Team America: Puck Police

With just a few short weeks until the opening ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics, team USA announced their final 25 man roster at the winter classic on new years day. In recent days ESPN has been pumping out their usual “Coverage” and “Analysis” of hockey, and by that I mean there has been almost nothing mentioned about it on sportscenter because Skip Bayless and Steven A. Smith would rather debate what Lebron James had for lunch… but I digress. The roster itself has proven to be an interesting, and in some asepects controversial one, but all in all this team has the ability to make a solid run at the gold medal they fell just short of in Vancouver 2010.

Here are my line pairings for the squad (In no particular order):

Forwards-
Left Wing- Center- Right Wing:
Dustin Brown – David Backes – Ryan Callahan
Max Paccioretty – Joe Pavelski – Patty Kane
Zach Parise – Ryan Kesler – Phil Kessel
James VanRiemsdyk – Paul Stastny – TJ Oshie

Extras: Derek Stepan, Blake Wheeler

Defense:
Brooks Orpik- Paul Martin
Ryan McDonagh- Ryan Suter
Cam Fowler- Justin Faulk
Kevin Shattenkirk- John Carlson

Goalies:
1) Ryan Miller
2) Jonathan Quick
3) Jimmy (PLEASEDONTEVERLEAVETHEBENCH) Howard

At first glance there are a few things that stand out about this roster, the first being that it is not by any means an all star team. While there is plenty of star power on this bench, every player will have a role to play on this team and if head coach Dan Blysma can get them to gel and play his brand of fast paced offense, they could very well be a force to be reckoned with in these games. There is one thing that is constant throughout the entire roster, this team has speed. Everyone can fly, and they will have to with the extra ice that comes with the Olympic territory (the ice surface is bigger in international competition than it is in the NHL). The speed of this squad is probably one of its biggest assets, and it will come in handy against teams like Sweden, Russia, and Canada.

This team’s greatest strengths lie in the offensive zone for sure. With players like Pavelski, Oshie, Stastny, and Stepan there is a lot of ability to move the puck and make plays happen in the offensive end. The extra ice could make this powerplay unit VERY dangerous with the level of skill and puck possession these guys have. To add to these playmakers ability to move the puck, Kessel, JVR, Parise, and Pattie Kane (Fastest hands in the west) have all proven they have the ability to bury the biscuit. Offensively this team should be really fun to watch and has the potential to carry this team far.

One thing that this team will have no shortage of is leadership. There are three players on this team that wear the C for their respective NHL teams, Dustin Brown of the Kings, David Backes of the Blues, and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers… and to be quite honest, with the “lead by example” approach that Ryan Miller brings to his game in Buffalo, I’m going to count him as a captain as well (Sorry Steve Ott, but you know who really carries that team). This is a trait of team USA that will not show up on any stat sheets, but will certainly help them in terms of playing as a unit, and that is something that will make or break this team in these games.

While the offensive end looks fast and furious, it is the defense that has some concerned. Despite the fact every D-man on the roster is having a stellar NHL season, the back end of this roster is very, very young and inexperienced. Orpik and Martin are the only two players on the blue line over the age of 24, and while age may just be a number, veteran experience plays a critical role in these games. Much like the look of the offense, this defense is going to be fast and move the puck well, but only time will tell if these youngsters are ready to stand tall with the best competition on the planet.

Another slight concern for this team is its depth. For the international stage this squad is not going to be as talent heavy as some of its competition in the field. Russia is going to have a high powered offense led by Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, and Ilya “I may not be retired after all” Kovalchuk, Sweden will be a very well rounded team with Henrik Zetterberg up front, Erik Karlsson on the blueline, and Henrik Lundqvist backstopping, and without stating the obvious, Canada’s team should be pretty stacked from top to bottom (its their game after all). As I mentioned earlier team USA is going to have to play as a unit and execute their game plan if they want to go far in this tourney, because playing wide open, chance-for-chance hockey is just not going to work for this team against this type of competition.

