(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

By  Andrew Imber

As New Year’s Eve approached, and most people were focusing on their party or celebration for the night, buzz began to collect and multiply that perennial 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan might not be a lock for the USA Men’s Olympic roster. Most people dismissed these rumors as just wild speculation, and even started to question if the goaltending leaks that came out a few days earlier had any legitimacy to them.

However, as the youth players wearing the names of the American Olympians started to reveal the roster, it became evident that every leak had been accurate. Within minutes, the internet was flooded with shocked hockey fans, questioning where Bobby Ryan was.

“I must have missed it,” was a common sentence from many fans.

But their eyes were fine. Ryan, along with Keith Yandle, and Erik and Jack Johnson, were the most surprising omissions as the final roster decision was announced.

Fortunately, Scott Burnside of ESPN provided an amazingly in depth piece on the entire selection process, and posted it immediately after the team was announced. Instead of being left to wonder, fans can see exactly why certain players made the team over others.

Up front, the leadership designation was enough to keep struggling veterans Ryan Callahan and Dustin Brown on the team. Max Pacioretty, Blake Wheeler, and T.J. Oshie grabbed last minute spots, narrowly beating out the aforementioned Ryan and Brandon Saad. The general consensus of the American brass was this – Bobby Ryan is a goal scorer. If he’s not going to earn a top six winger role, he’s not the ideal bottom six player. Once management decided that Ryan wasn’t going to be a big part of the team’s top six, they decided he could be replaced by faster and more physical wings on the bottom lines.

(Rick Osentoski / USA Today Sports)
Teammates Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk may remain linemates in Sochi.

We knew the blue line was going to come with tons of controversy. High scoring Keith Yandle was probably the biggest surprise from a number’s point of view, while Jack Johnson was a massive surprise to those who know his USA Hockey loyalty. And while it looked like Erik Johnson had put together a season good enough to make the squad, he was beaten out by Brooks Orpik, for reasons ranging from his crease-clearing capability to his familiarity with the team’s coach.

The goalies ended up being the three that were leaked days ago. The Burnside article revealed that the decision on the number three goalie went down to the wire, and that no one was particularly comfortable with the Howard decision. Still, they went on a gut feeling and previous playoff experience to give him the call over Cory Schneider.

My Observations…

  • I’m split on the Bobby Ryan situation. I had him as my most vulnerable lock on my forward projection piece, and I’m more than a little shocked he didn’t make it. Can a team that won’t be looked at as a major offensive threat (compared to the big boys) afford to leave one of their most gifted goal scorers behind? Still, I get the reasons behind the move. He wasn’t going to play in a top six role, and if the team wanted to go with two scoring lines and two ‘do-it-all’ checking type lines, he didn’t have a spot. In the Olympics, you can probably afford to go with three scoring lines, and having Ryan with, say, Pacioretty and Paul Stastny could have been an effective unit. But, the management clearly wanted guys that can skate and hit. If any of the big guys gets hurt (remember Parise’s status is a question), Ryan should be the first choice, though it remains to be seen if he’d even accept, considering his issue with Brian Burke’s harsh comments.

 

  • I found it interesting that the last guy out was Brandon Saad. In fact, reading Burnside’s article, I get the feeling that management would have taken him over Oshie, but the coaching staff pushed for Oshie’s chemistry with Backes, as well as his shootout ability. If any of the bottom six wingers gets hurt, expect Saad to get the first call. I was a little surprised to see how little a guy like Kyle Okposo was considered throughout the process, and I imagine it would take more than a few injuries for him to get a shot.

 

  • To me, the most debatable call was including Brooks Orpik. I get that most of the US defense is mobile and offensively oriented, and Orpik brings a different element. Orpik can also skate pretty well too, which is important on the large ice surface. However, Penguins fans will tell you that he’s lost a step, especially in the decision making process, and could put us in danger if he gets into the wrong situation. He may end up as a healthy scratch, or a bottom pairing guy that plays with teammate Paul Martin on the penalty kill. To those suggesting Yandle should have gotten in over him, you’re making the wrong argument. Yandle would have had to replace a guy like John Carlson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, or Justin Faulk. The guy you want in over Orpik is probably Erik Johnson, and that’s what I would have liked to see.

 

  • It’s tough to see the loyal Jack Johnson miss out, and the article shows how difficult the decision process was.  The bottom line is Jack isn’t playing well this season, and loyalty can only get you so far. But then, you can argue that guys like Callahan and Brown shouldn’t be rewarded for leadership over current play. It’s a tough line to negotiate, and if there are any injuries, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Jack get an early call.

 

  • Speaking of double standards during the selection process, it was pretty interesting to see that Jonathan Quick never really fell from his anointed position as a top two goalie on this team. Despite struggling and missing a huge chunk of time, Quick’s position was never in jeopardy. I agree that he should make it, but there are two very split crowds when it comes to Quick’s career. One group will tell you that he’s been dominant for most of the past few seasons (basically his established career), save for a regular season after a major back injury. The other crowd will tell you that Quick has really only had one magical season and playoff, and one separate solid couple of week playoff run, but sports a below average stat line everywhere else. Personally, I think this is Ryan Miller’s team, again.

Though there has been a lot of complaining about the selection process and the people who were a part of it, I think they deserve a little benefit of the doubt. Brian Burke, who built the 2010 team, was a huge part of this process. Obviously, he was spot on with his building last time around. The people who are already throwing in the towel, a month before the team even lands in Sochi, aren’t being fair. This is still an incredibly solid team that will compete with the best of them. The United States Team possesses skill, speed, toughness, mobility from the back, and great goaltending. This is the group of players that will be representing our United States of America, and they deserve our full support.

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