Today, From the Pressbox: We look at the 2014 Winter Olympic rosters, announced this week, for the United States and Canada. Also, we look at some key injured/slumping players and some possible replacements.
This will be a difficult decision because a strong case could be made for each goalie. Miller came within an overtime goal of winning the gold medal in Vancouver, as he played heroically in leading the U.S. entry in 2010. Howard has been a strong workhorse for a Detroit team that remains a perennial contender. Quick recently returned from an injury but can point to a recent Stanley Cup win and a growing reputation and record as one of the NHL’s top goalies. I say that Quick will be the starter here, as he has the next three weeks to get back into top form before the Olympic break.
If there can be a knock against this group, it is the relative lack of experience, particularly in terms of their collective lack of experience in international play on the bigger ice surface. Otherwise they have a nice blend of offensive skill and defensive acumen that should be an asset when measured against most of their opponents. Suter should be the top guy in this group and emerge as one of the team leaders.
James van Riemsdyk
This offense will be dynamic, as it will be led by a large group of flashy players, with Kane, Parise and Kessel leading the charge. They will be ably supported by the toughness of Backes, Kesler and Brown. The quality and depth of forwards, from top to bottom, has never been better for the USA.
Of this group of top stars not on Team USA, the most glaring name seems to be Ryan, who has tallied 36 points and carries a plus-9 rating in 44 games as a first-line winger for the Senators. Those are impressive totals and he has emerged as a top scorer who blends good size (6-foot-1, 207 lbs.), explosive speed and a great shot. However, the chosen forwards bring a similar skill set to the table, and apparently the USA team management was not interested in including another player of that ilk, opting for more toughness and/or checking ability from the other players who were included.
Bishop has certainly been a revelation in goal for Tampa, but the sense is that, with this being his first year where he is emerging as a top goalie in Tampa, that his body of work does not compare with the three goalies who were selected. Schneider also appears to be a notch below the three top goalies, too, for reasons similar to Bishop.
Johnson, a former first overall draft pick, has been slow to reach his potential and though he has only 11 points in 32 games, many observers look at his size and raw skills and wonder if the Olympic challenge could have been a key toward unleashing his untapped potential.
Luongo is the most decorated and successful goalie of this trio, highlighted by his work as the gold medal-winning goalie in 2010. He has silenced his critics with a terrific start to this season after a tumultuous campaign with the Canucks in 2012-13. He was temporarily sidelined by injuries recently, but should be back in top form well in advance of the Olympics. Price is probably playing at the highest level of this trio through the first half of this season, and does have some international experience in his junior hockey career. Smith may have been an unexpected choice, but he's been touted as an experienced goalie whose style of playing deep in the net would be a successful approach in international play, where there is a lot of cross-ice passing near the net. I expect Luongo to get the starting nod by virtue of head coach Mike Babcock winning Olympic gold with him once before. If he falters, Price will be next in line.
In shaping this defense corps, Babcock had significant input, as he insisted on four right-hand shooting skaters and four more from the left hand side. They are all top players who are used to playing big minutes on both defense and special teams units. Weber, Subban, Pietrangelo and Doughty all possess hard and accurate point shots and all eight players are adept at playing a fast puck movement game. Subban’s selection was much talked about, as critics cited his relative lack of professional experience, though anyone who has watched the Canadiens play this year will tell you that this was a no-brainer. He could be the top option on the power play. Weber and Keith are the best of this group and will be among the team’s leaders.
Quick puck movement will be a key to allow this swift and talented forward crew to exploit their opposition. Team speed and agility seems to be the hallmark of these selections.
There are a number of holdovers from the 2010 team (Crosby, Toews, Perry), some new and possibly surprising additions (Benn, Carter) and some newer stars whose game has evolved in the last four years to bring them to the top tier of the league (Tavares, Stamkos and Duchene). The pipeline of offensive talent is no greater for any other hockey nation, and this team should be the quickest team Canada has ever presented at the Olympics. Consideration of the larger international ice surface undoubtedly played a large part in the roster decisions.
