Predicting San Jose Sharks in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Once the NHL and its players (NHLPA) were able to confirm the best talent would be representing all nations in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, many of us tried our hands at projecting the teams and finishes.
The various hockey committees had already done their work. When they were able to make their selections official, six San Jose Sharks made the list.
Team USA invited Joe Pavelski, and Team Finland Antti Niemi. Team Canada opted to add Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Logan Couture to its 2010 invitees Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle, but it left Patrick Marleau off the roster.
Surprisingly, no Sharks are a given to make their respective teams. Canada is so deep everywhere that an off-year or even off-camp could result in being left off. Finland is that deep at goalie, and even Team USA's need for centers does not ensure that four are not playing better in 2013-14.
Outside of what hardware they do or not carry home in the link above, this slideshow predicts how many games those who make their teams will play and how they'll perform.
Joe Pavelski played a key role in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The penalty-killer was counted on to win the faceoff that led to the game-tying goal in the gold-medal game.
All the reasons he will be even more valuable to them this time were covered for Examiner.com. One of them is his versatility.
He can play the wing or even the point on the power play as well as dominate in the circle. That will help him be in the top four or five USA forwards in minutes. Look for him to win at least 60 percent of his draws for the tournament.
Pavelski will probably center the third line when not playing special teams, so his point total will not be as high as those of most power-play forwards on the team. He should still get at least one goal and at least two assists, because he should be playing six games, but he will bring so much more than that to the team.
Even the Canadians cannot afford to overlook Logan Couture. He is a superstar and provides among the most balanced skill sets of any player in the world.
Couture does not excel at any one thing. He lacks the stick-work and touch of Sidney Crosby, the speed of Brad Marchand and the size of Rick Nash. But there is nowhere he cannot go and be among the best in the NHL.
Couture can play centre or wing and is as good in his own end as on the attack. He led the talented San Jose Sharks in goals for the second year in a row and was second among NHL forwards in blocked shots.
Look for him to kill penalties but probably not get much power-play time. He should still get at least two goals and three assists in the tournament, because he should play six games.
Team Canada would be making a big mistake if it left Joe Thornton off the team. They have plenty of speed—the only thing he lacks—and no one knows how to take advantage of surrounding talent like the captain of the San Jose Sharks.
Thornton is consistently among the league leaders in takeaways and faceoffs, making him a good option for the penalty kill. He is also a fantastic passer and a key cog in San Jose's power play, running the single most effective line in the NHL last season.
The rest of the time, he is a fourth-line centre on this team, which is so deep that he probably will even be scratched once or twice. But watch for him to be matched up against Pavelski for a key faceoff in the gold-medal game (or possibly the one to get to that game), and for him to get a couple assists.
The fact that some people would leave Antti Niemi off Team Finland is mind-boggling. He is the only goalie for any team who has been a Vezina Trophy finalist and won the Stanley Cup.
Seeing him up close during and after games with the San Jose Sharks in 2013, the striking thing was how composed he always was. Nothing rattled him, not even a soft goal or bad game.
Neither happened much, nor did a day off—he sat for just five of 48 games. Despite the workload, he was the best Shark most nights and turned away more shots than all but two goalies.
He is better than other solid goalies like Kari Lehtonen and Niklas Backstrom. Yet once he makes the team, he will have to battle Tuukka Rask and Pekka Rinne for playing time.
Moreover, it is unlikely he plays in more than two games, since Finland is unlikely to play for a medal. With a shaky third pair, his numbers could look bad in one game, but he should still finish with no worse than a .500 record, .900 save percentage and 3.00 GAA.
Not many people are picking Dan Boyle to make Team Canada. His skating, offensive prowess and shot-blocking ability will be valued almost as much as his experience: Stanley Cup title in 2004 and gold medal in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
The leader of the blue line for the San Jose Sharks will be available for those intangibles whether he is on the ice or not. What will show if other players offer more of the tangibles listed above is how often Boyle will be scratched.
Cracking the active lineup for more than two games would be ambitious for him, but he should still get a point to help earn his gold medal. That will make him the envy of San Jose teammate Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who will be left off the roster.
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