Team USA: Projections and The Outsiders

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Quick Notes: All players on Team USA currently play in the NHL. Also, all players are very good players and deserving of Olympic spots. As a result, I have included players who were snubbed, but will not discuss which players would have been left off of the roster.

Forwards:

Parise                                     Kesler                                 Kane

VanRiemsdyk                         Pavelski                              Kessel

Brown                                    Backes                                Callahan

Oshie                                     Stepan                                Wheeler

Extras: Statsny, Pacioretty

                This top line should be able to cause havoc for opponents on both ends of the ice. Kesler has continually been one of the best two way forwards, highlighted by his Selke trophy in 2011. Though very different styles, Parise and Kane are both elite goal scorers and rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. Currently holding the 2nd position in points this season, only behind Sidney Crosby, Kane has taken his game to a higher level.

                The second line could be the most important piece of this team. This season, Kessel and JVR had a hot start. Their chemistry was very strong and the points were piling up. Recently, the Leafs have been struggling and their duo’s production has slowed down. Their scoring is streaky and they will need to catch fire. Pavelski is a very skilled playmaker to complement these wingers. This line looks to have a high ceiling of potential.  To win games, it is essential this line provides the necessary secondary scoring.

                This third line has everything any coach desires. They’re three great leaders, team captains, who play a hard-nose and aggressive style. Whether it’s throwing a hit, blocking a shot or going into a corner, this line will be a nuisance to opponents. Their style is annoying to play against and they will get under the skin of their opponents.

                The fourth line is very interchangeable. I could see the extras being moved in and out of this line. These are versatile players who will serve different roles. Stepan and Oshie have been very good penalty killers for their NHL teams.

Defensemen:

Suter                                   Shattenkirk

McDonagh                          Orpik

Martin                                 Carlson

Fowler                                Faulk

                Suter and Shattenkirk are very different players that complement each other very well. Suter is a defensive minded blueliner who logs the most average ice time in the NHL. Shattenkirk is an offensive minded defenseman who has improved his overall game this year to show his ability to play in a top role.

                McDonagh and Orpik would be a match made in heaven to shut down any scoring line. Both have proved with their respective clubs that they can slow down any opponent.  This would be a great pair to throw at the top line of any Olympic opponent and cause continual chaos. McDonagh has progressively added a strong offensive game as well.

                The last four defensemen are players that could be interchangeable, maybe even crack the top four, but I expect them to rotate spots between games. They are all very skilled and good puck-handling players.

Goaltenders:

Quick, Miller, Howard

  •     My prediction is this order will be their depth chart position to start the Olympics. With Quick recently returning from injury, his play over the next month will determine whether or not he starts. Even though Miller was phenomenal in the 2010 Vancouver games, Quick has established himself as the best American goalie over the last few years. Howard struggled to start this season, but has been consistently good over the last couple years and has been picking up his game since returning from injury.

 

   Odd Men Out:

  1. Bobby Ryan
    • I was very surprised to see Ryan left off of the roster. Ryan is an elite player who knows how to find the back of the net. Excluding the shortened season last year, Ryan has notched more than 30 goals each season of his career.  In the shortened season, he was on track to hit the mark again. This season, he has 18 through 45 games which would put him on pace to eclipse the total again. His abilities outside of scoring were questioned by the committee choosing the team. He didn’t seem to fit in the lineup if he wasn’t a top 6 forward. His abilities outside of scoring are very debatable, including his skating ability on the larger ice surface. The Ryan supporters will be out for blood if Team USA struggles to find goals without Ryan.
  2. Keith Yandle
    • A defenseman that I was surprised to see left off of the roster. He is a player that I thought would excel with the larger ice surface. He is a great skater and moves the puck extremely well. He is exceptionally good with the first pass and moving his unit out of the zone. Also, he continually racks up points, including 28 through 43 games this year.
  3. Kyle Okposo
    • A dark horse who wasn’t talked about much or included in projected rosters. He broke out toward the latter part of last season and played exceptional in the playoffs. After working hard this summer with line mate John Tavares, Okposo has taken his game to an elite level.  He is currently 14th in the league with 44 points through 43 games and 3rd among Americans behind only Patrick Kane and Joe Pavelski. Also, Okposo played on a larger ice surface at University of Minnesota and excelled. Though he may have been late to the party concerning his elite status, I feel he would have been a nice fit on this roster.

