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Winter Olympics 2014: Breaking down the Team USA roster

Just what were the decision-makers behind the US Olympic team thinking when they left Bobby Ryan off of the roster?

Bobby Ryan was an Olympian in 2010. He's not on the team in 2014.
Bobby Ryan was an Olympian in 2010. He's not on the team in 2014.
USA Today Sports Images

It's quite possible that the people in charge of selecting international hockey teams overthink the entire process and end up outsmarting themselves.

It's something the decision-makers behind the 2014 United States Olympic team may have been guilty of doing when assembling a team for Sochi.

Make no mistake, it's a fine team that has some elite goal-scorers (Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane), rock-solid two-way players (David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan) and a proven big-game duo in net with Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller.

It's also one of the best teams the Americans have ever put on the ice for an international competition. It is a nice illustration as to how far the program has come over the years -- not only due to overall depth of the final roster, but also due to analysis of that roster, which has seemed to focus more on the players left off the team than those on it.

Too many worthy players is a nice problem to have, and one the Americans haven't always had.

But did they pick the right players?


Let's start at forward, where the US will be leaving one of its best goal-scorers, Ottawa Senators winger Bobby Ryan, at home so it can take players like New York's Derek Stepan and Winnipeg's Blake Wheeler.

Just keep in mind that since Ryan became a full-time player in the NHL during the 2008-09 season, only one American-born player (Kessel) has scored more goals than Ryan's 160. He's not just one of the best American goal-scorers. He's one of the best in the entire world. There aren't many players who can consistently put 30 goals on the board every season, but Ryan is one of them.

How does a player that good, that consistent and that productive not get a spot on this team?

For that answer -- and many more -- we look to ESPN's Scott Burnside, who was embedded with USA hockey management (general manager David Poile, as well as Brian Burke, Ray Shero, Paul Holmgren and Dean Lombardi, and coaches Dan Bylsma, Tony Granato and Peter Laviolette) throughout the selection process.

He used that access to produce an incredibly in-depth look at the process. It was quite revealing, and showed that Ryan, one of the United States' best goal-scorers, was on the outside looking in right from the start.

The issue is where he fits. If he's not a top-six forward, his skating doesn't really lend itself to him being a third-line checker. He cannot kill penalties, and while in Anaheim, he was not on the team's top power-play unit.

"I think he's sleepy. I think he skates sleepy," offers one member of the selection committee.

Poile asks for a show of hands: "Are guys nervous about Bobby Ryan?" A flurry of hands go up in the air.

"That's a lot of guys," Poile notes.

And this is where the overthinking comes in.

First, why does Ryan have to be a top-six player to make the team? And why do third-and fourth-liners have to be "checkers" and grinders? Where in the big book of building hockey teams does it say that third-liners have to be a certain type of player? The biggest reason third lines aren't constructed of scorers in the NHL is simply because there aren't enough of those players to go around. It's a limited supply and you're just not going to be able to find enough to fill out a team that way.

There is no valid reason -- and no, "skates sleepy" isn't good enough -- for Ryan to be sitting at home

Second, why wouldn't Ryan be a top-six winger on this team? Again refer to the fact he is the Americans second-leading goal-scorer since he's been a regular in the NHL. There is no valid reason -- and no, "skates sleepy" isn't good enough -- for that guy to be sitting at home when the tournament starts.

There is still a chance that Ryan could find himself on the team if one of the top-six forwards on the roster suffers an injury between now and the start of the Olympics, or if Zach Parise isn't yet healthy enough to return to the lineup. Following Ryan's criticism of the process, as well as the criticism he took from the staff in those now-on-the-record meetings, it would certainly be an awkward reunion.

At one point during the meeting, Burke mentioned a nightmare he had: that 19-year-old Seth Jones made a mistake that cost the United States a medal. That was a real discussion that took place between smart, successful hockey people when it came to constructing a team. Somebody should have stepped in at that point and talked about the nightmare that would be losing out on a medal because they didn't score enough goals while one of their most prolific scorers sits at home.

The need for players who can kill penalties and play responsible defensive games is understandable. The Americans have plenty of those players on the roster up front with Dustin Brown, Callahan, Kesler, Backes, and Joe Pavleski. The ice is also bigger -- a fact that seems to make hockey people lose their minds when it comes to international play -- and that a player with skating ability like Wheeler can be an asset.

But at what cost? And big ice or NHL ice, how much of an impact is Wheeler's skating on the larger ice surface really going to have over a player like Ryan that may not skate as well, but is absolutely lethal with the puck on his stick in a scoring position?

The decision to keep Ryan off the roster is controversial now. Just imagine what it will be like if goal-scoring comes back to haunt the United States in the games.


The controversial omissions weren't just limited to the forwards.

Phoenix Coyotes rearguard Keith Yandle and Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, two of the NHL's most prolific scorers from the blue line in the entire league, will watch from their couches, as well. Their style of play seemed to be too high-risk for the staff's liking. Also not on the team are international mainstays Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson. When it comes to Jack, a defenseman for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the talent evaluators seem to have finally caught up to the analytical community in questioning his on-ice value.

In their place, the US is taking a nice mix of veterans (Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh and Pittsburgh's shutdown pairing of Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik) and up-and-coming youngsters (Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, John Carlson).

The really intriguing player in this group is Faulk. A 21-year-old who has been making a huge impact in Carolina over the past two years, Faulk has the ability to not only go up against top competition every night, but to also shut it down and outplay it. If he was playing on a better team or in a market that gets more national exposure, he would probably already be on his way to becoming a star.

No surprises in goal

The one position that seemed to be set from the beginning, with no surprises, was in net.

Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner, looks to have the coaching staff's trust as the starter. Even though he's had some struggles in the regular season the past two years, he's been a rock in the playoffs and in his overall body of work is good enough to earn one of the top spots.

Behind him, Buffalo's Miller is back after pretty much carrying the team to the silver medal in 2010. The way he's handled a terrible situation in Buffalo this season, playing behind a team that gives up a ton of shots every night, impressed the staff.

The only name that seemed to cause a stir was Detroit's Jimmy Howard getting the call over Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop. Bishop has been lights out this season for the Lightning but doesn't have the same track record over the past few years that Howard does.

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