Meet the All-World Olympic Leftover Team for Ice Hockey
It's almost as much fun talking about who didn't make their respective country's final cut for the Olympic hockey tournament as it is discussing those who did.
There's no shame in a so-called snub when your birth certificate is stamped with Canada, land of talented centers who have to be converted to the wing to make the cut.
But more frequently these days, decisions are being scrutinized around the globe with plenty of leftovers capable of competing for gold. They're left off because of some minor perceived glitch in their game, whether it's a lack of fit in the roles remaining, or the wrong disposition for the style of game the coach wants to play, or foot speed that suits the smaller NHL rinks but doesn't cut it on the Olympic-sized skating surface.
With so many NHLers on the outside looking in at the Olympic Games, you could easily ice a team of castoffs worthy of at least making the chosen ones sweat in a single-elimination contest.
Here's a look at our All-World Olympic Leftover team.
1st-Line Left Wing: James Neal (Canada)
Why he was snubbed: As interesting as it would have been to have a full line of Penguins, Neal was a victim of the numbers game with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz being named. But he also did himself a disservice when he took a cheap shot at fellow Team Canada candidate Brad Marchand and earned a five-game suspension in December.
Why he'll be missed: His scoring touch would go a long way against some of the best goaltenders in the world with elimination on the line. Neal hasn't scored fewer than 20 goals in any of his previous five NHL seasons, and he's on pace for 30 this year despite missing a quarter of the year due to injury and suspension. He scored 40 in his first full season with the Penguins thanks in no small part to his chemistry with Evgeni Malkin and was on pace for the same in the lockout-shortened campaign a year ago.
1st-Line Center: Claude Giroux (Canada)
Why he was snubbed: Missing the orientation camp in the summer (and all the ball-hockey bonding that went with it) with a hand injury put him a little behind in the eyes of Team Canada executives. His slow start to the season, which some attribute to the same injury, only made things worse. Despite a recent turnaround and an NHL history of point-per-game play, he couldn't recover in time to convince the brass he was deserving.
Why he'll be missed: Giroux is a game-breaking playmaker capable of making something out of nothing. Some would argue he's among the NHL's top five or 10 talents, and while Team Canada is loaded with skill, leaving Giroux off the squad means it didn't take the best players available.
His first goal didn't come until Game 16 this season, and he went without a point in the first six contests as the Philadelphia Flyers came out of the gate cold as the ice they were skating on. But the captain has turned his game around, scoring seven of his 12 goals and 18 of his 38 points in the last dozen games. The team has responded in kind, steadily climbing the Eastern Conference standings.
1st-Line Right Wing: Bobby Ryan (USA)
Why he was snubbed: According to Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, it had something to do with Ryan's ability to spell. Burke's comments during deliberations by U.S. team executives were less than positive when it came to one part of the Senators winger's game. And he should know considering their history together with the Anaheim Ducks. His quotes were reported by a pair of embedded reporters.
“He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.”
Why he'll be missed: Like Burke said in the same article, Ryan is a passive guy, but he's a game-breaker. It should be pointed out that despite the disparaging comments on intensity, Burke had Ryan on his final list of guys who should make Team USA. For good reason, too. Ryan may not be the smoothest skater or most aggressive player, but he scores goals with regularity. He's nearing 20 on the season at the halfway mark and had four 30-plus-goal seasons with the Ducks before being traded to the Sens this summer.
Logan Couture (Canada): Left Wing
Why he was snubbed: A recent injury puts his availability into question, and Team Canada execs didn't want to put a cold player out there even if he is able to play by the start of the Games.
Why he'll be missed: The natural center plays in all situations for the Sharks and brings a natural skating ability and nose for the net to games.
Eric Staal (Canada): Center
Why he was snubbed: He hasn't shown the breakaway speed around the edge since injuring his knee playing for Team Canada at the World Championships last spring.
Why he'll be missed: The Hurricanes' leader seems to be rounding into form and is an NHL captain with intangibles and a pedigree. He has produced at more than a point per game over the second quarter this season.
Martin St. Louis (Canada): Right Wing
Why he was snubbed: Either Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman was afraid of being labeled a homer for bringing his Lightning star along for the ride, or he thinks St. Louis' age is finally catching up to him.
Why he'll be missed: There are a number of speedy, smaller players, but none have the kind of heart the 38-year-old displays nightly. His tenacity rubs off on players who may not have to work as hard to have their talent shine.
Jiri Hudler (Czech Republic): Left Wing
Why he was snubbed: There have been rumblings of a past conflict between the Flames winger and Czech head coach Alois Hadamczik, who left a few notable NHLers off his squad in favor of naming 42-year-old Petr Nedved to the team. Hadamczik defended his choices by saying he tried to pick a team committed to the best result.
