Injuries Having the Biggest Impact on USA Hockey's Roster Decisions for Sochi

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistDecember 29, 2013

Injuries Having the Biggest Impact on USA Hockey's Roster Decisions for Sochi

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    As part of the NHL's Winter Classic celebrations on New Year's Day, USA Hockey will announce the official rosters of its men's and women's ice hockey teams for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in February.

    Last August, 48 players were invited to Team USA's men's orientation camp. Click here to see the original list, from The Hockey News. On January 1, that number will be cut back to the 25 players expected to improve on a 2010 silver-medal performance in Sochi.

    Like every Olympic nation, injuries have been an issue for Team USA in the weeks leading up to its announcement. In early December, general manager David Poile said in a conference call (per The Globe and Mail) that his inclination is to name the team that he wants and hope for the best with respect to players' health:

    If we think any of these players are going to be on the Olympic team or we want them on the Olympic team and they’re going to be healthy by Feb. 11, then we’ll have to name them on the team and then we’ll have to deal with replacing them if their injury doesn’t come around.

    Here's a look at seven key members of Team USA on the injury bubble and their odds of starting the New Year with a positive announcement about what they'll be doing in February.

    Let's start at the back and work our way out.

     

    All stats are from NHL.com through December 28 unless otherwise noted; injury details from TSN's injury list unless otherwise noted.

Jonathan Quick: Goaltender

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    Status: On injured reserve with a strained groin since November 13.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 16 GP, 10-5-0-1, 2.35 GAA (14th), .905 save percentage (37th)

    Over the past two seasons, Jonathan Quick has had the most postseason success of any American goaltender, winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and advancing to the Western Conference Final in 2013. Though Quick's Los Angeles Kings were off to a strong start in 2013-14, his numbers were middling compared to his usual standard; his team's goaltending has actually improved since he was sidelined in November.

    Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times reported on December 27 that Quick is now skating and has joined the Kings on their current four-game road trip. His return to action shouldn't be too far away.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 95 percent

    At the orientation camp in August, it was assumed that Quick would fight it out with incumbent Ryan Miller for the No. 1 goaltending spot. Though he wasn't at the top of his game when he was healthy earlier in the season, Quick has now developed a reputation for coming through in high-stakes situations.

    Groin injuries are tricky, but expect David Poile to name Quick to his team on January 1, then monitor the goaltender's progress from there.

Jimmy Howard: Goaltender

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    Status: On injured reserve with a strained MCL since December 11. Expected to miss at least two to four weeks.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 21 GP, 6-8-7-2, 2.65 GAA (28th), .910 save percentage (28th)

    Jimmy Howard has been struggling with both injuries and performance issues with the Detroit Red Wings this season. According to the Canadian Press, Howard is working out and hopes to be back in the lineup in time to play in the Winter Classic on January 1—the same day the U.S. roster for Sochi will be announced.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 33 percent

    It would be great television to announce Howard's name in front of his hometown crowd at the Big House on New Year's Day. If he's healthy enough to play in the Winter Classic, his body of work over the past several seasons could justify his inclusion on the roster.

    Howard's being pushed hard for the third goaltending spot by Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider: Both have better numbers this year, but have yet to prove themselves in big-game situations.

Paul Martin: Defense

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    Status: On injured reserve with a lower-body injury since November 27. NBC's ProHockeyTalk reports the injury is a fractured tibia, with a timeline of four to six weeks.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 23 GP, 2-9-11, minus-1

    Martin had been logging big minutes on Pittsburgh's top defensive pair and had four points in the three games prior to the November 25 matchup against Boston, where he was injured in overtime. According to cbssports.com, David Poile was particularly interested in using Martin and regular partner Brooks Orpik as a pair because they're familiar with each other—and with Team USA head coach Dan Bylsma. As a package deal, questionable health for either could impact both players' chances.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 75 percent

    Partner Orpik returned to the Pittsburgh lineup on December 27, which increases Martin's odds considerably. Though Martin's not skating yet, David Poile will likely throw Bylsma a bone by naming the pair together, then monitoring Martin's rehab as he progresses through January.

Brooks Orpik: Defense

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    Status: Returned to Pittsburgh lineup on December 27 after missing eight games with a concussion suffered at the hands of Shawn Thornton. He looked strong in the Penguins' 4-3 win over Carolina, recording one assist and a plus-two while logging over 20 minutes of ice time.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 32 GP, 1-7-8, plus-3

    Before becoming the NHL's most visible victim of the 2013-14 season, Orpik was having a fine year on the Pittsburgh blue line. The 33-year-old had formed a reliable pair with Paul Martin as the Penguins successfully tightened up the defensive part of their game. Orpik is also a veteran of the silver-medal-winning squad from 2010 in Vancouver.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 75 percent

    It looks like Orpik's healthy enough to go; now, it depends on Paul Martin. If David Poile thinks Martin will be recovered from his broken leg in time to contribute in Sochi, expect both Penguins to get the nod on New Year's Day.

Ryan Callahan: Right Wing

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    Status: On injured reserve with sprained left MCL since December 10. Expected to miss four to six weeks.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 24 GP, 7-6-13, minus-6

    In a December 12 Canadian Press story published in The Globe and Mail, Stephen Whyno said David Poile had listed the New York Rangers captain Callahan among a five-person Team USA leadership group and expected all five to be part of the team in Sochi.

    The other four players are Dustin Brown, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and David Backes. The latter two have injury issues of their own, which we'll get to in a minute.

    Like Parise and Backes, Callahan was a member of Team USA 2010. Unlike them, his season was going poorly even before he got hurt. His Rangers have struggled and he has taken a good share of the blame. 

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 90 percent

    Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News reports that Callahan skated for the first time since his injury on December 27, which could put his recovery ahead of schedule. With Poile already determined to bring Callahan along, expect to hear his name on January 1, though he probably won't return to the Rangers until after that time.

David Backes: Center

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    Status: Returned December 21 after missing two games with a concussion.

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 34 GP, 16-14-30, plus-12

    The captain of the St. Louis Blues is having arguably the best season of his career on one of the best teams in the league. Well-known for his mean streak and shutdown capabilities, Backes is also scoring nearly a point a game and is on track for his best offensive season to date.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 95 percent

    Backes' growl is perfectly suited to a second- or third-line center role. In addition to providing a big body and a strong intimidation factor, he's solid on draws and can also contribute offensively.

    In three games since returning from his concussion suffered in a collision with Ottawa's Colin Greening on December 21, Backes has played significant minutes, but hasn't tallied a point. He may not be 100 percent, but hockey players have a grand tradition of playing through pain. Backes will do everything he can to be ready for Sochi, and David Poile will give him every opportunity to bring it.

Zach Parise: Left Wing

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    Status: On injured reserve with a lower-body injury since December 23. 

     

    What He's Done in 2013-14: 37 GP, 15-12-27, plus-1

    According to NHL.com, Zach Parise is still dealing with the aftermath of a foot injury he suffered on November 25. He missed one game at the time, then returned to action before sitting out two more games before Christmas, then being placed on IR.

    Parise may have re-aggravated the injury, or may have chosen a quiet time in the NHL schedule to get some rest and rehab—and be ready for the Olympics. With his retroactive placement on injured reserve, he could be back in the Wild lineup as early as Monday, December 30.

     

    Odds He'll Make the Roster: 99 percent

    Parise was a star on the 2010 U.S. squad in Vancouver, and David Poile is likely projecting him to be his first-line winger and a key two-way player this time around. Unless Parise's injury is much more severe than we presently know, his name will be called on January 1—and his seat is booked for the charter to Sochi.