The U.S. roster for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, is set. This will be the team unless injuries force a few players out of the lineup. So Team USA is going with a group that has a mix of veteran talent and some younger guys that have had success early in their career. If there's one thing you can say about this U.S. team, it is fast.
Speed throughout the lineup was clearly a priority and the U.S. has it. They also have a fair amount of power up front, with a lot of big, strong forwards that can skate.
Mobility is also important on the back end and that was clearly part of the decisions process with picking this D corps.
The goaltending position looked like the strength coming into the year and perhaps based on body of work, it still could be. Jonathan Quick and Jimmy Howard have struggled and both have been injured this year. Ryan Miller has been consistently good in a bad situation and has Olympic playing experience.
With all that in mind, here's a more in-depth look at the forwards, defense and goaltending for Team USA heading into Sochi.
This U.S. roster is not star-laden, but I like the way it has been built. There were at least two questionable decisions in the lineup, but generally, this team should be able to play a style that will lead to success.
The speed factor is not to be understated as the bigger ice surface means the U.S. has an advantage taking teams wide and in transition. Few teams will have the wheels of this U.S. lineup top to bottom.
The second factor is the size up front.
There's a bit of a myth out there that you don't need to be tough or physical on the big ice. It's not like the brute-force of the NHL, but being tough on the puck and in the hard areas of the ice is just as important on a wider surface. The U.S. has several players that can get up ice in a hurry, lay the big hit or win board battles and not sacrifice much, if any offense.
Where this U.S. team may struggle is when they do go up against tougher opponents like Russia in the preliminary round. It is not yet clear if they are going to be tough enough defensively to prevent a lot of those skill players from making things happen.
That's why team defense is key. It's kind of cliché to say you need the whole team to win, but it is entirely true on the big ice. The teams that defend well with all five players on the ice engaged most frequently will win the hockey game. Being smart defensively and winning the possession game is how you win medals at the Olympics on big ice.
This team is not going to blow anyone away by name, but they should be able to skate with anyone and that is where they are on equal footing with more skilled or deeper teams.
Here's my projected lineup for USA up front:
|Line||Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Line 1||Zach Parise||Joe Pavelski||Patrick Kane|
|Line 2||James van Riemsdyk||Ryan Kesler||Phil Kessel|
|Line 3||Max Pacioretty||David Backes||T.J. Oshie|
|Line 4||Dustin Brown||Paul Stastny||Ryan Callahan|
|Extra Forwards||Derek Stepan||Blake Wheeler|
The U.S. has some big time headliners on this forward group. Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel have been among the best offensive players in the game since the last four years. The same can be said for Zach Parise who has been slowed by injuries more recently in his career.
Where this U.S. team is going to be really interesting, is in the size and strength they have up front. Guys like James van Riemsdyk, David Backes, Max Pacioretty and Blake Wheeler are big-bodied forwards that can get to the net well, make plays in tight and skate with power. When you have enough guys like that, you can start to control the middle of the ice a little more.
The wider ice surface creates more space, but the game is still won between the faceoff circles. Teams that can't penetrate the middle of the ice in the offensive zone have a harder time scoring. It also is important to establish a consistent net-front presence. They have plenty of guys that can do that.
Team defense is incredibly important on the big ice. Having a team that gets back quickly, players that can play positionally-sound hockey and have good on-ice awareness will help limit mistakes with the extra ice.
The U.S. has a really nice group of good two way players like Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, Backes, T.J. Oshie, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan. Having guys that give you good penalty-killing options is important, too and you'll see guys in this group do that.
Then you throw in Derek Stepan who provides depth and versatility at center. He may end up scratched at times because the U.S. will likely only dress 13 forwards and are taking 14. Stepan has struggled this year, but he has good skill and could help push the offensive pace when in the lineup.
The Questionable Snub: To me, the major snub from this lineup is Bobby Ryan, who was on the 2010 team. Ryan is a gifted goal scorer and when you're playing a game on international ice, scoring is hard. It actually may even be tougher to score in games like these than in tight, physical NHL games.
Scott Burnside of ESPN.com was embedded with Team USA's administrative staff for many of their meetings about building this team. He filed a terrific report that gave great insight into why Ryan was left off.
"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Brian Burke, Team USA's director of player personnel, said according to Burnside early in the process. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."
...Later in the process.
"Ryan is not getting the love at all," Poile says.
During his conversation with the coaches, he talked to them about whether Ryan provided needed scoring, but the coaches wouldn't budge, Poile says. They felt they had enough scoring and didn't need Ryan for the power play.
