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The Puck Stops Here

How Team Canada Won Olympic Gold

The Olympics are over, but I still feel the "hangover" from the best hockey we have seen in years (at least since 2010).  The question worth asking is how did Canada win.  In short, they did as well as they did because Canada has more talent than any other nation in the world.  More of the top scorers in the NHL are Canadian than any other nation.  The top three scorers in the NHL right now are all members of the Canadian Olympic Team (Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares - though he hurt his knee during the tournament).  Canada has depth that no other team can offer.  11 Canadian Olympians currently have 50 or more points.  Two Swedes cross that threshold (and they won silver).  The Americans had three 50 point men.  That made them second to Canada.  No other country can offer the depth that Canada offers.

That said Canada was not a dominant offensive force.  They scored 17 goals in the tournament.  Finland scored more.  USA scored more.  Sweden tied Canada with 17 goals for third in the tournament.  Despite Canada's offensive depth, they were not the most powerful offensive team.  This was largely a choice.

Canada chose to be safe.  They chose not to take risks to score goals.  They chose not to take risks, even if those risks were good risks that would likely have worked in their favor.  PK Subban is a player who takes risks defensively and it usually works in his favor.  In fact he won the Norris Trophy last year because of it.  Canada refused to play him.  Martin St Louis is the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner.  He is also too small to play a physical defensive style.  Canada chose not to put him on their team initially and only added him because Steve Stamkos was not fully recovered from his broken leg.  Despite St Louis being on the Olympic team he wasn't played much.  Canada played a stifling defence.  They allowed three goals in six games.  That record is almost unbeatable.  How can you beat a team that allows a goal in every other game?

I would argue that Canada could have won their games by a larger margin if they chose to play a more offensive style.  The problem with a more offensive style is that it is possible that you can allow an extra goal or two on the counter-attack.  Most likely, a team with Canada's talent would produce more several more goals for than might be allowed and they would win by a larger margin.  That would likely increase Canada's chances of winning a tournament.  However it was unnecessary.  Canada had so much talent they were likely to win anyway.  The decision was made to be safe instead of take risks.  Nobody wanted to be the guy who was responsible for a bad goal against and the risk that goal might cost a game.  The safe choice was made over better choices that offered much more upside with a little more risk.  These choices would have increased the chances of winning. 

It sure is nice to have the talent that you can afford to make those choices.  Canada's brain trust was afraid of anything that might be considered a gaffe.  They made safe picks.  They won with those safe picks.  Another team would have to take risks to win.  Another team would not have the path open to them of winning a tournament because they have more talent than anyone else.  Other teams would have to try something that had a significant chance of failing in order to beat Canada.  There were no successful examples of this in Sochi, but they may exist in future tournaments.  Canada will not win forever and when that happens the problem may be that Canada took the safe pick instead of the better pick.

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Comments

w2j2's avatar

. The safe choice was made over better choices that offered much more upside with a little more risk.  These choices would have increased the chances of winning

A more offensive style may have increased the chances of winning a single game….

However, in this tournament, a single lost game eliminates your team.  You cannot afford to lose a single game.

In a 7 game series, like the Stanley cup playoffs, you can afford a loss, so you can afford the risk of a more offensive-oriented game plan.

Canada’s brain trust was afraid of anything that might be considered a gaffe.
I do not think they were “afraid” of anything.  I think Canada made the correct choice based on the single-elimination nature of the tournament.

Posted by w2j2 on 02/27/14 at 06:40 AM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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