Previewing the Snubs, Storylines, Groups and Odds
As far as most North American sports fans are concerned, there is Men’s Hockey and then pretty much everything else. Olympic hockey never fails to create storylines, matching teammate against teammate and uniting nations in an effort to conquer international supremacy. Although the tension captured by the 1980 Lake Placid games is nearly impossible to repeat, watching the best players in the world battle for their native countries will always provide us with thrills, memories and at least a temporary sense of national pride when watching your nation’s team fight for immortality.
It even makes you contradict yourself at points ( I mean who didn’t produce a slight grin or an eye-roll when Sid beat Ryan Miller in OT four years ago??). Without further adieu, I’d like to take a glimpse at some things to watch out for this year.
The guys at home watching that shouldn’t be!
The most popular name thrown around for the Americans is Bobby Ryan. It came as much surprise to see that the United States didn’t pick Ryan, as his size and skill certainly couldn’t hurt. Ryan has been well documented in his disdain for being left off, and it’s ultimately a pretty risky decision for team USA officials to do so. The primary reasons for this decision were based on his skating (especially exploited on the large ice surface), his lack of PP production (only 9 points this year) and most curiously, his intensity.
Although putting a T.J Oshie on the final roster might be somewhat controversial, given how Ryan’s play has responded, it could prove to be the right move. Kyle Okposo has also had a breakout year and would have been considered had Max Pacioretty’s injury been more serious.
On the blueline, it’s easy to question the idea of putting Brooks Orpik in over Keith Yandle, as he is an excellent skater and provides some offensive upside.
It is hard to really call anyone from Canada a snub, as they could field multiple teams of guys worthy of Olympic play. Canada could not have gone wrong if they picked a James Neal or Claude Giroux as Steven Stamkos replacement.
I feel that the most glaring snub is Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames. He has been one of the few bright spots on the struggling Flames with 14 goals and 43 points, and it’s hard for anyone to justify putting 42 year old Petr Nedved on the roster ahead of him. Maybe they thought Germany qualified and was in their bracket, with Olie Kolzig in the cage. I also feel Radim Vrbata and Tomas Fleishmann warrant a spot on the Czech roster.
Due to injuries, guys like Alex Semin and Marty St. Louis were able to make it to Sochi, where I feel they should have been in the first place.
The Penguins have fingerprints all over the Sochi games, as 7 players and Coach Dan Bylsma will all be there and representing medal contenders. Bylsma has been a polarizing figure with Pens fans, as the lack of playoff success over the last four years has spurred quite the debate for the black and gold faithful. Now he is behind the bench for the American national team, which will surely be the topic of conversation for Pens fans and Americans alike. I’m curious to see if Olympic success will help to induce some confidence in him from local critics, or vice versa.
It will also be interesting to see how Evgeni Malkin and team Russia will handle the pressure of playing at home. With the elite talent and home-ice advantage, a poor showing at this years Olympics could have ripples leading all the way up to 2018 in South Korea.
It is also always fun to keep an eye on the Penguins that aren’t playing for your home nation. A must watch will be at 7:30 this Saturday morning when the United States take on the Russians in a contest that will put Malkin and the Russians in a battle with their toughest Group A opponent. The key area to watch will be The USA’s defense and goaltending matching up against the powerful Russian offense, both considered the strong points of their clubs.
Another great watch will come Sunday at noon when Jussi Jokinen, Olli Maatta and Team Finland take on Canada in a Group B matchup. Crosby, Kunitz and company are expected to walk through this group, but watch out for the Fins as they have multiple goalies that can steal games and a solid all-around team.
Groups and Odds
Vegas’ take on this year’s games could provide some fun conversation and a general outlook at teams and their perceived chances, so here it goes.
Group A and odds of winning that group:
Russia: -210, USA: +140, Slovakia +900 and Slovenia +15,000
Canada: -1,200, Finland: +325, Norway: +5,000 and Austria: +15,000
Sweden: -300, Czech Republic: +200, Switzerland: +800 and Latvia: +15,000
To win gold:
Canada: +120, Russia:+250, Sweden: +450, USA: +500 with the Czech Republic and Finland capping off the favorites at +1,200