Months away from Sochi, the Team USA hockey roster for 2014 is the main focus.
Entering Vancouver 2010, Team USA only featured three players with previous experience: Chris Drury, Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rafalski.
This year, the U.S. has 16.
Drury and Rafalski, both two-time Silver medalists, have retired, while Langenbrunner (Team USA captain in 2010), is still active but only played four games with the Blues in 2012-13 before a torn labrum in February ended his season. He’s currently a free agent. Team USA GM David Poile (Nashville Predators) will likely go with a younger player and give the “C” to Ryan Suter, who went a tournament-best +9 Vancouver and led Team USA in overall and average ice time per game.
Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick were the only Team USA players with less ice time than Ryan Whitney, whose meteoric NHL descent took maybe six minutes. He was the only Team USA player who finished with a minus rating and recorded no shots on goal. In all fairness, Whitney and Tim Gleason were replacement players. Safe to say those two won’t be traveling to the Motherland, although Gleason did have a decent showing in 2010, there are better options for Team USA at this point.
Ryan Malone, who naturally was identified on ESPN’s YouTube channel as Ryan Kesler, had a great tournament in 2010, scoring five points in six games while only averaging around 10 minutes of ice time per game. If recent history is any indication, Malone will be banged up around the Olympics so he’s not getting a spot on this roster for the precaution’s sake.[UPDATE: Here is the full list of Team USA orientation camp invites. Malone was not invited. Many young names on there, which is great for the future of hockey in America, but Galchenyuk is probably the only player who has a legitimate chance. Team USA management typically chooses proven versus potential.]
Tim Thomas, Craig Anderson and Cory Schneider have been discussed for the final goalie spot, but unless Jimmy Howard is hurt, he’s the guy. Ryan Miller will be back and in contention for the starting job.
These were the line combinations in the Gold Medal game against Canada in 2010:
Drury (13th forward)
Whitney (7th defenseman)
Team USA will have a tough time replacing Brian Rafalski (eight points, six games, second in ice time) and the initial adjustment to the larger surface in Sochi. Team America will also have to play in what is arguably the most difficult grouping with Slovakia and Russia.
Group A: Russia (1), Slovakia (6), USA (7), Slovenia (18)
Group B: Finland (2), Canada (5), Norway (8), Austria (15)
Group C: Czech Republic (3), Sweden (4), Switzerland (9), Latvia (11)
Lord Stanley Lives Team USA Hockey Roster 2014:
|Forwards (13)||Lord Stanley Lives Analysis|
|David Backes, C, Blaine, Minn.||Backes (6’3″, 215 lbs.) is a no-brainer for a team that lacks a true power forward. Drafted as a winger, Backes is now a full-time center and hasn’t looked out of place, improving his faceoff percentage from 48 to 52 over the previous two seasons. Though his six goals and .60 shooting percentage last season were career lows, Backes can play in any situation on either the wing or at center.|
|Dustin Brown, RW, Ithaca, N.Y.||Dustin Brown struggled this past playoffs but was a point-per-game player when the Kings won the Cup in 2012. He’s been one of the best players at drawing penalties since the 2004 lockout (insert embellishment allegations here) but is also one of the game’s top penalty killers. He earned an alternate captain “A” in Vancouver — a testament to the respect teammates have for his work ethic.|
|Ryan Callahan, RW, Buffalo, N.Y.||Callahan, generally regarded as a defensive forward, has plenty of offense to his game. He’s led the Rangers in powerplay goals for the past three seasons and averaged the most TOI of any forward on the Blueshirts this past year. Callahan scores a lot of game-winning goals and generally does something well on every shift.|
|Patrick Kane, RW, Buffalo, N.Y.||Every year the Hawks have won the Stanley Cup, Patrick Kane scored more points than games played. Coincidence? Yes, obviously, but when Kane is focused, he’s one of the best in the world.|