Prediction:

                Being an American, my heart tells me the Americans have a good balance and have the ability to be in the gold medal game like in Vancouver last Olympics. Their roster has good speed and players to fulfill all the needed roles. My hockey sense and experience tells me this team will fall a little short. They will be lucky to win the bronze. As I look deeper into the roster, it seems this team was too forced together. They tried too hard to select the “right” players and passed on some of the best players.  For the Americans to reach their potential, all the roles must come together and create a strong chemistry. It may be difficult to find this chemistry with such a short tournament. My final prediction is Canada over Sweden 4-2 in the gold medal game and USA beats Russia 3-2 for the bronze. 

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Team Sweden Preview: A Potential Roster

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Forwards:

1st line: Zetterberg – H. Sedin – D. Sedin

2nd line: Landeskog- Backstrom – Eriksson

3rd line: Hagelin- Berglund – Franzen

4th line: Steen – Johansson- Nyquist

  • First Out: Kruger, Hornqvist

Defensemen:

1st pairing: Karlsson/Kronwall

2nd pairing: Oduya/ Ekman-Larsson

3rd pairing: Ericsson/Murray

  • First out: Edler, Brodin

Goaltenders:

Starter- Lundqvist

Back-ups: Fasth, Enroth

  • Unlike the Canada preview that I wrote a few days ago, there are not many directions to go with this roster.
  • I expect all of the forwards to make the roster. In addition, I could definitely see Kruger and Hornqvist making the roster as extras in case of an injury.
  • On the blue line, the first four defensemen should easily take roster spots. I expect Ericsson and Murray to make the roster because of their efforts this past season. Murray continued his strong and physical play for the Penguins while Ericsson turned into a key defenseman for the Wings.
  • Brodin had a strong season alongside Suter in Minnesota, but his youth and inexperience may put him lower on the list than expected. I would not be surprised if both Brodin and Edler also made the roster as extras on the back end.
  • As far as the netminder, there definitely are not any question marks here. Lundqvist will be a cornerstone for this team.
  • Fans, comment with any questions or comments.

Team Canada Preview: A Potential Roster

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Forwards:

1st line: Nash-Crosby-Stamkos

2nd line: Tavares-Toews-Giroux

3rd line: Couture-Getzlaf-Perry

4th line: E. Staal-Bergeron-St. Louis

  First 3 out: M. Richards, Hall, Thornton

Defensemen:

1st pairing: Subban/Keith

2nd pairing: Doughty/Weber

3rd pairing: Letang/Boyle

  First 2 out: Seabrook, Pietrangelo

Goaltenders:

Starter: Price

Back-ups: Crawford, Luongo

Notes:

  • Looking at the forwards, the top three lines should essentially be locks for roster spots. After a stellar regular season and playoffs last year, Couture seems to be a lock with the other eight.
  • The fourth line definitely includes players on the cusp. Staal is a veteran that contributed on their 2006 team and again on the 2010 gold-winning team, but his best years may be past him. I do not see them passing on St. Louis despite his age. Clearly, he showed last season that he still has it. Any hockey fan who watched Boston this past postseason could see how valuable Bergeron is on any team. He is a Selke winner who can play any game situation.
  • I do not see M. Richards making it through this year. He does all the little things a team needs, but I feel Bergeron can fill this role just as well. The team has too much star power and depth that Richards’ value is outweighed. I could see Hall stealing a spot after a breakout season and adding more youth to the team in place of a veteran like Staal. In addition, it seems Thornton’s era on this team is in past, it is time to bring in the younger guns and allow them to shine.
  •  On the blue line, I see the top five defensemen set in stone. There seems to be too much talent between Subban, Keith, Weber, Doughty and Letang to leave anyone out of the mix.
  • The last spot on the blue line is the question mark. It is a complete tossup between Boyle, Seabrook, and Pietrangelo. I chose Boyle because I think he still has his game, despite his age. In addition, he brings leadership to this young and talented team. Seabrook could easily fit in too because of his playing style. In addition, he and Keith would be a great pairing like on the Blackhawks. After a breakout season, Pietrangelo could end up taking this last spot. The youngster is highly talented and could add talent to an already great defensive core.
  • In net, Smith and Holtby seem to be the odd men out. With Price, Luongo, and Crawford in the mix, I could see any of the three starting. I put Price in the starting slot because I believe he will prevail. Whichever goalie has a hot first half of next season should get the nod.
  • I was a little surprised to see Tyler Seguin left out of the mix. Despite his recent troubles and departure from Boston, I believe he could be a great fit into the forwards. I foresee him getting quickly back on track in Dallas.  
  • Any way Steve Yzerman and his crew select this team, they should be the best on paper. It will be interesting to see if they can find the right chemistry to win another gold medal in Sochi next winter.

