In the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Americans were the dangerous underdog.
Sweden were the reigning champions, Russia were the two time reigning World Champions, and Canada was hosting and eager to reclaim the gold medal after a disastrous 2006 showing in Turin, Italy.
The Americans, who rarely send contending rosters to international men's hockey tournaments, took a different philosophy under general manager Brian Burke's guidance than what Canada and Russia were doing. Burke picked a team that had a lot of high end skill at the top of the roster, but picked players for specific roles on the team more akin to a NHL roster than an IIHF one.
Unlike the national teams from 1996 to 2002 (who won a World Cup and Olympic silver... and trashed hotel rooms in Japan), the Americans lacked a lot of the top offensive weapons in the game. Youth was served, but veterans were valued like Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rafalski. Even the injury situation leading up to the games seemed to help the Americans, as players like Mike Komisarek had to be withdrawn in favour of Tim Gleason, a clearly superior player.
Four years later, the Americans have a few more weapons to add. Since 2010 the Americans have won every U18 IIHF World Championship, while winning two U20 Worlds in that time frame as well. The young stars that made up the 2010 team are now more experienced at both the professional and international level. And the goaltending depth of the Americans is second to none in the world.
However, there are changes. The old management team of Brian Burke and Ron Wilson crashed terribly at a professional level with Toronto and it's hard to picture them returning for an Olympic encore. So the first thing us at SB Nation decided to do as managers of the team was pick a coach.
Three different NHL bench bosses got votes, all from the Atlantic Division, but ultimately it was Pittsburgh Penguins boss Dan Bylsma who won with 15 of 29 votes. Bylsma would be a bold choice as he has no international hockey experience from which to draw. However, he had no NHL coaching experience to draw from when he completely changed the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins from a possession disaster bound to deservedly miss the playoffs to a deserving Stanley Cup champion within three months.
Still, conventional wisdom suggests that New York Rangers bench boss John Tortorella get pushed into the role.
Now, onto the part you really want to see... the players. First off, the forwards:
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Zach Parise||Ryan Kesler||Patrick Kane|
|Bobby Ryan||Joe Pavelski||Phil Kessel|
|Max Pacioretty||David Backes||Dustin Brown|
|James van Riemsdyk||Paul Stastny||Ryan Callahan|
So about that age thing? With ten forwards returning from the Vancouver Games, our esteemed crew decided that they didn't trust any forwards over the age of 30. Come Sochi, the oldest of these players will be 29 (turning 30) and the youngest will be 19. There is a lot of talent here, and this is quite a rich group of young players as well.
The lowest-paid player is actually Kings captain Dustin Brown, who signed to a long term contract several years ago for a cap hit of $3.175m that has been an absolute bargain for the team. Yes, it's a smaller cap hit than Alex Galchenyuk, who is on a rookie deal.
This group has a lot of speed, skill, size, and some of the players have all of those in one package. They can ice two to three NHL top power play units, and guys like Kesler, Pavelski, Parise, Backes, Brown and Callahan are strong penalty killers as well. Every one of these players has played on big ice in the past, and a lot of them have won tournaments on it. Up front, the Americans are a threat to every team in the tournament.
|Ryan Suter||Keith Yandle|
|Matt Carle||Ryan McDonagh|
|John Carlson||Brooks Orpik|
This is where things get a little tricker for the Americans. They have some excellent options on the back end, but picking the right mix is a bit more of a fine art than simply polling a group of interested parties.
Brooks Orpik is the oldest skater on this team, as he will be 33 years old at Sochi, but the rest of this crew is in the under 30 crowd. Ryan Suter leads the charge in terms of name recognition and career accomplishment, but Ryan McDonagh is one of the best defensemen out there right now, coming off a 2011-12 NHL season that saw him firmly establish himself as one of the best all-round defenders in the world.
Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, and John Carlson provide good offensive ability, and I'd expect a Yandle-Shattenkirk duo to log significant time on the powerplay.
The Americans have more strength with left handed shots than they do with right handed ones, but Matthew Carle has spent a significant portion of his career on the right side, where he broke out as a top pairing defender playing with Chris Pronger in Philadelphia. The actual management may look a little deeper into the pool and try and balance out the sides a bit more.
Look to Erik Johnson or Dustin Byfuglien to attract some attention as a result. Erik Johnson's experience in Vancouver will also be looked at favourably, as the Americans have seen some notable turnover of their top talent on the blueline since then, with only Orpik and Suter on this roster returning from the silver medal win.
Miller was the MVP of the 2010 Olympics, but in this 'what have you done for me lately' world Jonathan Quick is looking like the favorite to start for the team. Quick is coming off winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, but both of the top two American goalies have struggled this year so far. Not so for Craig Anderson, who is off to an amazing start for Ottawa.
The Americans have a number of goaltenders to choose form, but Quick and Miller look like locks for the team one year out and Anderson emerged as the best of the rest at this point in time.
Finally, we had one more poll about the American team to reveal, and it was a controversial one. We had 29 people in the poll, and we had a very close result with no clear winner emerge.
Captain America: Backes, Callahan or Parise?
Three candidates emerged as favourites for the captain of the team, all of whom have been captains of their NHL teams. Zach Parise edged out David Backes and Ryan Callahan in a tight race.
Parise captained the Devils to the Stanley Cup final last year, and scored the famous game-tying last minute goal in the 2010 Olympic final. During the summer of 2012, he cashed in on his fame and prestige, and is now in a starring role for the Minnesota Wild. He makes a logical choice to lead the American team, but as the poll revealed, the choice isn't necessarily an obvious one.