Projecting Team USA's Hockey Roster for the 2018 Winter Olympics
It's been three days since Team USA lost to Canada and two days since Team USA lost to Finland at the 2014 Sochi Olympics to come home without a medal. That feels like enough time to go through the grieving process and begin anew with an eye toward the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Yes, it's very possible the NHL won't be going to South Korea, but since it hasn't been ruled out yet, there's no harm in hoping that we will get to see the best players in the world on the same sheet of ice four years from now.
At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, there were 13 Americans who were on the roster at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. There may be more returning faces in 2018 if this projection proves to be completely accurate.
(It won't, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't try.)
This brief slideshow attempts to project the forwards, defensemen and goaltenders who will represent Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics. There are even line combinations and defense pairings to mull over.
So click, enjoy and let's hope the NHL goes to Pyeongchang in 2018.
• James van Riemsdyk—Joe Pavelski—Phil Kessel
• Brandon Saad—Nick Bjugstad—Patrick Kane
• Zach Parise—David Backes—Bobby Ryan
• Chris Kreider—Alex Galchenyuk—T.J. Oshie
Extras: Max Pacioretty, Derek Stepan
In: Saad, Bjugstad, Ryan, Galchenyuk, Kreider
Out: Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, Ryan Callahan, Blake Wheeler
Analysis: The top line fizzled against Canada and Finland (and to an extent, Russia), but the three players it consists of should still be close to their primes when 2018 rolls around. There are new faces on the other three lines, however.
If Pacioretty's injury before the start of the Olympics was serious, Saad was likely the guy getting the call to replace him. Bjugstad is a first-round pick having a quality first NHL season with the Panthers and could be the offensive threat to replace Ryan Kesler, who could be headed for steep decline in the next four years.
Ryan makes the team on the third line because, in case anyone missed it, Team USA didn't score an even-strength goal against Russia, Finland or Canada. Hopefully he works on his spelling of intensity over the next four years and comes ready to contribute.
Kreider and Galchenyuk would add speed to the fourth line and make it slightly more skilled group with Pacioretty and Stastny off that line. Galchenyuk is excellent in shootouts, as well.
• Ryan Suter—Jacob Trouba
• Ryan McDonagh—Kevin Shattenkirk
• Keith Yandle—Seth Jones
Extras: John Carlson, Cam Fowler
In: Trouba, Yandle, Jones
Out: Justin Faulk, Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin
Analysis: Maybe it mattered in the bronze-medal game or maybe it didn't, but McDonagh playing on the right side of Suter may have led to those two rapid-fire goals by Finland that practically ended the game. McDonagh plays the left side with the Rangers, and getting him back to his more comfortable spot should be a priority in 2018 and make Team USA tougher defensively.
That opens the door for a right-handed defenseman or two to join the team, and Trouba and Jones should be ready in four years. They are arguably the two best rookie defenseman in the NHL right now and should be of Olympic caliber in four years.
Yandle makes this team after he was left at home in 2014, replacing Orpik.
• Jonathan Quick
• Cory Schneider
• Ben Bishop
In: Schneider, Bishop
Out: Ryan Miller, Jimmy Howard
Analysis: Schneider or Bishop should have been the selection over Howard for Sochi, but those wrongs will be made right in 2018.
The starting job will remain Quick's, barring injuries or an incredible decline in his play over the next four years.
Biggest X-Factor: Absolutely Everything
Some of the questions that hang over this potential team include:
• Who will be selecting this team? As we learned this time, the biases and preconceived notions of management can go a long way toward leaving players at home. Without knowing the brain trust that will be selecting this team, it's tough to know who are the favorites.
• Who will suffer a career-changing injury? Maybe no one, maybe someone.
• What about players not in the NHL now? Four years from now, an American-born player could blossom into a candidate for Team USA. Alex Galchenyuk was on the radar for the 2014 team, and he was drafted in 2012. If he was chosen one or two years earlier, maybe he could have made the team.
• Will the NHL go to the Olympics in 2018? Yeah, it's a big question.
• What if the world ends? Should a meteor hit the planet in the next four years, there's a good chance this will not be the team that represents the United States at the next Olympics.
Best Asset: Speed
It's fair to say speed was an asset for the 2014 version of Team USA, but when it came time to match up with Canada in the semifinals, the Americans were a step slow all over the ice.
Whether that had to do with a passive coaching strategy or a slow-footed group in relation to Canada, it was an issue.
With this fictional team, there is even more speed. Replacing Brooks Orpik with Keith Yandle immediately upgrades Team USA in that department. Adding Chris Kreider, Alex Galchenyuk and Brandon Saad helps in that area, too.
If there's anything to take from the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it's that the top countries don't need to bring checking, grinding forwards that litter third and fourth lines in the NHL. Canada had John Tavares on its fourth line, and that worked out just fine.
Team USA needs to have skill and speed at every position, and this roster maximizes that throughout the lineup.
Biggest Concern: This Team Still Can't Beat Canada
To be the best, you have to beat the best. That's the saying, anyway. But even if this version of Team USA plugs the holes in the 2014 squad, it's tough to see how it can beat a healthy Canadian team.
Just about all the core members of the Canadian team that won gold will be back and still in their primes in 2018. That doesn't take into consideration that Steven Stamkos and John Tavares, perhaps two of the five best players in the world, were sidelined for the entire tournament and the final two games, respectively, at Sochi, and Canada was still good enough to win gold.
Logan Couture had to pull out of the tournament due to injury, too. This team was another injury or two away from being that mythical Canadian "B" team that can always win gold.
Will the Americans be better in 2018? In theory, yes. But so will the Canadians.
If Team USA can't beat Canada, this is all an effort in futility.
Will They Be Better Than the 2014 Team?
Without question, this will be a better team. But will it be the best team?
Only time will tell.
Canada will remain superior to Team USA unless President Chris Christie decides to invade and annex Canada. Even if Team USA were to beat Canada in a gold-medal game pre-invasion, it should be considered a shocking upset that's not indicative of the quality of the teams.
But Sweden and Finland, the two other teams to finish ahead of Team USA at Sochi, have aging players who will be either less effective or not on their teams in 2018 (I miss you already, Teemu).
Anything can happen in a one-game tournament, but Team USA should be as well-equipped as ever to win gold.