Monday, February 16, 2009

Team USA in: Olympic Crapshoot

Zach Parise won't let a pesky wall of paper stand in the way of him
winning the gold!

So even though the games don't get underway for another year, many a media outlet is already starting to yap about the upcoming Winter Olympics. In fact, certain jackasses are already beginning to flaunt the embarrassment of riches the Canadian team will have to deal with. Joe Thornton as the teams third line center! Isn't that humorous! The same goes for Sweden and Russia who are going to have some serious challenges on their hands deciding which superstars are going to occupy their 3rd D pairings. Good luck with that guys.

Another team getting quite a bit of attention, but for completely different reasons, is good ol' Team USA. Ever since the 2002 silver medal in Salt Lake City, the American team has been in a state of decline. Former mainstays like Rick Dipietro, Keith Tkachuk and Jeremy Roenick are either past their prime or facing injury issues. The USA team, more then any other is facing a very sudden turnover in talent and will most likely be one of, if not the, youngest team in the tourney. More important than the age shift however is another change that has been slowly taking place for years, and just might reach its fruition with this roster.

If you name a country with a strong presence in the international hockey community, there is always a certain style of play that can be associated with that country. Canada brings to mind strong two way play and physicality, Russia is synonymous with speed and goal scoring acumen, and Sweden lies somewhere between the two, but generally with more emphasis on play making. If we were to follow this line of thinking to the point I'm trying to make (and hopefully one does get made), when someone says "United States Hockey", what exactly is it that you think of? For a long time I would say that most people would name the same qualities that they would for Canadians, but maybe with more of an emphasis on a grinding two-way game and less flash. But take a glance at the probable top line for the Americans and that perception doesn't seem to hold anymore. Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, and Patrick Kane are not exactly grinders. Oh, and one other thing: none of them are over 6 foot.

Lets think back to former team USA greats for a moment: Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, and Jeremy Roenick are the 4 that spring to mind most quickly for me. With the semi-exception of Roenick, those players are all big dudes. Modano is 6-3 and Tkachuk and Guerin both weigh over 220 pounds. More important then their physical size was the type of game they played: hard-working, gritty, and tough in the corners. Now, do you see Patrick Kane (who weighs around 170) throwing big checks in the corners? How about Zach Parise? Stastny has the weight to play that kind of game, but that certainly isn't his most notable skill. No, the new generation of USA players is showing us a new look: one more about speed and creativity but with the same foundation of hard work and persistence. Brian Gionta was seemingly an anomaly on former USA squads, but now he is starting to look like the forbearer of what was to come.

Brian Burke, team USA's GM, has some interesting choices to make. While the previously mentioned trio of Kane, Parise, and Stastny are locks (as well as LA's Dustin Brown) it will be interesting to see how much he decides to run with his new talent. Burke has already stated that some veterans will most likely be returning, but depending on what roles they are given, this team could either be a glaring mash up of incongruent styles (aka- bad) or a transition to the smaller faster game with some veteran leadership to help the youngins (aka- good). Either way, it should prove to be an interesting showcase of what the USA's hockey program has to offer.

My only worry? Check out the co-GM's who will be helping Burke chart the future of the countries hockey identity:

David Poile - The Co-GM and probably the only good NHL GM besides Burke in this group. He has consistently constructed competitive rosters for a Nashville team that is perpetually trying to shed salary.

Ray Shero - If you consider sinking a franchise that just recovered from rebuilding and has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on its roster an achievement, then Shero is a shoe-in for this job. The season isn't over yet, but I don't think the Pens will be making much noise in the playoffs (if they even make it).

Paul Holmgren - Alright. He is actually pretty good. Philly turned it around very quickly and he played a big part in that.

Dean Lombardi - Did an okay job with the Sharks, but hasn't done anything for a very average L.A. team. With the amount of top 5 picks the Kings have had, they shouldn't be on the playoff bubble anymore.

Don Waddell - Possibly the worst GM in all of hockey. The only competition he has for that title is Jacques Martin. Consistently makes poor trades, has very little fore-thought, and is about to lose what little star power he has left on his team. How he got this position (and how he even still has a job) is beyond me.

Hopefully grouchy old Burke will be listening more to Holmgren and Poile then the other two. Actually, Lombardi can have in on the meetings too. I just hope that Waddell finds himself too busy trying to run Atlanta out of business to put much thought into ruining team USA.


sleza said...

What exactly is it that you think of when someone says "United States Hockey"? Good times for Finland?

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