by PuckStopsHere on 01/01/14 at 06:46 PM ET
A few days ago, I posted my picks for the US Olympic Hockey Team. These were not my predictions for who would be selected to the team but rather my choices for the best possible team. Now that the actual selections have been announced, I want to look at them and compare them with my picks and to explain why I made the picks I did when there is a discrepancy between my picks and the actual selections.
Here is the US Olympic Team:
Jimmy Howard Detroit Red Wings
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
I had Miller and Quick among my picks. Cory Schneider was the third goalie in place of Howard. Schneider has consistently had better numbers than Howard. In fact, Schneider has had a better saves percentage and goals against average every year of his career (at least since 2009/10 when Schneider only played two games). I think that is enough evidence that Schneider is in fact the better goalie. The other goalie worthy of mention at this point is Ben Bishop. Bishop has the best numbers of any American goalie so far this season - and is a Vezina Trophy candidate at this point of the season. I left Bishop out because his longevity isn't clear. Perhaps, Bishop is in a hot streak and cannot sustain these numbers over the longterm. It takes more than half a season in order to prove a goalie is "for real".
John Carlson Washington Capitals
Justin Faulk Carolina Hurricanes
Cam Fowler Anaheim Ducks
Paul Martin Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan McDonagh New York Rangers
Brooks Orpik Pittsburgh Penguins
Kevin Shattenkirk St Louis Blues
Ryan Suter Minnesota Wild
I only agreed with five of these players. Carlson, Martin, McDonagh, Shattenkirk and Suter appear on my team and on the actual team. Missing are Dustin Byfuglien, Keith Yandle and Erik Johnson. The US Olympic Team has chosen to give up on some of their top offensive defencemen in order to be safe. As a result they have given up a potential strength. Byfuglien and Yandle are two of their best offensive defencemen. In every season since 2010/11, Yandle and Byfuglien have both been in the top three scoring defencemen in the league. Yandle remains on that list the year before that. Byfuglien does not because he was playing forward. No intelligent team leaves off that kind of offensive talent. It is true that neither Yandle nor Byfuglien are the strongest most reliable players defensively, but both have been successful on their teams. Erik Johnson was also on my team. He has a strong history of successful international play and is having a good season and seems to have solid chemistry with Kevin Shattenkirk who is also on the team. In their places are Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler and Brooks Orpik. Fowler has had a hard time with his puck possession. I have written about it a few times, for example here and here. Fowler is getting better as he has finally adjusted to his NHL role in the past year or so, but I am not convinced he belongs on an Olympic Team. He certainly has not proven to be as good as the three players I selected. I think his selection is based upon a projection into the future. I think Justin Faulk is also is a projection into the future. He only has 144 NHL games played and hasn't shown the same success as any of the three players I had in his place. Fowler and Faulk may someday be good enough for these spots, but they are not yet there. Why pass up better players who are available today? Orpik was selected for his defensive ability. He has little offensive ability. He has never scored more than two goals in an NHL season. He does have solid international experience, but he lacks the upside of the players I selected in his place. Orpik is a safe pick. The American defence would rather be safe than have a strong upside. This could lead to their undoing.
David Backes St Louis Blues
Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Ryan Callahan New York Rangers
Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Ryan Kesler Vancouver Canucks
Phil Kessel Toronto Maple Leafs
TJ Oshie St Louis Blues
Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens
Zach Parise Minnesota Wild
Joe Pavelski San Jose Sharks
Paul Stastny Colorado Avalanche
Derek Stepan New York Rangers
James Van Riemsdyk Toronto Maple Leafs
Blake Wheeler Phoenix Coyotes
Twelve of these players are on my team and the actual team. They are Backes, Brown, Callahan, Kane, Kesler, Kessel, Oshie, Parise, Pavelski, Stastny, Stepan and Van Riemsdyk. I also had Jason Pominville and Bobby Ryan in place of Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler. Ryan is the 24th highest scorer in the NHL right now. He has proven offensive upside. He has 57 points or more in each full NHL season he has ever played (since 08/09). Wheeler has fewer points this year and has only once exceeded 57 points (64 in 2011/12). Ryan has more upside than Wheeler. Pominville also has a significant offensive upside. He hit 80 points in 2007/08 and has exceeded 52 points in every full season he has played since 2006/07. He has exceeded 62 points in all but one of the full seasons. Pacioretty does not have the same track record. He did score 65 points in 2011/12. This is his career best. It has been proven to be a routine point total for Pominville. I think they gave up some offensive upside and there is no significant defensive loss in these tradeoffs.
One other player worthy of mention is Kyle Okposo. I have been wondering if I made a mistake leaving him off my team. This is his first really big offensive season. He has 40 points in 41 games so far - 8 of them (a full 20%) have been scored in his four games since I first made my US Olympic Team (which was a few days before I posted it). This makes Okposo the 13th highest scorer in the league. He is second among American scorers. That is too good to be ignored if we think it is sustainable. I am not certain if it is, but given 14 forward spots, if I had a chance to redo my team, I would give Okposo a roster spot. I suspect that the deadline to select Team USA was also several days ago and Okposo's recent hot streak had not occurred. That is why he is left off here as well.
All told there are six players on the actual US Olympic team who were not among my selections. They are Jimmy Howard, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Brooks Orpik, Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler. I had Cory Schneider, Dustin Byfuglien, Erik Johnson, Keith Yandle, Jason Pominville and Bobby Ryan in their places. I think I have made good arguments that in many cases go back several years to show my choices are better players and would make a better team. The US Olympic Team tended to take the safe pick when a better pick was available in many of these cases.
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