 

 

  • Fans of all countries and NHL teams, leave your comments and let me know what you think.

Was Alain Vigneault the right match for the NYR?

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Taking a closer look into the move by the New York Rangers to ink Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, did they make the right decision? Should the Rangers have fired John Tortorella? Tortorella coached the Blueshirts for four and a half seasons, taking over for Tom Renney in the middle of the 2008-2009 regular season. During this season, Tortorella found a way to lead them into the playoffs. As the Rangers’ head coach, he led them to the playoffs four out of five seasons. The only season the team missed the playoffs was 2009-2010. Although, they continually reached the playoffs, the rangers failed to jump the hurdle and make the Stanley Cup Finals in any season. They only made it past the second round once; last season in which they lost to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. Under Torts, their defensive game was always in the top tier of the NHL. Largely due to their stellar goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, their opponents only averaged 2.37 goals per game, which ranked them 2nd in the Eastern Conference during this span. In addition, they averaged 15.5 blocked shots per game, which ranked them 5th in the Eastern Conference. The players were sacrificing their body in all situations of the game. In particular, Dan Giradi and Ryan Callahan constantly did whatever it took to block a shot. Although their defensive game was very good, their offensive production struggled at times. They averaged 2.70 goals per game in this era, but struggled to produce goals in the playoffs. This past postseason, they had their troubles putting the puck in the back of the net against the Bruins. In the second round, they only scored six goals in the four games they lost. In the lone game they won at Madison Square Garden, they scored four in their 4-3 overtime victory. Even though they fell short of their expectations, it seemed coach Tortorella would be back for another season in New York.

After their early exit from the playoffs, Torts and the players took part in their concluding interviews with media. When asked about the progress of the team after making it further last postseason, Torts said he thought the team went sideways. He did not think they took a step backwards even though their earlier playoff exit says differently. The players had a different perspective, in particular, two significant players. The captain of the team, Ryan Callahan, used the term “underachieved” concerning the team’s results. The team’s cornerstone, Henrik Lundqvist had a similar view when he said the team took “a step back.” With one season remaining on his contract, Lundqvist was asked about his future and signing an extension sooner rather than later. It was not a good feeling for fans of the team when Lundqvist responded with “we’ll see.” Instantly there was a sense of panic amongst fans of the Rangers. Not long after this panic began, John Tortorella was relieved of duties as the head coach of the Rangers. In New York sources, there have been many reports that star players had a strong impact on this decision. One source even reported that these players went into management and said Torts had to go now. Many believe Lundqvist could have been one of these players, especially with his remarks in his postseason interview. Glen Sather, GM of the Rangers, said the players “didn’t impact” their decision to relieve Torts of his duties. Regardless of reason, Torts is out and the Rangers were officially in search of his replacement.

After beginning the search for a new head coach, a small list of candidates arose. The names on this list included Alain Vigneault, Mark Messier, Lindy Ruff, Dallas Eakins, Dave Tippett and Paul Maurice. Tippet and Maurice seemed to be extras on this list. The other four of Vigneault, Messier, Ruff and Eakins looked like the final four from the start. Despite not having any NHL experience as a head coach, Dallas Eakins has been successful with the Toronto Marlies (AHL affiliate of Toronto Maple Leafs). While coaching with an aggressive style, Eakins has done tremendous work in developing his young talent. This seemed like a great fit for the Rangers. His aggressive style would help to create offense, while maturing young talent including Chris Kreider and JT Miller. Unfortunately, for the Rangers, he was removed early from the coaching carousel after agreeing to terms with the Edmonton Oilers. With all the young talent in Edmonton, Dallas Eakins seems to be the perfect match. He has plenty of talent to grow on his team and a high ceiling of potential as a coach. The Sabres fired Lindy Ruff in this shortened season after a rocky start of 6-10-1. Ruff spent fourteen seasons with the team before his departure this year. He reached the playoffs in eight of these seasons. During this span, he only made it to the finals once and never won the Stanley Cup. It was hard to see why Ruff was a top candidate. Despite his success in Buffalo, he seems too similar to Tortorella and does not have the experience of jumping the hurdle and winning a cup. Bringing him in as a head coach would not have been the right move. The Rangers would have been going in the same direction.  Although his name would have been Ruff and not Tortorella, the team would have had the same feeling as before. The next candidate was Mark Messier, an absolute legend in the eyes of any Rangers fan. He was a good candidate because he possesses the passion to win a Stanley Cup. His famous “guarantee” speaks for itself. Mark Messier is the leader this team could use. The only problem was his experience; he has never coached an NHL game before. Not only NHL, he has never coached a professional team at all. The Rangers saw this as too big of a gamble. With some pieces already in place such as Nash and Lundqvist, the window is too small to take chances on a couple seasons. They wanted a coach who they felt would not be a gamble and could make their impact immediately. As a result, the Rangers and Alain Vigneault reportedly agreed to a five-year deal worth $10 million.

