Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Acting Like Canadians

Welcome to 2014, everyone! The year started off right with a great outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings that featured some pretty good goals, some highlight-reel saves, and a shootout! 105,491 people made into Michigan Stadium to watch the game, and the crowd was amazingly good in terms of their support for both sides. And at the end of the game, the people in charge of the US men's Olympic hockey team decided to put the entire hockey world into disbelief, outrage, and confusion over their selections. Welcome to Canada's problems, America.

I'll run down who made for each position before launching into who got missed. I still believe the US team will be dangerous at the Sochi Olympics, but there are some omissions that need to be addressed. In saying that, here is your 2014 Sochi Olympics Team USA men's hockey team.


David Backes, St. Louis Blues; Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings; Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks; Ryan Kesler, Vancouver Canucks; Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs; T.J. Oshie, St. Louis Blues; Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens; Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild; Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks; Paul Stastny, Colorado Avalanche; Derek Stepan, New York Rangers; James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs; and Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets.


John Carlson, Washington Capitals; Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes; Cam Fowler, Anaheim Ducks; Paul Martin, Pittsburgh Penguins; Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers; Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins; Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues; and Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild.


Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings; Ryan Miller, Buffalo Sabres; and Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings.

Again, this is going to be a fast, talented team that can check and score. They got a little bigger in terms of overall size than what they showed in Vancouver, and they appear to be modeled after the US World Championship team that did so well in May last year.


There are, however, some glaringly obvious omissions from this team that should definitely be addressed. One person who got an inside look at how this team was picked was ESPN's Scott Burnside, and he filed this report after the Winter Classic game. It's highly-recommended reading, folks. My process is one that will look at the intangibles as well as the play of the players on the ice.

While there's no denying that the three goaltenders selected by the US team are fantastic, I do question the selection of two men who have sat out the better part of the season thus far. Howard returned today at the Winter Classic and was outstanding in the short bursts he needed to be, but this is the Olympics where teams will come fast and hard for sixty minutes. Quick will reportedly return to the Kings this week, but there's no telling how well he'll play. He'll be good, but will he be good enough?

In saying this, I feel the US team missed out on the services of Ben Bishop in Tampa Bay. Bishop has won 20 of the 29 games he has appeared in this season, putting him third behind Marc-Andre Fleury's 22 wins and Antti Niemi's 21 wins while playing in five- and six-less games, respectively. Bishop's 1.89 GAA is second only to Josh Harding in goaltenders who have appeared in 20-or-more games, and third in goaltenders who have appeared in 15-or-more games. He is tops in save percentage for all goalies who have played more than 1000 minutes this season. In short, he's dominant.

Again, you're faced with an all-to-familiar Canadian problem: which goalie stays home if one were to opt for Bishop? Jonathan Quick has the best GAA of the three, Miller has the best save percentage at .927, and Jimmy Howard has the most shutouts. You know who is better in all three categories, though? Ben Bishop. Personally, Jimmy Howard would have stayed home on this trip. His stats simply don't measure up compared to the rest of the goalies. Tough break, but it's one Canada makes at every tournament.

On defence, I can't understand how Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes was left off the roster. Yandle is quietly putting together a great season in Phoenix, and he was left off the roster. He's third in scoring amongst American-born defencemen, he plays nearly 24 minutes a game, and anchors that Phoenix defensive unit. The chatter in Burnside's report about how there's greater risk than reward in putting Yandle into a top-four role seems idiotic to me.

The other guy who I'm surprised got very little chatter from the men in charge of Team USA? Jacob Trouba. For all their talk over Dustin Byfuglien on the Jets, the best defencemen the Jets have had over the last four weeks has been the 19 year-old Trouba. Apparently, "it's not his time" according to the men in suits. Wow.

It needs, then to be asked if it was Doughty's time four years ago in Vancouver? What kind of rationale is that for not taking a kid? If he's good enough to play on any of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Nashville, he'd be fine at the Olympics. And his play at the World Championships didn't even get mentioned. Me? Flabbergasted.

There are a pile of forwards who got cut out of the discussion that should really be included. Jason Pominville and Zach Parise seem to have great chemistry in Minnesota, yet only Parise is going to Russia. Brandon Saad is probably one of the most versatile players I've seen play the game in the last few years, yet Blake Wheeler was deemed more versatile by a former GM whose traded for him. Bobby Ryan is 24th in scoring and a +10 on the season, yet was deemed too one-dimensional for Team USA. Kyle Okposo, who is tied for 12th in NHL scoring with Canadian leader Jonathan Toews, didn't even gt his name mentioned.

Look, I get that picking an Olympic team will always generate debate. There will never be 100% agreement on any picks made. That's why these debates will rage on forever. But one passage in Burnside's article hit me like a ton of bricks as I looked back on who was picked. It reads,
It is an indication of Burke's understanding of the nuance that comes with building a team like this, not just the pressures of building a winner but understanding the intricacy that goes into building a team for a tournament on the world's grandest sporting stage.

Bottom line is it gets built from the top on down.

This is David Poile's team now, his show.
That might be the truest statement that anyone has written about the US men's hockey team. And the men who seemed to have the most input on the personnel going to Sochi were a GM whose NHL team has won a grand total of two playoff rounds since 1998 (Poile), a GM whose five-year plan in Toronto got him canned after over-promising and under-delivering (Burke), and a former GM who ran a franchise into the ground and saw it leave for another city (Waddell).

The three men who have actually built winning franchises - Ray Shero, Stan Bowman, and Dean Lombardi - were often heard, but their choices were dismissed rather quickly. I mean, why listen to them, right? What have they done lately besides build Stanley Cup-winning teams? Even the coaching staff led by Dan Bylsma seemed to question the trifecta making the decisions at times.

While the Americans are sending a talented team to Sochi, there is a lot of talent being left back on North American soil. Again, we, in Canada, experience this every time an international tournament is played, so we're quite familiar with this scenario. There is, however, the fallout from this scenario of which Canadians are also quite aware: what happens if this team doesn't win gold? Or medal at all?

If something goes off-kilter in Sochi, just remember who was picking this team. The players can play up to their abilities and the coaches can demand as much as they can get from the players, but if questions about the level of talent sent to Sochi arise out of the US camp, know that the public will come asking the hard questions about what went wrong.

And the answers will need to come "from the top on down" to settle the outrage.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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