X Factors:

Goaltending:
If Ryan Miller puts on a performance anywhere near the caliber of his showing in Vancouver, you can expect a good run for a medal. His numbers are solid despite only having ten wins playing on a god awful team in Buffalo, but his save percentage is reasonable when you consider the guy has no defense in front of him. I imagine him being at the top of his game for these Olympics, and putting a real team in front of him cant hurt anything. If you have any doubts, just check the tape

If Quick lets in some softies like this one… welp we might have some issues.

Two way hockey:
If this team can find a way to play consistently on both ends of the ice, up and down the entire roster, they will have great success. The two way grind is going to rely heavily on Parise and Callahan to lead the way. These guys are two of the best players in these games at this style of hockey. They can play great defense, hit hard, pass well, and score some beauties. Leading by example will be key in this department, and if we see a little of this or some of that stuff from last time around
these guys could really provide a spark to the rest of the team.

Identity:
This team will have a bit of an issue finding its comfort zone, if it even finds it at all. What kind of hockey they will play is still up in the air with this versatile team dynamic. What is certain however is that they will need to match their game plans to suit their opponents in this loaded field of play. Its going to be up to Blysma to tailor up some strategies that fit this teams skill set, match up well against the opponents style of play, and he’s gotta do it all without causing too much of an identity crisis in the locker room. Who said coaching was easy?

Now time to look at what could have been. There are quite a few firestorms about who should have made this roster, some of them are justified, while others …. well… not so much.

Snubs:

Cory Schnieder- Granted he would be riding the pine pony behind two other goalies no matter how you cut it, but I still take him over Jimmy “Soft Serve” Howard any day.

Bobby Ryan- He’s a perennial 30 goal scorer, his offense is ALWAYS valuable to a team, but he isn’t very quick. GM Brian Burke says he doesn’t fit this team because “He is not intense. Intense is not even in his vocabulary.” Well Burkie, you GM’d the Leafs through some of their worst seasons ever, and have now moved to Calgary to do …. well the exact same thing. Its time to drink a nice tall glass of shut the fuck up. If there is anyone that should have made it who didn’t, its this guy right here.

Seth Jones- He may be the best 19 year old Nashville GM David Poille has ever seen… but he is still Too young. Even for this team. Definitely expect to see his name on this roster next time around though.

Kyle Okposo- The scoring and playmaking ability are definitely there, the guy has 42 points for the Islanders this season in a campaign that has revolved around himself, John Tavares, and Thomas Vanek. The Problem with Ok is his horrible defense, which kinda comes along with playing for the Isles. Despite putting up 42 points he still sits at a -2 (+/-) for the season. To put it nicely, he is a defensive liability this team cannot afford.

John Tortorella- Part of me REALLLLLY wishes he would handle all of the pressers for the Olympics, because then we would end up with jems of international diplomacy such as like this

Dubs:

Dustin Byfuglien- Yes he is a physical force to be reckoned with. Yes he can shoot from the point and can put up offense. But he is big and slow and the extra ice that comes along with the Olympics does not come with a happy meal for old Dusty. They literally had to trim the fat..

Jack Johnson- He played a critical role in the silver medal run in 2010, but has had an absolutely terrible time playing since being traded to Columbus (and lets be honest, who wouldn't) and while its sad to see a talented guy like this fall so far, it shouldn't be terribly surprising he was not chosen for the roster.

Tim Thomas- He's old. He's slow. He currently collects checks from the Florida Panthers. He dislikes our government. Where in any of this does it look like Timmy should be going to represent America in anything? Tell him he's gotta call Obama for permission, he probably wont want to go anyway.

Final prediction:
I can see this team definitely has the potential of coming home with a medal this year in Sochi, but the cold hard truth is that Russia will not be an easy team to beat with their powerful offense and the hometown crowd on their side, and Canada is ... well Canada. I see this team falling to Russia or our neighbors to the north in the knockout rounds, and playing in the bronze medal game against either Finland or Sweden. Here's to hoping, FOR 'MERICA!, that the boys can channel the determination of the 1980 Olympic team and topple those Russians one more time and bring home some gold!

merica