With the NHL “almost definitely” sending its players to the 2014 Olympics, and with those games a year away, I think it would be fun to start projecting the Olympics rosters.
The Canadians have problems other teams only wish to have. They have too many world class centers (9 of 13 forwards I put on my team are natural centers). Even with his red hot start this season Patrick Marleau didn’t even crack the roster. The defense is equally as stacked. I believe the top six are all locks to make the team, while the 7th is a toss up between Campbell who I listed, Kevin Bieksa, Marc Staal, Dan Hamhius, Dion Phaneuf, Dan Boyle, Michael Del Zotto, Jay Bouwmeester, Brent Burns, or PK Subban. Seriously the Canadians are stacked. While I believe Price and Luongo are locks, the third goalie is a toss up. I listed Martin Brodeur to make the team because the Canadians typically take veterans over younger players. I think Fleury is working to play himself out of the third spot thanks to his poor play in the playoffs last season and shaky play this season, but that might change if the Pens make a deep run. Others like last years Vezina contender Mike Smith, possible superstar in the making James Reimer, and work horse Cam Ward may also make a push to make the team. The big question with the Canadians isn’t with the teams talent but whether those talent players can play together.
The Americans have been hot and cold at the Olympics in the NHL Era. After not medaling in Nagano the team took Silver in Salt Lake City. They followed that up with a medal-less Torino games and a Silver in Vancouver. No Medal-Silver-No Medal-Silver. The Canadians have the same pattern, except with Gold instead of Silver. Another problem, ever since 1960, the United States has medaled in ice hockey only once when the games weren’t held in North America. The Americans have a good chance at bucking those trends with a young team (Jason Pominville is the oldest skater on the roster. He will be 31 at the time of the games) and incredible goaltending. While Quick and Miller are locks, the third spot again is a toss up. Anderson, Cory Schneider, and Jimmy Howard could all make the team, even though Tim Thomas is taking the year off to focus on the Olympics.
The home team is bringing some superstar talent to the table. Malkin, Datsyuk, Kovalchuk, and Ovechkin are four of the ten best forwards in the world, regardless of their current point production. The team will also get a boost from players who may be unknown to most NHL fans. Outside of a few games last season no one really knows Alex Radulov. Most people don’t remember his game breaking skill and just remember Keith Jones angrily complaining about he doesn’t back check and how players shouldn’t stay out til 4:00 AM in Phoenix partying. While people may have some idea of Radulov they really have no idea what Sergei Mozyakin is capable of. Mozyakin never played a game in the NHL. He holds the career record for goals in the KHL and is behind only Radulov for most career points. He tore up the league playing on a wing with Evgeni Malkin during the lockout and could do the same in Sochi. Starting with the 2006 World Championship Ilya Nikulin has played on team Russia in every international competition. No player has worn his countries jersey more in the past seven years than the 31 year old Russian defenseman. The team will also receive a bump from a strong defensive corp that features Columbus defensive partners Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin; probably the most underrated defensive pairing in the NHL.
D. Sedin/H. Sedin/Alfredsson
Another team anchored by superstars at every position. Daniel and Henrik make up the best forward pairing in the world and on a line with Daniel Alfredsson like they were during last years All-Star Game they could be truly incredible. Currently, 4 of the 8 scoring defensemen in the NHL are Swedes (Karlsson, Edler, Kronwall, and Enstrom). Sweden is probably coming into the tournament with the defensive corp which is pretty imposing. The fact that that corp is playing in front of the best goaltender in the world makes them even more daunting.
J. Jokinen/O. Jokinen/Ruutu
The Finnish team is defined by age; both young and old. Regardless of whether they retire this season or if they say they wont play in the Olympics I can guarantee both Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu will make Sochi their Olympic swan song. Teemu can tie an Olympic record participating in his 6th Olympics. Kimmo Timonen, arguably the greatest Finnish defenseman in history, would become only the second defenseman to play in five Olympics. The team is also defined by their young players. Mikael Granlund is lined up to be the next elite Finn while Aleksandr “Sasha” Barkov and Rasmus Ristolainen are both expected to be top ten picks in this years draft. Joel Armia, Teuvo Teravainen, and Olli Maatta have all been first round picks in the last two years. While a couple of these six prospects might be subbed out in favor of SM-liiga All-Stars I don’t think they will. The Finns are anchored by the best goaltending corp in the tournament and that makes the Finn a medal threat. Think that sounds crazy? The Finns who usually enter the tournament with the fourth or fifth most talent roster, they have medaled in 4 out of the last 5 Olympics, including 3 in the NHL Era.
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC
The Czech’s are in a bad way. One might say they must Czech them selves before they wreck themselves. The quality of the Czech teams have been diminishing for a while now. Look at that roster. Would you take any of those guys in the top seven or eight rounds of a fantasy draft? Even one? Maybe Patrick Elias, but still that’s a maybe. There is some promise in that line up. Plekanec and Jagr combined for a ton of points in Kladno during the lockout. Voracek and Hanzal are both young and off to great starts. Radim Vrbata is off to an amazing start and may be the best player on the team come Olympic time. There team isn’t bad, it’s just not as good as other teams. Not to mention there goaltending situation is questionable. Pavlec is off to a terrible start. As is Michal Neuvirth. Tomas Vokoun may be able to find a starting job if he keeps up his quality play this season, but he is not without his faults. This is the first of these teams that I would be surprised to see win a medal.
I’m not going to lie, I openly route for the Slovaks. They are the little team that could. Their top tier talent is really top tier. Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, and Jaroslav Halak are all world class players in their respective positions. But the rest of the team is filled up with NHL role players like Hanzus and Kopecky, second tier prospects like Marko Dano and Richard Panik, KHL All-Stars like Marcel Hossa, and players for the Slovakian based KHL team Slovan Bratislava like Michel Miklik and Mario Bliznak. Slovakia’s run to the Bronze medal game last Olympics was fueled by the stellar play of Jaro Halak who will have to be great again. The Slovaks took Silver at the 2012 World Championship. Maybe the little team that could will finally make a push for a medal, but alas, I would be very surprised if this team medaled.
The other qualified teams are Slovenia, Norway, Austria, Latvia and Switzlerand. None of these teams are going to make a push for a medal even though they are anchored by some decent talent. Slovenia has NHL super star Anze Kopitar. Norway has Patrick Thoresen who is one of the best players in the KHL and dominated the 2012 World Championship. Austria has Tomas Vanek who may have a Hart Trophy by the time the Olympics come around. Latvia’s roster is almost entirely made up of players from Dinamo Riga, the Latvian based KHL team. And Switzerland has an NHL defensive corp centered around Mark Streit, Luca Sbisa, Raphael Diaz, Yannick Weber, and Roman Josi. With some top tier NHL prospects like Nino Niederreiter and Sven Baertschi on the Swiss roster and All-Star Jonas Hiller in net the Swiss might be a dangerous team.
The rosters for the more elite teams may change depending on injuries or how some players perform over the next year in the NHL, but I think these rosters will be pretty close to the rosters we will be seeing next February in Sochi.
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