Finally, today we conclude PensBurgh's Olympic Preview Series with a look at silver medalists from Vancouver, United States. If you'd like to check out the previous articles in the series, here they are:
WORLD RANKING AND OLYMPIC HISTORY
Americans have participated in the Olympics all the way back to 1920 and have won 11 medals - two golds (in 1960 and 1980), eight silvers, and one bronze. As we all painfully remember, our latest medal was silver in Vancouver. The US men's team is currently ranked #6 in the world. The US placed third in this year's World Championships, losing to Switzerland 3-0 in the semis, but beating Finland 3-2 in the bronze-medal game.
PRE-OLYMPIC ORIENTATION CAMP
USA Hockey invited 48 players (6 goalies, 18 defensemen, and 24 forwards) to a pre-Olympic orientation camp held on August 26-27 in Arlington, VA:
DEFENSEMEN: Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, John Carlson, Danny DeKeyser, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba, Keith Yandle
FORWARDS: Justin Abdelkader, David Backes, Beau Bennett, Nick Bjugstad, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Alex Galchenyuk, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Trevor Lewis, Kyle Okposo, TJ Oshie, Max Pacioretty, Kyle Palmieri, Zack Parise, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, Brandon Saad, Craig Smith, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan, James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler
Four months later, here we are. The deadline for teams to be announced has been set for January 7, but Team USA will be announced on Wednesday, January 1, in a televised event as part of the NHL Winter Classic broadcast. After approximately 40 games, form fluctuations, trips to the IR and back, here is how I think the team shakes out.
GOALIES: Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop
Ryan Miller should definitely be the starter, and not just because of his considerable Olympic experience but also because he's been excellent this year. As recently as Friday Dean Lombardi said that Jonathan Quick is on track to return the first week of January, so he should have a month to get back to form. I don't see how you leave Ben Bishop off the team. He has the best SV%, lowest GAA, most wins and shutouts of all American goalies. That leaves out Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider and Craig Anderson. The goaltending decisions will be the hardest ones to make for Poile, Bylsma and their staff.
DEFENSEMEN: Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh, Keith Yandle, Erik Johnson, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Cam Fowler
The defense will be such a multi-faceted decision-making process. I see only four players as locks: Suter, Shattenkirk, McDonagh and Yandle. Suter and Shattenkirk would be my top pairing. Everyone else is going to be picked based on need and injury availability. You definitely want some existing chemistry at least, so if Martin gets healthy, he and Orpik would be great together, if both are ready to go. It just so happens that people very familiar with these two guys are making the selections. If Martin can't go, next ones up would be John Carlson, Justin Faulk, or even Torey Krug before Dustin Byfuglien. He's actually the toughest guy to leave out, but remember at the beginning I explained how certain guys who might be considered better NHL players overall might not get picked because of different requirements for playing on European ice? It's not as inexplicable as it looks. I'd love to see Seth Jones get a shot, but this is about now, not tomorrow. I know Jack Johnson is on all the lists, but he's really not that good.
FORWARDS: Centers: Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny. Right wings: Patrick Kane, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, TJ Oshie, Blake Wheeler. Left wings: Zach Parise, James van Riemsdyk, Brandon Saad, Max Pacioretty
Not too many dilemmas there. Some difficult depth decisions will have to be made - I picked Stastny over Stepan. I also picked Pacioretty over other depth wingers simply because of his goal-scoring pace. In a perfect world you'd want leadership of Brown and Callahan, but there are only 14 spots. Even guys who weren't invited to the orientation camp should definitely get a look, like Jason Pominville and Nick Bonino. Zach Parise was put on the IR on Saturday with a nagging foot injury. I hope he's back sooner rather than later, as his loss would be significant. Brandon Dubinsky will most definitely get a serious look tonight. He's kind of feisty these days.
MEET THE COACHES
The US team will be coached by the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who will be assisted by Peter Laviolette, Tony Granato and Todd Richards. Well, maybe it's not Babcock, Julien, Hitchcock and Ruff, but we know these guys pretty well and they know one another pretty well. Disco will spread the responsibility and put his excellent assistant coaches to work. GM David Poile, associate GM Ray Shero and director of player personnel Brian Burke are as good as it gets when it comes to putting the team together.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Strengths: Goaltending, definitely. Excellent speed at forward, and that will matter on the larger European ice.
Weaknesses: Depth at center as well as on defense.
All told, the US doesn't boast the depth at forward and the super-incredible names that Canada or Russia have, doesn't have the blue line talent that compares to Sweden, and doesn't have the goaltending that is as good as Finland. Top American players, however, are as good as anyone's. The Suter-Shattenkirk pairing with the Backes line can shut down anybody. With the kind of speed and puck-handling skills that this team has, it can compete with - and beat - anyone.
USA has been drawn in group A, with Slovakia, Russia and Slovenia (in that order of group play). They are better than any of those teams, including Russia, who will play with a lot of pressure. In 2010 the US lost in OT to Canada in the finals. I expect Patrick Kane to be the best player in the Olympic tournament and to lead red, white and blue to the finals again.
For the end, let's go back to Lake Placid. I was sad about it at the time, but that team just wouldn't go away. I expect this year's team to give it the same dogged fight. Let's go USA!