Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2010 Olympics: Looking at roster depth

Men's Ice Hockey: Canada vs. USA

There have been a lot of great discussions about Team Canada over the past few days, including one I had with Tyler D. on Twitter most of last night. He's defensive of how the team's played so far; I think that, given their talent advantage, they should have been better (even beyond Brodeur).

Part of my argument simply comes back to where I think Canada has a real edge, and that's in its depth, and the best way I could think to illustrate that is below. Here's Canada's roster, sorted into lines based on ice time so far in the tournament (more ice time and you're higher up), along with who I think the other three contenders are based on their play so far.

Canada could very well have to beat all three to win gold:

























For all of the Big Seven countries, here's a similar chart.

In terms of top-end talent up front, Russia's as impressive as they come with five excellent weapons. From forward No. 7 on, however, Canada has a healthy advantage, with five of their bottom seven forwards serving as captains of their NHL teams. Their top 11 forwards are all essentially point-a-game all-stars, most of whom are in their prime.

The blueline, however, is where I think Canada should have the biggest edge, as its top six are all in the top 11 in scoring among NHL defencemen and log huge minutes. Weber, Keith and Doughty are potential Norris Trophy candidates, while Russia's relying on three KHL blueliners in their top six.

Sweden's depth, meanwhile, measures up better, although both Franzen and Kronwall are coming off injuries (and who knows what you get from Forsberg at this point). The Americans' defence, beyond the top two, should have its hands full with every elite team in the tournament (which they did with Canada given the shot totals).

When Chris Pronger is your No. 6, you should be laughing. (Not crying.)

Of course, goal is a huge piece of the puzzle, and as I said going in, that could very well be Team Canada's trouble spot - despite the big names. Luongo will definitely be tested by Russia, and despite his sterling international record, there are question marks there.

Up front and on defence, however, Canada should have an edge over everyone in the tournament. Maybe not every minute of every game, but more often than not.

As an aside to all that, Gabe Desjardins had a good look at the recent historical record for the contending teams and pegs Canada's chances of winning it all at just 20 per cent. He's definitely right that this is a far more difficult tournament to win than many make it out to be, and a  gold-or-bust mentality is silly, but realistically, this team should be able to at least medal more than half the time.

Nagano was proof of how difficult a tournament formatted like this is to win. Salt Lake City saw the stars align. Turin, meanwhile, was a disaster

A loss in the quarter-finals this time around will mean a sixth-place finish for Canada, meaning that in four Olympic tournaments, they would have one gold, one fourth, one seventh and one sixth. Whether its the pressure or some sort of weakness many are overlooking, that's simply an underperformance for this group.

But if they finish second, third or fourth in Vancouver? That's probably getting closer to where the odds lie. 



At 2:08 p.m., February 23, 2010, Blogger sltest said...

So who is always in contention, Finland. While the depth chart is a great look, Finland doesn’t match up to those four teams, yet they consistently medal. The result suggests something different than just lining up the stats. I believe it suggest a team that is very focused on a core strength can overwhelm opponents in a tourney such as this. In the NHL playoffs you need to be able to play multiple styles to go through 4 rounds, in the Olympics a singular identity can carry you through all-star teams.

At 4:30 p.m., February 23, 2010, Blogger saskhab said...

Finland brings nearly the same team to every Olympics, I think that familiarity is a huge reason why they do well consistently. And that familiarity lends itself to an identity, as well.

At 5:47 p.m., February 23, 2010, Blogger forbes said...

question for the floor and maybe it can't be answered:

Does a big ticket team like Canada and/or Russia missing the gold medal/medal round completely affect the future of NHLers in the Olympics?

One of the biggest motivations behind their participation is 'growth of the game' or more directly, TV ratings/money. Does a Sweden/USA final (to toss two names out there) after a Sweden/Finland final in 2006 weaken the case for Sochi?

That Canada/Russia matchup was widely hyped as the "expected/preferred" gold medal final, even going as far as CTV making a special spotlighting Crosby vs. Ovechkin. With at least one of those two teams guaranteed to not even be on the podium, where does that leave the future of the NHL players in the Olympics?

At 5:48 p.m., February 23, 2010, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I think NBC wants the U.S. in the final in order to get ratings down there.


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