Are the Rangers going in the right direction by hiring Alain Vigneault? AV spent the past seven seasons in Vancouver; his time expired after an early exit from the postseason this year. In these seven years, he made the playoffs each season except once. The 2010-2011 playoffs were the only time he reached the finals, where they lost in seven games to the Bruins. Besides that, they were bounced three times in the second round and twice in the opening round. The past two seasons saw them losing in their first round matchup. This year they were swept by the Sharks following their defeat by the eighth seed Blackhawks last season after winning the President’s Trophy. Many critics attribute Vancouver’s goaltending woes to their early departures. This seemed to be a reasonable excuse for their troubles in most years, but this year did not show the same signs. In their series against San Jose, they did not lose primarily because of their goaltending. After dropping the first two games at home, Luongo was not their problem. He looked very good, especially compared to past playoff performances. Schneider came in during game three and then started game four. Luongo actually had more success against San Jose. The Canucks played this series with no passion. They were thoroughly outplayed and deserved to lose. There is a point where it has to fall on the coach’s shoulders. Vancouver management agreed and sent AV packing after their early departure.

The word among Rangers’ fans was that AV HAS to be the next coach. When breaking everything down, many fans clearly do not know enough about him. AV’s playoff resume does not exactly fit a new direction for the Rangers. He has similar playoffs results that Torts had under the Rangers. Looking into his coaching style, he played a 1-2-2 forecheck in Vancouver. Under his version, one forward would heavily purse the puck while the other two forwards and two defensemen set up a trap in the neutral zone. The Rangers need help with their offensive struggles, not their defensive game. This style is not a very dramatic change from Torts. Unless he has plans to switch this style, the Rangers will have a similar looking game. Fans criticized Torts because of his treatment of Chris Kreider and JT Miller. Bad news for fans, sources say AV has played very comparable mind games with Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder. The continual move back and forth between the minors and the NHL could still be in the cards for Kreider and Miller. Many sources contributed this treatment to the eventual trade of Cody Hodgson to Buffalo where he has submerged into a first line center. A huge positive about AV is his success with star players. In his short time in Montreal before Vancouver, he had success getting production out of stars including Mark Recchi and Saku Koivu. Then in Vancouver, he always received major production from the Sedin twins. This could be a very good sign for Rick Nash and emerging first line center Derek Stepan. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers buyout Brad Richard’s hefty and long-term contract or if they give AV a chance to turn him around.

It does not feel like the Rangers took a step in the right direction by choosing AV. Mark Messier may not have been the best choice either because of his inexperience. At least Mark Messier would have been a new direction with a passionate group. The defensive style, coaching experience and handling of youth talent of AV correlate too much with the rigid style of John Tortorella. The Rangers best direction would have been Dallas Eakins. Maybe they did not have enough time because Torts was fired late (because of playoffs), but they should have found a way to get to him. Eakins seems like the up and coming coach that a team will buy into and have success. The Eakins situation has shades of Bylsma in it. It will be interesting to see how Alain Vigneault does in New York. In his first press conference, he said, “I haven’t coached a lot of these guys…I am going into this with an open mind…there’s a clean slate. For Rangers fans and players including Richards, Kreider and Miller, this was a very optimistic comment. This press conference pointed toward a change of his demeanor with the change of scenery. For Rangers’ players and fans, there is a strong anticipation toward next season.

 

Leave a comment and let me know what you think, especially fans of NYR.