As I mentioned, international scoring is hard. There is no such thing as “enough scoring” in international games at this level. Successful teams often have three scoring lines as opposed to the traditional top-six scorers, bottom six energy/defense lines in the NHL. Leaving Ryan off leaves home one of the most consistent goal scorers in the NHL and a guy that, in his last tournament in a USA jersey, had five goals in eight games at the 2012 World Championships. Whether he is intense or not, he scores goals. This is a perplexing move.
It sounds like it came down to Wheeler and Oshie for the last two forward spots with Ryan and Chicago's Brandon Saad.
Here's my projected defensive lineup for Team USA
|Pairing 1||Ryan Suter||Kevin Shattenkirk|
|Pairing 2||Ryan McDonagh||Justin Faulk|
|Pairing 3||Brooks Orpik||Paul Martin|
|Extras||Cam Fowler||John Carlson|
Team USA's defense is highly mobile and full of guys that can really move the puck. Ryan Suter is obviously the cornerstone of this defense and will see the toughest minutes on the roster. He'll be a guy that sets the tone for Team USA, you'd expect.
This is a young group with 21-year-old Justin Faulk, 22-year-old Cam Fowler, 23-year-old John Carlson and 24-year-olds Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh. All of these guys move very well, though and play huge roles on their respective teams. Each also moves the puck pretty well.
Meanwhile, USA's primary shutdown pairing will be a duo that already plays together. Paul Martin and Brooks Oprik will play a role very similar to what they already play for Dan Bylsma with the Pittsburgh Penguins. They'll kill penalties, get some tough match-ups and provide the U.S. a defensively sound pairing.
This group has some balance, with a lot of guys that can play well at both ends of the ice. Suter and McDonagh could end up logging the biggest minutes for this team, with both being able to play in pretty much any situation. Martin, Faulk and Carlson bring similar versatility, while Shattenkirk and Fowler are among the better young pure puck-movers in the selection pool.
This D corps should help the U.S. be strong in transition and will be a factor in power-play situations as well. There are some interesting omissions, but the young guys they have appear to be ready for this challenge by the experience they've gained playing in big-minute roles on their respective NHL teams.
The Questionable Snub: Keith Yandle is the obvious snub to me. He has been one of the game's most productive offensive defenseman in recent years and brings a dynamic element to the blue line. The U.S. leaves a good mix of speed and skill off by not taking Yandle.
Defensive deficiencies are the likely cause for leaving him home. All of the other guys they brought aren't as big a liability.
That said, I like what Yandle brings from the back end, particularly with his skating and distribution. He takes risks, but sometimes you have to do that to create offense. Leaving off Ryan and Yandle leaves a little room to wonder if this team's scoring depth will be enough to make it work in Sochi.
Projected goaltending depth chart:
1. Ryan Miller
2. Jonathan Quick
3. Jimmy Howard
I think this is a position that is still in flux a bit for Team USA, but based on the fact that he is healthy and playing well enough, it would seem Ryan Miller should be the favorite to start in Sochi. He has the Olympic experience from last year, has played in the World Championships a bit and is a proven veteran.
You look at Jonathan Quick's playoff resume and it's fantastic, but he has not played a minute of international hockey, despite being on the Olympic team in 2010. That, and he's been injured a lot this year and underperforming when healthy with a really good defense in front of him. If he looks better and is healthy in the lead-up to the Olympics, then he could push for the starter's job.
Jimmy Howard may provide the depth as the No. 3 here. He has a solid international resume, most recently playing at the 2012 World Championship and performing well, and was excellent last postseason for Detroit. He may not play at all, but with Quick's injury troubles of late, you never know. Howard has more of a body of work to fall back on for this decision.
The Questionable Snub: Ben Bishop has been the best American goaltender in the NHL statistically this year. However, because this is his first season as a starter and his body of work doesn't have enough to make him an easy addition. I didn't mind the Bishop cut as much as Ryan or Yandle, as I don't think there's enough of a sample to bring him along. Additionally, Bishop lost his starting job at the last World Championship to John Gibson, a 20-year-old prospect of the Anaheim Ducks. That's not a great lasting impression to leave in your first international opportunity.
This U.S. roster is interesting. David Poile said he didn't select the best players, but the guys he felt gave them the best chance as a team for gold.
Winning any international tournament is hard, but none has the talent level of the Olympics. Team USA is not going to be favored by many to win gold, but they have a group of veterans and dynamic young players that could pull a surprise or two when the puck drops in Sochi. No matter what happens, this is going to be a fun tournament to watch.