Olympic Hockey 2014: Gold Medal Odds for Every Team
Russia, it says here, will win the gold medal in men's ice hockey.
They've got the home-country advantage, they've got Alex Ovechkin in the middle of his best season in years, and they've got Vladimir Putin pulling strings behind the scenes to ensure the Russians will flash gold medals around their necks.
But seriously, the Russians will be super-motivated in Sochi. They will have learned from the embarrassment that was Vancouver in 2010 and atone for it in front of their own people.
Of course, Canada could just run the table with all of that talent, and a handful of other countries, the USA included, have real shots at gold. The following slideshow examines the strengths and weaknesses of every team and lays odds on taking gold.
Best assets: Dynamic forwards, goaltending
Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk (hopefully), Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk—that’s one great foursome of forwards. You don’t think Ovechkin is going to be a beast in this tournament, in front of the home fans? He will.
Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky both enter the Games hot in net. Question is, who will start? I’d take Varlamov myself.
Biggest obstacle: Unproven defense
Only three returning blueliners from 2010 are on this team: Fedor Tyutin, Ilya Nikulin and Andrei Markov. Then again, with how the Russians were eliminated in Vancouver, 7-3 to Canada, maybe that’s a good thing.
Gold-medal odds: 5-2
Best assets: Great centers, overall depth
We all know the names: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, John Tavares. For Canada, that’s just for openers in their incredible group of forwards. "It's a competitive environment and we expect our guys to compete for their ice-time," head coach Mike Babcock said about his loaded roster, via TSN's Jonas Siegel.
No country can match the Canadians’ marquee talent up front, and the defense isn't bad either—though there isn't that dominant player of years past.
Biggest obstacle: Goaltending
Carey Price should be the starter (and will be for the first game, according to the Canadian Press' Steve Whyno), but he’s unproven in Olympic play. The way they’ve played for their teams in the regular season so far, neither Roberto Luongo nor Mike Smith inspires much confidence with the rabid Canadian faithful.
Gold-medal odds: 4-1
Best assets: Skilled two-way forwards, mobile defense, goaltending
Not only can the Swedes score goals, but their group of forwards can play defense, too.
The Sedin twins are down to just one twin (Daniel) at the Games, so that's a blow. But youngsters such as Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Hagelin bring new enthusiasm to what was a fairly tired Tre Kronor roster of 2010.
Defenseman Erik Karlsson on the big ice should be fun to watch.
Henrik Lundqvist is a great goalie who will be motivated to add a second gold medal to his resume after winning one in 2006.
Biggest obstacle: Not enough physicality at both ends
The big ice will help, but Sweden’s forwards and D could get pushed around by the more physical Americans, Russians and Canadians.
Gold-medal odds: 6-1
Best assets: Grit, work ethic, team chemistry, goaltending
The Americans showed in 2010 they aren’t afraid of the big stage, finishing a bounce or two away from the gold medal. They’re a young team (average age: 27.1), with pluckiness and a willingness to work.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, as NHL opponents know, can carry a team on his back in net to big-time hardware.
Biggest obstacle: Not enough offense
Once you get past Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise, you wonder who will be able to score goals on the big ice of Sochi. Not that guys like Joe Pavelski, Paul Stastny and others can’t score, but the U.S. lacks the premier scoring threats of big boys Canada and Russia.
Gold-medal odds: 7-1
Best asset: Goaltending
With Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask, the Finns are deep and good in net. Who gets the starting nod will be a good early storyline of the Games.
I’d go with Rask, but either one of the others would be fine, too.
Biggest obstacles: Not enough offense, old defense
The loss of Mikko Koivu to an ankle injury is a big blow for a team that was already short on offensive depth. Aleksander Barkov will have to have a monster tournament if the Finns are to challenge for a medal, but he’s just a kid. But, hey, Teemu Selanne is still around.
The defense includes Ossi Vaananen, who hasn’t played in the NHL since 2009.