Why he'll be missed: His vision is astounding as a passer, and the larger ice surface gives him even more room to make spectacular plays.
Joe Thornton (Canada): Center
Why he was snubbed: His foot speed and size don't make the Sharks captain as attractive an option on the larger ice surface.
Why he'll be missed: Jumbo Joe is the NHL's assist leader for a reason. He consistently makes plays and threads passes to players who are quicker than him and in position to score.
Radim Vrbata (Czech Republic): Right Wing
Why he was snubbed: As with Hudler, there doesn't seem to be any rational explanation for his exemption aside from personal choice.
Why he'll be missed: The Phoenix Coyotes sniper is the fourth-highest-scoring Czech in the NHL so far this season.
Taylor Hall (Canada): Left Wing
Why he was snubbed: He's young, plays for a bad team and makes too many defensive-zone mistakes.
Why he'll be missed: The Oilers sniper's upside in the offensive zone is limitless.
Mike Richards (Canada): Center
Why he was snubbed: His speed isn't as attractive as Kings teammate Jeff Carter, and Canada has a glut of centers.
Why he'll be missed: He's a battler in all three zones and has a history of winning at every level.
Alex Semin (Russia): Right Wing
Why he was snubbed: The host Russians must have wanted more of a local flavour to shun one of their country's most talented forwards.
Why he'll be missed: You don't find many more slick playmakers than Semin when he's on his game, and with a chance to play in his home country, he might have been more motivated than ever.
Top Defenseman: Keith Yandle (USA)
Why he was snubbed: This one is a bit of a head-scratcher. Those making the decisions questioned Yandle's defensive abilities, but he's widely considered one of the league's best offensively—and the U.S. team has historically struggled to score enough during the Olympic tournaments.
Why he'll be missed: His puck-moving skills are among the very best in the NHL, and Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett would argue his overall game has improved this season as well. He told reporters in Arizona as much after the snub. With special teams so critical and a big ice surface to move around on, the smooth-skating blueliner would have been deadly on the power play.
Top Defenseman: Dustin Byfuglien (USA)
Why he was snubbed: The bottom line is that Team USA management couldn't trust the Winnipeg Jets rearguard with shutting down the many talented forwards he would be facing. His minus-14 rating this season is a huge concern, despite the fact he plays for a team that suffers from inconsistent goaltending and spotty play as a group.
Why he'll be missed: Big Buff might not be the most dependable blueliner in the NHL, but he's a big-game player who rises to the occasion when outcomes are on the line. His ability to intimidate opposing forwards with his size is underrated, and his heavy shot isn't one goaltenders like to get in front of.
2nd Defensive Pairing
Victor Hedman (Sweden): Left Defense
Why he was snubbed: Team Sweden went with a couple of stay-at-home options rather than the more diverse 23-year-old.
Why he'll be missed: He's quietly become a solid two-way defender for the Lightning and is also finally living up to his offensive potential with a career-high eight goals already and a 40-plus-point pace.
Dan Boyle (Canada): Right Defense
Why he was snubbed: Age and the perception he's lost a step.
Why he'll be missed: He might be old, but the Sharks veteran can still skate and see the ice well enough to make some great stretch passes on the big ice.
3rd Defensive Pairing
Kris Letang (Canada): Left Defense
Why he was snubbed: Injury and inconsistent play in his own zone cost him a coveted spot on Canada's blue line.
Why he'll be missed: There may be no more talented offensive weapon from the back end than the Penguins star when healthy.
Brent Seabrook (Canada): Right Defense
Why he was snubbed: With Drew Doughty rising to prominence internationally beside Duncan Keith in 2010, Seabrook's chemistry with his Blackhawks teammate is no longer as necessary. Team Canada also had its limit of right-handed shooters.
Why he'll be missed: His versatility has been a valuable commodity for Team Canada in the past, including the 2010 gold medal-winning Olympic squad.
Goaltender: Ben Bishop (USA)
Why he was snubbed: The Tampa Bay Lightning netminder doesn't have a single NHL season as a starter on his resume. His time will come, but there was no way he could beat out Team USA's deep pool of goalies in Jonathan Quick, Ryan Miller and Jimmy Howard.
Why he'll be missed: The big-bodied backstop doesn't appear to be a flash in the pan. His numbers in his first year as the go-to guy between the posts are impressive. A save percentage of more than 93 percent and goals-against average of less than two per game are Vezina-worthy stats. His record of 22-5-3 is nothing short of spectacular when you consider the Bolts are without superstar sniper Steven Stamkos.