Imagine a gold medal game on a frozen pond-- of course it would never get past the IIHF competition committee, but I'll be damned if it wouldn't be one helluva experience.
The 2010 Games in Vancouver are fast approaching, with final rosters set to be announced in late December. SB Nation has been running a network wide preview series chronicling the likelihood of individual players making their respective country's roster, and pocket aces dropped today-- it's Fear The Fin's turn to make our grand entrance onto the big stage.
As I see it, thehave a couple locks and a smorgasbord of remaining hopefuls that boast a myriad of different skills; these hopefuls will either need to elevate or hold their current level of play in order to make their inclusion later this month the right choice for their country.
Make the jump for evaluations of Greiss, Boyle, Pavelski, and Murray.
PACK YOUR BAGS, JACK
|2009 - Thomas Greiss||6||286||3||2||14||2.94||143||129||.902||0|
Although Thomas Greiss has seen all of four starts for the San Jose Sharks this season, Germany's pool of available goaltenders makes it a near certainty that Thomas Greiss will start in net for his national team, with former San Jose Shark Dimitri Patzold making a bid for the backup role.
Germany will have a tough time competing with the Big Seven, and the lack of a relatively strong defensive core could highlight Greiss' tendency to heavily challenge shooters and sometimes find himself out of position for the follow up opportunity. The hope is that the move from a six team two pool format into a four team three pool format (with all teams advancing to single elimination) can give Team Germany an opportunity to get hot at the right moment and do some damage.
Unfortunately, that doesn't look very likely.
ON THE FRINGE
What a show
|2009 - Dan Boyle||29||6||18||24||4||20||3||0||1||0||69||8.7|
Boyle is an interesting case when it comes to Team Canada, and although he is one of the best offensive defenseman in the game today, you have to wonder how they are going to approach the blueline. There's a lot of firepower amongst the forwards; it stands to reason they're considering putting a little extra muscle in the defensive zone because of it. I wouldn't call San Jose's number one defenseman a slouch in his own end by any means, but he's definitely no world beater-- do you go with a guy whose skating ability could elicit a tear from even the notoriously callous Scott Stevens, or do you go with a guy who plays like the aforementioned wall of steel? It's a question that doesn't have a clear cut answer, but with Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, and Duncan Keith already locks for the team, the road to a starting spot in Vancouver for Boyle may not be as smooth as it currently seems.
That leaves us with two starting spots left on the roster.has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league*, with some circles calling for him to make the team-- others have Seabrook penciled in to play with Keith considering the familiarity they have with one another-- this could pay off dividends since the teams have a very short time to practice together.
*We're talkingeyebrows here.
Beyond that you have, , and Dan Boyle. Regehr may warrant some attention as he and Bouwmeester could be considered in the same boat as Keith-Seabrook. probably has some supporters somewhere, but I'd be very surprised if he is even getting a second look from the Canadian brass-- very subpar in the defensive zone, and although an Olympic team won't be hampered by his overpaid contract, taking a flyer on him based off reputation alone is not a recipe for success.
So where does that leave us? With five worthy defensemen fighting over two starting spots and the healthy scratch. If I'm Steve Yzerman I take Weber, Seabrook, and Boyle, with Seabrook pairing with fellow Blackhawk Duncan Keith, Pronger and Niedermayer obviously going together, and Weber/Boyle pairing with Bouwmeester depending on the night. It gives you a good combination of firepower throughout your pairings, and anchors one of the lines with a great defensive defenseman.
No matter which way you cut it, Canada is stacked in this department. Here's to Dan Boyle getting cracking the first Olympic roster of his career without the whole team alternate situation rearing it's head again.
|2009 - Joe Pavelski||14||3||9||12||8||8||1||0||0||0||49||6.1|
Joe Pavelski runs into the same situation as Dan Boyle to a degree in that the Americans, while not nearly as deep as the Canadians, do boast a decent crop of forwards that can put the puck in the net. That being said, he impressed a lot of folks during the orientation camp this summer and has played for head coach Ron Wilson before as well as playing against GM Brian Burke when he was with Anaheim. His injury to start the year didn't help his bid, but his noteworthy play after returning has proved that he is not hampered by any lingering issues in his foot.
Like Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski will be able to play an excellent two way game and help shore up the United States penalty kill. With Team USA mainstays Scott Gomez and Chris Drury having fairly porous outings this season, the opportunity is there for him to jump into the starting rotation as either a center, or play on the right wing. An enticing possibility would be for him to play with fellow American Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks in a shutdown role-- Team USA has very little hope of being able to outgun the likes of Russia, Canada, and Sweden once they advance out of pool play, and establishing a physical game with an influx of young players might be the best route to take considering the strength of the goaltending class and what's shaping up to be a surprisingly above average top six defensive unit.
Ron Wilson, as we are well aware of, has been known to favor a defensive style of play. Pavelski has been a winner at every level he's played at and can bring intangibles to the squad's run at avenging Salt Lake in 02. For that reason I think he gets the nod.
Just don't pencil him in quite yet.
|2009 - Douglas Murray||28||1||3||4||4||31||0||0||0||0||25||4.0|
Going into this season there was no indication Douglas Murray would be anything but a stretch when talking about a strong Swedish roster, but with Nicklas Lidstrom extending his blessing earlier this year (a blessing that must be akin to a kiss from the Pope), speculation on whether or not Murray would crack the starting lineup has ramped up considerably.
That being said, there's still a fair amount in his way.
Nicklas Lidstrom, Mattias Ohlund, and Alexander Edler are the locks here, and after that you get into some gray area-- Niklas Kronwall is currently out for 4-8 weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee, and while that doesn't necessarily write him out of the top six for the Swedes, it does open up the playing field for some other notables to make their bid. On this short list we have Victor Hedman (whose inclusion would likely be welcomed by the country at large along with an opportunity to play with Lightning teammate Ohlund), Johnny Oduya (who has taken a step back in his game from last season, Anton Stralman (a member of the 2009 World Championship team who has played well this season with the Columbus Blue Jackets and could help quarterback the power play), along with numerous other notables from the NHL such as Tobias Enstrom, Nicklas Grossman, Jonathan Ericsson, among others. There's a slew of players from across the pond who I am admittedly not all too familiar with, but it's a deep class for the third best IIHF team going into the tournament.
There's three aspects of this year's Olympics that benefit Murray-- the aforementioned blessing from Lidstrom, the fact that his grandfather is a hero in Sweden for his international accomplishments, and the Games being played on an NHL sized rink. His physical play would be an asset in this arena, and as long as he is paired with an offensive minded defenseman, the hope is that they will be able to compliment each other such as the current pairing of Boyle-Murray has done for San Jose.
It's going to take one helluva performance to crack the top six, but I'm sure Murray will at least make the team as an alternate. Beyond that I'd have to chock this one up to a coin flip.
Devin Setoguchi, Rob Blake, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic are three notable San Jose Sharks who will not be making the trip to Vancouver. If Setoguchi and Vlasic continue to progress and grow their games (in the defensive and physical categories respectively), a date in 2014 could be in the cards.
Until then, and until December, it's just going to be a game of wait and see.
Sharks Team USA.