Thursday, February 25, 2010

2010 Olympics: The Canada 'bias'

Dan Dunleavy, in Vancouver to cover the Olympics for the Rogers radio network, picks Russia to win the men’s hockey tournament. To use Catriona Le May Doan’s term, it’s a gutsy call, because the Canadian media, generally, are terrified to predict any country but Canada winning hockey gold. They risk being condemned by the xenophobes as twisted, unpatriotic and even seditious. Truth is, Russia, based on its talent up front and its goaltending, should be the favourite.
It's nice to see that the tournament's quarter-finals played out with the most talented teams advancing*, as I think if Russia had won we'd be hearing overly simplistic analysis ad nauseam about how having a few snipers like Ovechkin and Malkin is the path to icing the best team. (Nevermind that this was a team with two "star" calibre defencemen, both of whom are on the downside of their careers.)

The fact is, Canada continues to boast the best depth in this tournament and is a completely reasonable choice as the favourite. Meanwhile, a team that relies on Dmitri Kalinin to play 15 minutes a night on its back end, and which has Evgeni Nabokov - a netminder who has flamed out more than once in the postseason - as its backstop, does not have the advantage in a best-on-best event.

Russia always had too much KHL talent playing key roles and, if its top guns couldn't get things going, they weren't a good enough group defensively or in goal (i.e. Finland) to win games 2-1. 

Given the format, any team on any night can beat another, but based on their talent at every position, Canada is a perfectly reasonable favourite - likely more in 2010 than any other year. This is a country with two former Norris Trophy winners on the blueline and three more players who are favourites to win this year. Six of Canada's defencemen are in the top 11 in scoring among blueliners.

All that said: Given no team has a better than 25- or 30-per-cent chance of winning, any prediction for the Olympics is a shot in the dark, and there's no outright "favourite" worth condemning other picks for.

If there was, it wasn't the Russians, who we have seen this from in the past (the 2005 world junior tournament comes to mind) and who allowed internal politics to decide some of their roster selections.

*- Sweden's tied 2-2 with Slovakia in the quarter-finals as I write this



At 7:11 a.m., February 25, 2010, Blogger Mark said...

Good post. Canada has the advantage as far as NHL Hockey Odds is concerned.

At 9:05 a.m., February 25, 2010, Blogger James said...

Well Slovakia ends up ousting Sweden, which is quite an upset. Lundqvist didn't chose the best moment to have an off night.

As a Team Canada supporter I have to be happy about that because on paper it looks better to have Slovakia than Sweden in the semis, but the way they've played... it's like they're on a mission. Should be a great game.

At 10:39 a.m., February 25, 2010, Blogger saskhab said...

All that said: Given no team has a better than 25- or 30-per-cent chance of winning, any prediction for the Olympics is a shot in the dark, and there's no outright "favourite" worth condemning other picks for.

My biggest problem is how few people admit (or realize) this fact. Also, how teams like Finland never get picked for medals, even though they've won more of them than Canada has since the NHL came in.

At 10:40 a.m., February 25, 2010, Blogger Back in Black said...

I certainly wouldn't have condemned him for picking Russia. I would question his suggestion of goaltending as a key advantage, however, in a tournament where they're putting Nabokov up against Brodeur, Luongo, Lundqvist, Vokoun and Kiprusoff.

At 12:27 p.m., February 25, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

My issue is his suggestion that any pick for Canada is a homer pick because Russia's the clear favourite.

The idea of a favourite in this tournament is overblown, and if there is one, Canada's a completely reasonable one given their depth.


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