I was thinking of doing a quarter-season review earlier, but my poor pattern recognition failed to remind me that about a hundred other writers would be using that exact lead-in. So I’m doing things differently this time – rather than put in the effort to produce creative articles, I’m going to take a clichéd idea and undercut everybody else by writing about it first. The world of hockey blogging is a cutthroat place! This time, we’ll examine who’s in and who’s out among the Avs’ Olympic candidates from top to bottom, or at least until I get bored. Is this what a journalism high feels like?
It surprised me how up-and-down Canadian the roster is – Don Cherry would be proud! AHLer Markus Lauridsen has a contract with the the parent club and would probably make the Danish team had they qualified for Sochi, but he’s our only player hailing from a lesser hockey nation. As for our Russian, Swede, and handful of Americans, they should all be right in the mix for Olympic roster spots – with the lonely exception of Nate Guenin, who will have to deal with the entire team’s smack talk through the break.
Really, who else is going to tend goal for the Russians? Sergei Bobrovsky, boasting a .907 save percentage and major regression to reality? Ilya Bryzgalov, with numbers that will be abysmal by virtue of playing behind the Oilers? Evgeni Nabokov, whose fossilized remains I think I saw at a museum the other day? The only thing working against Varlamov is his litigation issues, and given how Russian officials have responded, it’s pretty clear that they aren’t too bothered. The way they talk about him, he’s likely been pencilled in for the starting job. Having played in their last three World Championship squads, his spot should be locked up.
Wait … fuck. I swear that was completely by accident, but I’m going to leave it there because it makes me seem more edgy than I actually am. Moving on!
Landeskog is going to be the face of Swedish hockey for a long time, and with a face like this, who could blame them? He was made alternate captain for the 2012 World Championships at the age of 19, before he even got the C on the Avalanche. The Tre Kronor covets him just as much as we do, and for bonus points, he might cause enough mancrushes among Russian politicians to reverse their medieval LGBT policy. He’s earned his spot, and the inevitable stamps made of his perfect visage are going to sell like crazy.
Stastny joins a stable of strong two-way American centres (Kesler, Backes, Pavelski), but should slot comfortably into a pivot spot, given his productivity and that he’s the only one who isn’t also a winger. It helps that the USA hockey program loves him, as he’s been a mainstay on their international sides since 2010. He starred as the captain of a weak World Championships team, teaming up with supposedly worthless coach Joe Sacco to capture the first American medal in 9 years. He led the Americans with 7G/8A in 10 games and earned a nomination to the tournament all-star team. This season, he’s been an elite shutdown centre without faltering on offense, and Phil Kessel’s presence will make him seem less (adorably) awkward in comparison. He’s a sure thing.
Today, I learned that the Czech hockey program has done a pretty terrible job of developing defensemen. Zbynek Michalek and Roman Polak are the locks, as the remainder of the Vancouver Olympics alumni has tailed off badly with age. Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, and Filip Kuba are out of the league, and the new wave of Jakub Kindl and Radko Gudas isn’t all that inspiring unless you really like the letter K. Hejda made the 2010 squad, his game is largely unchanged, and he’s had an outstanding year for the Avalanche. And despite it being a glamour stat with roughly zero correlation to individual performance, his +14 rating is near the top of the league and it’s a number people will look to. He should easily make the corps of 6 defensive defensemen on international ice playing in front of Ondrej Pavelec, and boy is it going to be a miserable time.
Dutchy wasn’t guaranteed to make Team Canada in September, but with a star-making season and several instances of breaking the sound barrier , he’s moved well up in the depth charts and there’s even been talk of him playing on Sidney Crosby’s wing. An injury to Steven Stamkos and an underachieving Claude Giroux have created a huge opportunity for Duchene and he’s run with it, sped through three players, and buried it past the outstretched goalie. It remains to be seen how well he’ll return from his oblique injury, but all the right people (and Hockey Canada is as much an old boys’ club as anything) are saying all the right things, and that’s a pretty solid bet for him.
Ah, to be Erik Johnson. So overwhelmed with expectation that he has become one of the most underrated defensemen in the league. He’s basically Jay Bouwmeester without a boat anchor contract, which is too bad for him because he’ll be forever compared to another Blue in Kevin Shattenkirk instead – especially in Olympic tryouts, where they’ll be in direct competition. Incidentally, that was the only actual reference to St. Louis in this article, because I didn’t think this through all that well.
Johnson has been a USA Hockey mainstay for a while now, and with a resurgence in his play this year (last year really, but everybody was too busy pointing at his lack of goals to notice) stands a decent chance at making the team. There are lots of excellent defensemen in the running, but Johnson’s experience against top competition should put him over, and his excellent stride and breakout passes should make it the smart decision. Though imagine the articles that’ll come up if Seth Jones makes the team over him – that might be worthwhile just to see Terry Frei implode.
Parenteau had to maintain his near point-per-game pace from last season to make a case to play on the wing of Duchene or John Tavares, and he simply hasn’t produced the points or specialized in enough outside of offense to earn a berth on Team Canada. Given the degree that he was dominated in Corsi while playing on MacKinnon’s line, it seems for now that naming him to the team would be a mistake. His name was tossed around as a dark horse candidate to make the taxi squad, but without a big scoring run that flame has likely died, which means he’ll have to find somebody else from the 2009 draft class to hang out with to keep withdrawal symptoms from setting in.
And now we reach the most outside of outside shots. O’Reilly’s star has fallen since his career-making 2011-12 season, partly because he’s no longer the main factor driving his team and partly because his holdout will have peeved a lot of people in high places who hate rebellion and hippies and rock music. He’d do well as a Patrice Bergeron-lite anchoring the fourth line and playing possession demon – unfortunately for him, there’s already a Patrice Bergeron and he’s pretty damned good at being Patrice Bergeron. Maybe in Pyeongchang, Ryan.
All in all it’s certainly a better showing than in 2010, when only Stastny, Ruslan Salei, and Peter Budaj made it to Vancouver. Far more of our international representatives this year are core players, and all but Hejda are on the right side of 30 as well. It’s a step up for a rebuilding team, which should hopefully see Nathan MacKinnon make a case for Team Canada in the near future as well.
Stay tuned for next game when I post my half-season review!