If you look hard enough and long enough for the negative in anything, no matter how exemplary it may be, you're bound to see the flaws in it.
"This million dollars is great, but a lot of the bills are bent at the corners. I don't want it."
That's what happened to the conglomerate of general managers and coaches that comprise the U.S. Olympic hockey team selection committee when they looked at Ottawa Senators right wing Bobby Ryan.
"His rare ability to score goals is great, but he's not a penalty-killer or gifted skater. I don't want him."
When it comes to choosing who will make up an Olympic hockey roster, there are bound to be snubs no matter who is tabbed. But in the case of Ryan, the rationale of leaving home the second-leading goal scorer among American-born NHL players since 2008-09 is so perplexing it's likely to cause headaches and blackouts.
The resume on Ryan is quite impressive.
|American-Born Leading Scorers Since 2008-09|
The 26-year-old has scored at least 30 goals four times in his career, and he's well on his way to eclipsing that mark again with 18 goals in 42 games this season. Only Phil Kessel has scored more goals among American-born players over the past six seasons than Ryan. If fancy stats are more your speed, Ryan excels there too in the face of stiff competition.
Ryan made the 2010 U.S. Olympic team as a 22-year-old, when his alleged skating shortcomings and inability to play the penalty kill didn't prevent his inclusion. He didn't produce during the Vancouver Games, delivering only one goal in six contests, but today he brings a more impressive body of work and the Olympic experience he gained four years ago.
The brain trust's thinking on leaving Ryan off was documented wonderfully by Scott Burnside of ESPN.com, who was embedded into every meeting the group had. It's eye-opening stuff.
Bobby Ryan was also in Vancouver and has been the most consistent of U.S.-born scorers, having tallied 30 or more goals four times for Anaheim before being dealt to Ottawa in the offseason. And yet there is surprising resistance to simply penciling him into a spot on the wing.
The issue is where he fits. If he's not a top-six forward, his skating doesn't really lend itself to him being a third-line checker. He cannot kill penalties, and while in Anaheim, he was not on the team's top power-play unit.
"I think he's sleepy. I think he skates sleepy," offers one member of the selection committee.
Poile asks for a show of hands: "Are guys nervous about Bobby Ryan?" A flurry of hands go up in the air.
"That's a lot of guys," Poile notes.
That's a lot of lunacy to digest.
The notion that Ryan is a "sleepy" skater is exactly why the advanced stats community rolls its collective eyes when coaches and GMs talk of "heart" and "grit." What does being a sleepy skater even mean? Are his eyes closed? Does he have his arms extended, as if he were sleep walking? Is he narcoleptic? Is he collapsing on the ice?
I've always thought if someone can do something well in their sleep, they're very good at that particular thing. I'd rather have the sleepy 30-goal scorer than the caffeinated 20-goal scorer any day of the week.
It's true, Ryan does not kill penalties in Ottawa and has hardly done any of it in his career. But if Ryan was chosen over T.J. Oshie, that would leave the U.S. team with Zach Parise, David Backes, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown and Max Pacioretty as forwards capable of killing penalties.
It's also true that Ryan didn't see much power-play time with the Ducks' top unit, but there's no shame in being behind Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne. But Ryan was still on the second unit in Anaheim, and the principles of how a power play operate don't somehow change because you're on the second unit.
But Ryan has been part of the Senators' top unit throughout this season and doing just fine. He has a team-leading six goals and 11 points on the power play, and that's pretty good for a sleepy skater.
As for the notion he's not a third-line checker—this is the Olympics, not the NHL. The best of the best in the world lace up the skates, and a third line in Sochi doesn't have to be a solely a shut-down group. If Ryan was on the right side of David Backes and Max Pacioretty, is that line really a defensive liability?
Lines are shuffled when teams don't produce, and Ryan could very easily have been moved onto the top two lines to provide a spark during a two-week tournament.
Ryan felt rightfully embarrassed by the comments, which included Brian Burke saying he lacked intensity.
“They were direct quotes and it’s unfortunate they feel that way,” said Ryan. “That’s their opinions and they’ve got to form a team. I guess to a certain degree you have to respect it.
“You don’t have to agree with it, right? But you could have just cut me. You didn’t have to ... Actually I almost feel degraded when it comes out like that. It is what it is. That’s their decision. That’s how they feel about it. I will remember it and use it as motivation.”
Ryan finds out he's not making the team by watching children skate toward an NBC camera and turn around to reveal the name on the back of the jersey, then gets to read statements from coaches and GMs about how terrible he is.
That's the type of humiliation few deserve, and certainly a player of Ryan's caliber and dedication to USA Hockey didn't have any of this coming.
A big downside to those comments about Ryan going public—what does the committee do if a forward or two suffers an injury in the next five weeks and can't go to Sochi? Ryan Callahan has been battling injuries all season and Backes is currently out with an upper-body injury.
"Hey, Bobby? It's David Poile. Listen, we were just wondering if you'd be interested in filling one of these injured roster spots at the Olympics."
No one could blame Ryan if he abruptly hung up after telling Poile he'd sleep on it.