list there were three or four new players on the shorter list now."

Armstrong mentioned the likes of Jake Muzzin and Alex Killorn as names moving up his list.

That Armstrong said his group had begun these discussions back in March also suggests that Hockey Canada has had him in mind for the GM job for quite some time.

"We started to talk to Doug right after Christmas actually about the position," revealed Renney. "We were pretty dialed in that he would be the guy."

'The guy' has been Yzerman twice and Gretzky three times over the past five best-on-best tournaments, The Great One’s teams winning Olympic gold at Salt Lake in 2002 and the World Cup in 2004 before a disappointing 2006 Olympics in Torino. That’s when Yzerman entered the picture and won Olympic gold twice in a row.

Over to you, Doug Armstrong. No pressure at all!