The Winter Olympics give hockey fans a rare chance to see the best players in the NHL out on the ice together. How often do you get to see Sidney Crosby feeding Steven Stamkos the puck for a one-timer? Or Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin terrorizing the likes of Shea Weber or Ryan Suter?
Unless you count the All-Star game—which is really just a big chance for the NHL to schmooze ad executives and sponsors and give them more autographed memorabilia than they can handle—this rarely occurs.
While there are several strong arguments against sending NHL players to the Olympics every four years, the chance to see these generational talents skating alongside one another is just too good to pass up.
Even for "business-side" folks like Gary Bettman.
While it may be a tired old sports saying, the phrase "speed kills" applies too readily to this duo to ignore. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner are two of the best (if not the best) players to ever come out of Austria, and they'll be in their usual position as underdogs in Sochi.
This pair can still do a lot of damage in the offensive zone, especially if they develop some chemistry with whoever ends up centering them.
Vanek has been one of the most consistent goal scorers in the NHL over the last eight years and brings a lot of experience to the ice. Grabner is one of the top-10 fastest skaters in the league, and when their powers combine, they'll be tough to stop when they hit their collective top gear.
While they don't have the same kind of firepower as, say, Zach Parise and Patrick Kane, this is still a duo that will be very fun to watch. Especially if one of the "superpowers" sleeps on Austria.
Another duo that lacks big-time star power but will still be awesome to watch, Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula are both creative players that are capable of dazzling with flashes of brilliance on the ice. There's a changing of the guard occurring for Finland this time around, as former stalwarts make way for players such as Filppula.
It'll be odd seeing Teemu Selanne relegated to a more secondary role than usual, but the combination of Koivu and Filppula is too tempting to pass up. They're both slick forwards that are capable of making something out of nothing if opposing defenses aren't careful.
While they won't be bringing down the house in Sochi, the extra space on the international rink will bode well for two players who thrive with an extra foot or two with which to work.
While most of these duos bring excessive speed to the table (Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik and so on), the Czech Republic's most dynamic pair will have a different feel.
Tomas Fleischmann is, like Michael Grabner, one of the most underrated quick-strike offensive forces in the NHL. While his speed is apparent on every shift—they call him Flash, after all—David Krejci brings a different superpower to the ice.
The talented Boston Bruins center has a knack for actually slowing the game down around him. He pulls defenders to him by deliberately handling the puck in the offensive zone and not dishing out passes until the D has over-committed.
That's where a streaking Flash will come into play. If Nathan Horton could sneak in behind defenders while Krejci rags the puck, Fleischmann is going to have an absolute field day.
Marian Hossa and Marian Gaborik have combined for 770 goals in the NHL—336 for Gaborik and 434 for Hossa. So this is a duo that clearly knows how to finish. The question might be "well, who's going to set them up?" but both of these guys are capable passers as well.
Another "speed kills" pairing, few players will be able to utilize the extra space of the international ice surface like Gaborik and Hossa.
While Slovakia is missing a dynamite center, there's enough offensive force here to blow even the best defensive pairings off the ice. It'll be an absolute joy to watch these two skate circles around slower defenders before bewildering goalies with quick snapshots and tic-tac passing plays.
Just nickname this duo Shake 'n Bake.
Patrick Kane and Zach Parise are two of the slickest forwards in the NHL, capable of dusting defenders with And1-esque maneuvers at top speeds. They're both capable of finishing and passing and, unlike several of the other pairings, will actually have a center capable of doing some dirty work for them.
It's tough to imagine ways to prevent Kane or Parise from scoring goals coming in off the wings in full flight. Add in the option of dumping the puck in for (just a guess) Joe Pavelski to dig out, and this pair could be one of the toughest to stop in Sochi.
Kane and Parise also have a knack for the dramatic. See the former's Stanley Cup-clinching goal from 2010 or the latter's gold-medal game-tying marker at the last Olympics for proof. Worth of note: it was Kane that set Parise's tying goal up.
It's no fun listing the Sedin twins as a dynamic duo, so we're going to go with Gabriel Landeskog and Henrik Zetterberg for Sweden. Like David Krejci and Tomas Fleischmann, this pair has more going for it than just speed and skill.
While both players have a solid top gear, this could be one of the more deliberate and effective pairs in Sochi. While Zetterberg has seen just about everything in his NHL and international career, Landeskog will be making his first ever Olympic appearance.
How will his youthful exuberance play out on the ice? Paired with Zetterberg's calm and collected demeanor, these two captains will be capable of beating teams in a number of ways. Whether it's a good backcheck from Zetterberg or a net-driving goal from Landeskog, this will be one of the more interesting pairings to keep an eye out for.
The International Olympic Committee might need to institute a rule banning these two from being out on the ice at the same time. Two of the most effective and deadly forwards of this generation, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos cover just about every offensive base imaginable.
The hockey IQ here is off the charts, and they'd be better than half the top pairings at the Olympics even if they played blindfolded. Crosby sees where the holes are out on the ice, and Stamkos knows how to hit those seams at exactly the right time.
While Stamkos would have to convert to wing to make this work, this ridiculous duo is too good to pass on for Team Canada's management. Especially when you consider the embarrassing amount of talent this squad will have down the middle.
If anyone is capable of keeping up with the monster that will be Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby, it'll be the Superman combo of Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. If Canada's duo represents smarts, Russia's pair is made up of raw power and skill.
Not to say that Malkin and Ovechkin aren't deliberate at times in their approach to the game. They are both just at their best when they are flowing in the offensive zone, blowing by defenders with their speed and trying to put a hole in the back of the nets with their shots.
The tic-tac passing we could see here is phenomenal. The dangles? Ridiculous. The ability to finish? Let's just say we feel sorry for the goaltenders who will be charged with trying to stop Russia's lights-out pair of Ovechkin and Malkin.