Burning Questions for USA Hockey's 2014 Winter Olympics Roster Announcement

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistDecember 31, 2013

Burning Questions for USA Hockey's 2014 Winter Olympics Roster Announcement

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    There are no shortage of options available to the American brain trust as they prepare to name the team that will compete for gold at the 2014 Sochi games. 

    At forward, on defence and in net, Team USA has a wealth of options that teams not all that long ago would have killed for. It also makes the roster selection far from obvious and opens up all sorts of interesting questions that won't be answered until the roster is officially announced.

    What kind of questions? Read on to see what we're wondering about.  

    Statistics courtesy of NHL.com and current through December 30.

Will They Bring Five Centres?

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    One of the tough decisions facing the American team is how many centres to bring. It seems highly likely that David Backes, Ryan Kesler and Joe Pavelski will fill three of the team's four pivot slots.

    That means at least one of a group consisting of players like Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan and Brandon Dubinsky will make the team, and Team USA has the option of bringing more than one in case of injury. Will they? 

Will Youth Be Served?

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    One of the funny things about national teams, in general, is how they tend to be youth-oriented. The 2010 team was littered with players 25 years of age or under, and it's a habit that clubs other than Team USA indulge in.

    There is no shortage of young candidates this time around. Standing out from the pack are rookie defenceman Seth Jones and sophomore centre Alex Galchenyuk. Could one or both go? What about Chris Kreider of the Rangers or Torey Krug of the Bruins?

Will Team USA Go with Experience or with the Hot Hand?

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    At every position, Team USA faces a choice between experienced hands with a long track record and guys with a shorter resume but a much more impressive start to 2013-14.

    Goalie Ben Bishop might be the best example of the dilemma the Americans face. He has a 20-5-3 record on the season with a 0.935 save percentage; only Ryan Miller is even close. Guys like Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick aren't even in the same ballpark. 

    It's the same at other positions. Does a breakthrough season like the one Cam Fowler is enjoying put him on the team? Does somebody like Dustin Brown, on pace for a 28-point season, fall off the roster? 

Is It a Team Built for the Big Ice?

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    While the expectation is that the silver medal-winning 2010 team will be well represented in Sochi, there is a pivotal difference between the Vancouver games and the 2014 Olympics: Only one of them was played in a North American rink. 

    On the smaller ice, a team built more on size and strength and with less of an emphasis on speed made a certain amount of sense, which is why a player like Ryan Whitney was able to find himself on the roster. Will a comparative lack of foot speed mean that someone like Bobby Ryan or Blake Wheeler doesn't make the cut?

Do They Take the Best Possible Players or the Best Possible in Given Roles?

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    One question armchair general managers have long argued over is whether an Olympic team should be built from the absolute best players available to a team, or whether allowances should be made for given roles. 

    Does it make sense to bring a player like Jason Pominville over another winger owing to his familiarity with Zach Parise? Does a player like Ryan Callahan, perfectly suited to a fourth-line role, make it over a player with more offensive ability? Will an effort be made to find the perfect balance between right- and left-handed shots, both up front and on defence?

How Much Will Injuries Impact Selections?

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    There is no shortage of Olympic candidates for Team USA currently sitting on the sidelines with injury.

    In the summer, Jonathan Quick was the team's presumptive starting goaltender. He got off to a slow start and hasn't played in more than a month. Another goaltending candidate, Jimmy Howard, has fought through a knee injury that cost him significant time.   

    Plenty of others, including defencemen Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik as well as forwards Zach Parise, David Backes and Ryan Callahan have all missed time or are currently on the shelf.

    Some of those players are too good to be left off of the team. But for players who should be on the bubbleguys like Howard and Orpik and Callahan—those injuries might be the deciding factor. Will they cost some players spots on the roster?