Martin St. Louis
The announcement of Canada’s team immediately caused sports talk radio shows to focus on those players who did not make the squad. How can you ignore the NHL’s top assist man (Thornton), who is a veteran of international play? How about the two-time Art Ross Trophy winner (St. Louis), who is still producing at an elite level? Couture is going to miss the next four weeks after hand surgery, and the timing of the injury was a big factor that cost him a spot on this squad. Giroux is one of the most skilled players in the world, but his slow start to this season likely cost him a spot. If I admit to one surprise on this list, it is the omission of Seabrook, who is one of the league’s top shutdown defenders and the regular playing partner of Keith with the Blackhawks. Seabrook is also enjoying the best scoring season of his career (31 points and plus-22 rating). I would have thought that Team Canada would benefit from the familiarity between these Blackhawks teammates, just as they likely will with the pairing of Blues teammates Bouwmeester and Pietrangelo.
No other country has the depth of talent that Canada has and that is what really fuels this debate in a hockey-mad country.
Injuries, slumps and replacement options
Loui Eriksson’s concussions/injury woes have created an opportunity for Reilly Smith, who was a throw-in on the deal that brought both of them from Dallas to Boston in the offseason. Smith has parlayed that opportunity into a career year with 32 points in his 42 games played this season. Fantasy managers need to constantly be on the lookout for similar situations and be ready to capitalize.
There are a few other similar circumstances brewing around the league.
With Nazem Kadri slumping recently, Peter Holland is looking like a possible replacement as a second-line center. The 24/7 HBO series made no secret of coach Randy Carlyle’s concerns regarding the lack of production by Kadri (three points in his last 13 games, most of which came on the first line while Tyler Bozak was injured.) At that same time, they plugged Holland into the lineup and he responded with eight points in a ten-game span. If Kadri continues to struggle in a second-line scoring role, Holland, who is currently on the fourth line, will switch places with him in the near future.
John-Michael Liles was acquired by the Hurricanes from the Maple Leafs by the Hurricanes last week in exchange for Tim Gleason in a change-of-scenery deal for both clubs. Look for Liles to have an immediate opportunity on the Carolina power play and as a top offensive defender in regular play, too. Liles just didn’t work out under Carlyle and the current Toronto roster, which already had a number of offensively-gifted players who were bigger and younger than him.
The knee injury to Pittsburgh's Pascal Dupuis will sideline him for the remainder of the season. James Neal is back in the lineup and locked in as a left winger on the top two lines here. The opportunity to play significant minutes as a top-six forward, created by the Dupuis vacancy, will go to either Jussi Jokinen or Craig Adams. They will both get a look, depending on whether they need more scoring (Jokinen) or some toughness (Adams). A long-term stint in this key roster slot will increase their fantasy value over the remainder of the season. Keep an eye on this in the mean time.
Sometimes, an injury to a star player will reveal the character of the rest of his team. That is exactly what has happened in Tampa in the aftermath of Steven Stamkos' broken leg. The prevailing sentiment was that the Lightning would hit a major slump with their leading goal-scorer out of the lineup. Instead, the continued solid play of Ben Bishop and continued excellence from teh rest of the defense has kept the team afloat. However, some key secondary scoring options have come to light at the same time. Both Ondrej Palat (seven points in six games) and Tyler Johnson (five points in six games) have helped the club by picking up the offensive slack.
In Minnesota, leading scorer Mikko Koivu is expected to miss the next four weeks due to ankle surgery, so his replacement figures to see a spike in playing time, with some of that coming on the power play as well. We consider Mikael Granlund to be the most likely option to assume those minutes. He is playing upwards of 16 minutes per game already with points in each of his last three games. The sophomore center is carving out a niche as a playmaking center here with 15 assists in 32 games played.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and has been an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter @statsman22.