Oh Say Can You See

If you were keeping score on New Year’s Day – and really why wouldn’t you – our prediction of Team USA’s Olympic roster was put to the test.  By the time the final spot was announced, we were correct on 15 of the 23 roster decisions – though we probably deserve a mulligan on the Andy Greene selection.  How were we supposed to know he was ineligible because he was left off the original list of Olympians last summer?  So we’ll say 15 of 22.

Anyways, back to the issue at hand.  With the roster revealed, we now have a definitive roster to break down for you.  The mainstream media has been quick to point to how inexperienced the Americans are and Brian Burke has been quick to tell anyone how big of underdogs they are.  What they’re not telling you is how sneaky stacked this team is. 

The Americans boast one of the top 3 goalies in the NHL (Miller).  They have three players (Kane, Stastny, and Parise) in the top 25 of leading scorers.  They have one bonified sniper (Kessel) and one guy who is on pace for 40 goals (Malone).  The 2006 team they are not. 

And really, we shouldn’t be that shocked about any of this.  Since USA Hockey’s inception of the National Team Developmental Program went into effect in the 1997-98 season, the skill of American hockey players has grown by leaps and bounds.  If you want to see how much the USA has improved, look no further than the World Junior Championships.

Since the tournament’s inception in 1974 and prior to the NTDP being launched, the Americans won one medal: a bronze in 1992.  In the past ten years, they’ve won one gold medal in 2004, a bronze in 2007, and will be battling Canada for this year’s gold medal on Tuesday. 

From this year’s Olympic team, there are seven players who paved their way through the NTDP (Kane, Kessel, Komisarek, Jack and Erik Johnson, Suter, Kesler).  Two of those players (Erik Johnson and Kane) were also the number one overall pick in the NHL draft.

No longer should the Americans be happy with any Olympic success and brush off the disappointments just because they gave it the old college try.  Don’t let Brian Burke or the rest of the mainstream media fool you; it will be a colossal disappointment if the Americans don’t make it out of the quarterfinals.  They may not be Russia or Canada, but they’re not Slovokia or Latvia either.  

Let’s break down Team USA by position:

GOALIES      

Not a whole lot to say here.  Ryan Miller will be given every chance to get hot and carry Team USA through the six game tournament.  While everyone drools over the depth Team Canada has at this position, people forget you can only play one goalie at a time.  Miller is one of the best goalies in the NHL this year.  If he gets hot for a two-week stretch at the end of February, it won’t take much else for the Americans to gain a medal.  Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick will be nothing more than towel jockeys until America is eliminated.

DEFENSE 

As we said in our predictions, after Erick Johnson, Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin and Ryan Suter, it was a bit of a crap shoot.  Burke picked Brooks Orpik, Jack Johnson and Mike Komisarek, one of his high priced free agent acquisitions from seven months prior, passing on the likes of Ryan Whitney, Rob Scuderi and Matt Carle, among others, for the final three spots. 

The travesty may well be Andy Greene, who, as mentioned above, was left off a drug testing list, making him ineligible for selection.  Greene, the little known New Jersey defenseman, paces his back-end teammates in goals, points and +/.  He’s added five power play goals in the process.

News also broke shortly after the roster’s announcement that Paul Martin may not ready by tournament time.  That would be a huge blow, as Martin is viewed as a top-four defenseman and is one of only two returning Olympians on the back end.

Looking back on our list, we should have included Komisarek.  All things considered, what were the odds Burke would pass up the man he gave $22.5 million to in July?  Slim.

All in all, it’s not a bad list.  The bad news: not one player would have been selected to play for Team Canada.

FORWARDS

USA’s top 6 forwards were pretty much what everyone expected.  Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, and Phil Kessel were all slam dunks.  A third line of Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, and Ryan Malone gives the US team the beef that Burke so desperately craves and could all play as top 6 forwards if the situation calls for it. 

Things got a little goofy for Brian Burke and his staff when they filled out the fourth line.  Ryan Callahan and David Backes aren’t bad ideas.  It’s not like they’re going to hold America back from medaling.  They’re depth guys and there probably isn’t much of a difference between them and R.J. Umberger, Kyle Okposo, or Dustin Byfuglien.

The same can’t be said for the inclusion of Chris Drury.  

Chris Drury, he of the 14 points and -8 in 36 games, all while averaging well over 17 minutes of ice time per night.   He has absolutely no business being on this roster.  There is nothing Drury can do that roughly ten other guys left off the team can’t do better.  The only explanations given as to why Drury was included on the team aren’t all that rational to begin with.

  • His Olympic experience.  Here is Drury’s precious Olympic experience: The ’02 Games and the ’06 Games where in 12 games he racked up a whopping 3 assists.  The rest of the American forwards may be green to the whole Olympic experience but by the time they play the Canadians (their first real opponent) in their third game of the tournament, they’ll all be seasoned veterans to the Games.  What could he possibly say to them once they’re deep into the tournament, “Hey guys, when we beat Russia in ’02, Phil Housley said we should all tuck each other in the night before our game.  Ya know, for good luck.” 
  • He’s good in the room.  These players will be spending two weeks together.  This isn’t Lake Placid circa 1980 where the players spent the better part of two years together.  No, these are professional athletes.  The idea that having a cohesive locker room makes much of a difference in a 6 game tournament is silly.  Unless you bring in Leatherface, the difference between two guys’ attitudes is negligible and the better player should always be taken.  Or in other words, not Chris Drury.   

And perhaps the most disturbing thing about Drury making the team is his Rangers’ coach, John Tortorella, is an assistant coach for Team USA.  How in the name of all things holy could Tortorella say that putting Drury on this team was a good idea?  In other news, the Rangers are barely above .500 this year.

With Jamie Langenbrunner still lurking, it’s hard to see where the American brain-trust feels Drury fits in.  He’s clearly not a top-6 guy; he’s not defensively responsible enough to be a checking winger; and he doesn’t play the type of game expected from a fourth liner.  Otherwise, he’s great. 

As long as Drury doesn’t steal minutes from better players, then the Americans should have more firepower than people are expecting.  A top line of Kane, Stastny, and Parise would be an awful lot of fun to watch.  Then again, so would watching Kane and Kessel team up on a line. 

Do you believe in miracles?

Maybe.

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One Response to Oh Say Can You See

  1. Dave Morris says:

    This might sound ‘un-Canadian’ of me, but I find the jingoist yapping of certain talking heads (yes, you, Pierre McGuire) totally over the top.

    Congratulations to the USA Juniors. They earned that gold medal.

    Hockey is an international game, and getting to see the best of the sport’s future transcends borders.

    Or at least, it should.

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