On Wednesday, after the Winter Classic between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, the United States’ hierarchy, led by General Manager David Poile, will unveil the list of 25 players live on NBC who will represent the red, white and blue in Sochi.
It’s a good thing the USA’s first game at the Winter Olympics isn’t until Feb. 13 against Slovakia.
Several USA hopefuls, from shoo-ins Zach Parise (Wild), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), David Backes (St. Louis) and Ryan Callahan (Rangers) to important Pittsburgh defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin to hopefuls such as Detroit’s Jimmy Howard and Colorado’s Paul Stastny, have been banged up or are currently sidelined.
All are expected to recover for the Olympics as the USA, guided by Dan Bylsma, aims to medal for the first time overseas with NHLers. In 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the Americans, coached by Ron Wilson, finished fifth. In 2006 in Turin, Italy, the Americans, coached by Peter Laviolette, finished eighth.
But in Salt Lake City in 2002, Herb Brooks coached the Americans to silver, as did Wilson in Vancouver four years ago.
Because the USA seems to struggle on the bigger, Olympic-sized ice sheet compared to the NHL surfaces, Poile and Bylsma have said their management team will analyze the type of player selected. On Wednesday, we’ll get a better sense of what they mean.
Here’s a look at the potential roster:
First, the shoo-ins up front (9): Parise, Backes, Callahan and Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown. They make up four members of the five-player leadership group. Next up: Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Toronto’s Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski.
The shoo-ins on defense (4): the Wild’s Ryan Suter (fifth member of leadership group); the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh; Martin; St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk.
The shoo-ins in goal (2): Quick and Buffalo’s Ryan Miller, who backstopped the Americans in Vancouver.
This leaves 10 other players. Here are few of the candidates:
Forward (can choose five): Montreal’s Max Pacioretty had a tremendous month that started with his hat trick against the Wild. Another player who could provide scoring and grit is St. Louis’ T.J. Oshie. The Rangers’ Derek Stepan will likely be there if for no other reason than the Americans aren’t deep up the middle. That’s why Stastny has a shot. Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler has gotten hot at the perfect time, and Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan represented the U.S. four years ago. The Wild’s Jason Pominville is on the outside. He has 17 goals, but unfortunately he can’t skate with his set-up man, Finn Mikael Granlund. Chicago’s Brandon Saad also has a shot.
Defense (can choose four): On the big ice, you need puck movers, and Anaheim’s dynamic Cam Fowler is the best of the youngsters. Carolina’s Justin Faulk, from South St. Paul, is likely a go. He moves well, sees the ice well, and is a terrific passer. Columbus’ Jack Johnson is likely, if for no other reason than he has worn the Team USA sweater 69 times. If Orpik is healthy, he has an outstanding shot. Bylsma loves him. Other defensemen right there include Washington’s John Carlson; Colorado’s Erik Johnson, who has had a terrific first half; Phoenix’s Keith Yandle; Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien; and if you want a puck mover, Chicago’s Nick Leddy.
Goalie (can choose one): Howard or New Jersey’s Corey Schneider, although Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop has a shot.
Not even a fruit basket
San Jose GM Doug Wilson was disappointed Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown offered no remorse for his extended knee that left rookie phenom Tomas Hertl with a serious right knee injury.
“When I was a rookie, I was tripped into a net in Hartford by the great Gordie Howe, and injured and carried off the ice,” Wilson told Sharks reporters. “He came in between periods all the way around the rink to make sure I was OK. So, my response to the lack of, maybe, concern towards our player is disappointing.”
By contrast, in 2008, former Wild defenseman Kurtis Foster was blown away by the Sharks’ support after he broke his left femur. The team sent goodies and magazines to the hospital and a laptop so he could watch Wild games. Wilson’s secretary shuttled Foster’s then-fiancée to and from the hospital and to lunch daily.
“Doug worded it, ‘I would expect this from another team if this happened to one of my players,’ ” Foster said at the time.
Things going poorly for Gaby
Four shifts after returning from a sprained knee, Marian Gaborik sustained a broken collarbone for Columbus on Dec. 21. Not only does this leave his Olympic participation in doubt for Slovakia, this will make it awfully tough for the Blue Jackets to get anything for him at the March 5 trade deadline.
This sounds like history repeating itself for the former Wild winger, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent in 2009 after the Wild couldn’t sign him the previous summer and then couldn’t trade him because of hip surgery.