|Ryan Kesler, C, Livonia, Mich.||Kesler, the Selke winner in 2011, was in and out of the Canucks lineup this past year, though he still managed 13 points in 17 games. His 41 goals in 2010-11 likely won’t be repeated, nor will his 50 assists the previous year, but Kesler is still a capable scoring forward that can win faceoffs and kill penalties. He is very talented in front of the net providing screens and deflecting pucks.|
|Phil Kessel, RW, Madison, Wis.||Kessel didn’t have a big role in Vancouver, but Team USA will lean on his speed on international ice. In the past three seasons, Kessel hasn’t missed a single game, scoring 89 goals and improving his defensive game each year. He should be of the leading scorers in Sochi.|
|7. Max Pacioretty, LW, New Canaan, Conn.||The Canadiens drafted Pacioretty 22nd overall in 2007 and bounced him back and forth between the AHL and the NHL before he broke out with 33 goals in 2011-12. He’s had success with average linemates, which only supports his cause. Great combination of size, speed, soft hands and a quick release, though he can’t afford to get off to a slow start this October.|
|Zach Parise, LW, Prior Lake, Minn.||Parise returns as Team USA’s leading scorer from the previous Winter Olympics, tying Rafalski for the team lead with eight points. His reaction after scoring the game-tying goal in the Gold Medal game was one of the greatest moments in U.S. hockey history. Wore an “A” in Vancouver and could get the “C” in Sochi.|
|Joe Pavelski, C/LW, Plover, Wis.||USA Todays’ Kevin Allen said after Paul Stastny, David Backes, Ryan Kesler and Derek Stepan, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski was “in the mix” (to put that term in perspective, that’s also how he described T.J. Oshie) for a spot on Team USA. Perhaps Allen was on vacation in February 2010, when Pavelski won 68 percent of faceoffs and was on the ice for Parise’s game-tying goal against Canada, or during this year’s playoffs, when Pavelski basically cemented himself as a Team USA lock by scoring 12 points in 11 games.|
|Bobby Ryan, LW/RW, Cherry Hill, N.J.||Bobby Ryan played around nine minutes per game for Team USA in Vancouver, as he doesn’t kill penalties or take faceoffs, but created a lot of chances and forechecked well in limited minutes on a line with Backes and Callahan. Ryan is very good at scoring goals and that’s all he’s really asked to do. Playing his natural spot on the right wing with Spezza on Ottawa’s top line will only further support his candidacy.|
|Paul Stastny, C, St. Louis, Mo.||Stastny hasn’t had the greatest statistical seasons of late, and the same could be said for the Avs. Stastny has worn the USA sweater well throughout his career, including as captain of the U.S. at the 2013 Poor Man’s Olympics (World Championships), and plays a solid two-way game. The perception surrounding Stastny changes significantly when a guy like Parise is lined up next to him.|
|Derek Stepan, C, Hastings, Minn.||If there’s one thing holding Derek Stepan back it’s his ability to effortlessly lose faceoffs. For the sake of our nation, we can only hope he’s never on the ice at the same time as Patrice Bergeron. Otherwise, Stepan’s overall game took an enormous step forward with 44 points (+25) in 48 games. He represented the U.S. in the 2010 World Junior Championships as captain, winning gold and leading the tournament in scoring with 14 points in seven games. Stepan is a smart player who plays well along the boards and has good hands around the net.|
|Colin Wilson, C, Greenwich, Conn.||Well, you’ve come this far without even a hint of a controversial wildcard pick, and the wait is finally over. Wilson was chosen to represent Team USA at the Poor Man’s Olympics in 2009, an impressive feat for a player considering he had ZERO games of NHL (or even AHL) experience at the time. If Wilson comes back from shoulder surgery and maintains last season’s scoring pace of 19 points in 25 games (the Preds haven’t had a legitimate scorer since Paul Kariya), he will play his way onto this roster. If not, Alex Galchenyuk, who will absolutely make the team in 2018, has to get the nod over leading fringe candidates James van Riemsdyk, Blake Wheeler and T.J. Oshie.|