Gold-medal odds: 12-1
Best assets: Goaltending, defense
Beware the Swiss. They claimed a silver medal at the 2013 Wold Championships and took Canada to a shootout before losing 3-2 in Vancouver in 2010. Goalie Jonas Hiller can steal games for any team, and the defense has several NHLers, including Mark Streit, Raphael Diaz and Roman Josi, who won MVP honors at the World Championships in Sweden.
Biggest obstacle: Lack of elite forwards
Do the names Damien Brunner, Nino Niederreiter, Reto Suri or Roman Wick get you excited? When compared with the top forwards of other countries, not really.
The Swiss will have to work hard to get goals, but if they do, their defense and goaltending can protect them.
Gold-medal odds: 25-1
Best assets: Experience, good offense
The Czechs won it all in 1998, but that was a long time ago. Still, there is depth offensively, with guys like Patrik Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec, David Krejci and Jakub Voracek around.
Biggest obstacles: Shaky goaltending and defense, overall age
This is an old team (Petr Nedved, who is 42 and hasn't played in the NHL since 2007, plays on this team), and none of the goalies inspire any confidence. Ondrej Pavelec could be the starter, but he doesn’t even start these days in Winnipeg. As Sports Illustrated notes, "Pavelec isn’t someone you want between the pipes for a big game."
Gold-medal odds: 30-1
Best assets: Zdeno Chara, goaltending
With Big Zed on the roster, there's always a shot. Remember, this is a team that finished fourth in 2010 and gave Canada a big scare in the semifinal. There's also Marian Hossa up front. He's still an elite player.
Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj give the Slovaks some NHL-caliber competency in net.
Biggest obstacle: Lack of offense
The loss of Marian Gaborik from an already thin forward group is a weighty blow to the Slovaks. Once you get past Hossa, there just isn't a lot to get excited about here, though these guys were given no shot in Vancouver either and almost shocked the world.
Gold-medal odds: 50-1
Best asset: Decent defense
Of the few Norwegians on the Olympic roster who have played in the NHL, former Colorado defender Jonas Holos is one. He averaged 28:56 per game at the 2010 Games and will have to play probably as much in Sochi.
The only current NHL player on Norway's team is New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello. Needless to say, he'll have to have the two weeks of his life if Norway wants to get anywhere near the podium.
Biggest obstacles: Lack of offense, goaltending
Lars Haugen of the KHL's Dinamo Minsk is expected to be the Norwegian starter in net. It's OK if you've never heard of him.
The rest of of the roster is a similar patchwork of castoffs from European leagues.
Gold-medal odds: 150-1
Best asset: Ted Nolan
Not much to get excited about with this roster. When 41-year-old Sandis Ozolinsh is counted upon to play serious minutes for your team, there are likely big problems ahead. But the Latvians do have an NHL coach in Ted Nolan, and he's smart enough to maybe do something exciting. But who are we kidding? The Latvians have no shot in Sochi.
Biggest obstacle: Pretty much everything
The Latvians have one current NHL player, rookie Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres.
Gold-medal odds: 1,000-1
Best asset: Decent top line
Thomas Vanek, Michael Raffl and Michael Grabner are legitimate NHL forwards. So, there's that. Defenseman Thomas Pock also has 118 games of NHL experience.
Biggest obstacles: Depth, goaltending
Not much to write home about once you get past those NHL names. Goalie Bernhard Starkbaum played well in the World Championships, but will have a tougher time against more marquee talent, especially in the tough pool Austria drew with Canada and Finland.
Gold-medal odds: 10,000-1
Best asset: Anze Kopitar
The star Los Angeles Kings center might have to play 40 minutes a game if the Slovenians are to have any hope of even winning a game in Sochi. He's a great player, but there is almost no other NHL-caliber talent around him. He is the only NHL player on the roster.
Biggest obstacle: Everything
Gold-medal odds: Infinity-1