|Erik Johnson, RH, Bloomington, Minn.||The 2006 Draft wasn’t a good class for defenseman, and Johnson was no exception at No. 1 overall. While he was hailed as an effortless skater with size and offensive ability, he’s shown glimpses of each but rarely has displayed all at once. To his credit, he played for Team USA in 2010 after missing an entire season after a strange incident involving a golf cart at a team outing — the only catastrophic knee injury on record dating back to the sport’s inception in the 1400s. If there’s an odd-man out on Team USA’s blueline, it’s this guy.|
|Jack Johnson, LH, Ann Arbor, Mich.||Jack Johnson’s always been a minus player, but some fans forget that he’s always on the ice. He can run the powerplay, anchor the penalty kill and jump in offensively. Regardless of his numbers, coaches trust his play and love his endurance, as evidenced in the past Winter Olympics (third in TOI among Team USA defensemen).|
|Paul Martin, LH, Elk River, Minn.||Martin isn’t flashy but plays a steady game and enjoyed a huge bounceback year in Pittsburgh, averaging just 20 seconds less per game than teammate and Norris finalist Kris Letang. Made the 2010 team but withdrew due to injury.|
|Ryan McDonagh, LH, St. Paul, Minn.||Ryan McDonagh isn’t the total package, but what he lacks in pure offensive skill he more than compensates with the other aspects of his game, which are all above average. Watching McDonagh play on a regular basis is enjoyable for that reason alone — he never gets hurt. His acceleration and speed are off the charts. McDonagh, aside from being a then-unknown centerpiece in what later became the most lopsided trade of all time, only needed half a season to establish himself as a premier shutdown defenseman (+54 in 169 career games).|
|Brooks Orpik, LH, Amherst, N.Y.||There are more attractive options than Orpik, like Shattenkirk or Byfuglien, but no candidate offers the size and stability that Orpik does, who has earned a double-digit plus rating over the past three seasons. Some think the larger ice may be a concern for Orpik, though his coach for both Team USA and on Pittsburgh, Dan Bylsma, would be smart to keep Orpik paired with Paul Martin.|
|Ryan Suter, LH, Madison, Wis.||Without getting into the specifics, Suter does everything and he’s on the ice for half the game. He went -5 with no points in five playoff games against the Hawks, though the Wild did not belong on the same rink as the Hawks. After a miserable start to this season, Suter responded with nine points in seven games. Was an alternate captain in Vancouver.|
|Keith Yandle, LH, Milton, Mass.||Keith Yandle wasn’t one of the 34 players invited to Team USA’s orientation camp in August 2009. In 413 career games, Yandle is a +21 with 217 points. In 408 games, Jack Johnson is a -90 with 157 points. As a fourth-round draft pick who plays in Phoenix, it took Yandle a while to establish himself as a top puck-mover in the NHL — but he’s clearly there now.|
|Jimmy Howard, Syracuse, N.Y.||Since 2009, Howard has appeared in 267 regular season and playoff games. Craig Anderson is the next closest with 232, while Cory Schneider only has 100 games played in that span. Tim Thomas has no chance of making the team. No goalie had shown more consistency than Howard, who posted an identical 2.13 GAA in each of the past two seasons. Howard stepped up in the playoffs, while Anderson and Schneider folded.|
|Ryan Miller, East Lansing, Mich.||Miller hasn’t played in front of a decent team since Danny Briere and Chris Drury donned the Buffaslug. Following their departures in 2007-08, Miller has still managed to win an average of 35 games a year (excluding last year’s shortened season). He played in 331 regular games during that five-year span, while the Sabres only managed to make two playoff appearances — both first-round exits. We’ve seen the damage he can do with a legitimate team in front of him (Olympic MVP, IIHF Best Goaltender, Tournament All-Star), and though Jonathan Quick has been playing unreal hockey for the past two seasons, Miller’s proven enough where it’s his job to lose.|
|Jonathan Quick, Hamden, Conn.||Before the Kings were good (2009-2011), neither was Jon Quick. Since their Cup year, Quick has been lights out, which is the exact case in point why Ryan Miller deserves the chance to retain his position. No disrespect for Quick, who is five years younger than Miller and has less tread on the tires, though many goalies have played into their late 30s. Unless Miller comes up lame in the preliminary rounds, I can’t see Quick getting more than one start or appearance in Sochi.|