With the Olympic orientation camps wrapping up, there is no shortage of examinations of rosters and players. The Hockey News alone did an analysis of the San Jose Sharks (and Pittsburgh Penguins), projected Team Canada and came out with its top-50 NHL players for 2013-14 between Monday, Aug. 26 and Wednesday, Aug. 28.
It should be noted that they are only looking at the next season, not taking into account a future. Logan Couture finished 28th on the list, and was in the top dozen Canadian forwards. He was on the fourth line of Team Canada in their projection, and Dan Boyle made the third pair.
Both were described as iffy: Boyle a reserve that may be scratched more often than not and Couture on the bubble. There was no mention of Joe Thornton or Marc-Edouard Vlasic even as just missing the cut.
That may change by February when the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics begin, but their status is not a sleight but a result of fierce competition from a deep talent pool. As CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz pointed out Tuesday, Joe Pavelski is a near-lock for Team USA, but everyone else is in a battle for a spot at all. Even Vezina Trophy winner Antti Niemi will have to beat out all but two of an impressive list of goalies to make Team Finland: Pekka Rinne, Tuukka Rask, Niklas Backstrom and Kari Lehtonen.
Kurz made reference to the chip on Boyle’s shoulder for having not been drafted flaring up when he was not drafted. There was also focus on his age, as the oldest player on the Canadian blue line. That probably also motivates the 37-year old.
So what is the likelihood that each player on the list of Sharks under consideration makes their nation’s roster?
Joe Pavelski is such a safe bet to make Team USA if he is healthy enough to be active in February that no one should bet against his selection unless they get 100:1 odds. The two-way skater will be valued for his versatility and being among the best in the world at faceoffs.
Antti Niemi is the only goalie to get an invite to orientation camp for his team with both a Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy finalist spot to his credit. He clearly had the best individual season among Team Finland’s potential goalies in 2013.
Yet Tuukka Rask is trending up and Pekka Rinne is more established, leaving both as having a better chance to make the team. Niklas Backstrom is the goalie that got the Finns a silver and bronze medal in the last two Olympics. Kari Lehtonen is also a good goalie, and could sneak in with a strong season.
All of this means it is certainly possible Niemi does not make the team, but betting against him is not a good idea unless one gets at least a 2:1 payout.
Logan Couture is a star. He was picked as the 28th best player for the 2013-14 NHL season by The Hockey News, where he was projected to make the fourth line for Team Canada because he was ranked among the top-12 Canadian forwards. He is a three-zone stud, leading the San Jose Sharks in scoring and finishing second among NHL forwards in blocked shots.
Even with all that, he is two or three forwards out-playing him away from not being on the team, and there might be a dozen over whom his edge is small. Even a healthy Couture would be worth betting against for Team Canada if one gets a 3:2 payout.
Dan Boyle himself admitted most people probably do not expect him to make Team Canada. As a member of the San Jose Sharks, he has been the top scorer on the blue line in the NHL and among the top 50 in blocked shots for three seasons in a row.
Yet at the age of 37, any drop-off in his play probably means not making the cut for such a talented unit. He almost certainly has less than a 50 percent chance of making the team, so betting he will is only worthwhile with a slightly advantageous payout like 5:4.
Missing Team Canada’s orientation camp to be with his ill son will hurt Joe Thornton’s chances of making the roster. As it was, they were probably less than 50 percent.
He wins puck possession through faceoffs, takeaways and simply protecting it from defenders, plus has passing skills that are hard to match. But he lacks the skating ability that could set Canada apart, making him only worth betting on making the team if the payout is at least 3:2.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic could make any Olympic team except Canada’s. He would provide them a good skater with impeccable positioning and hockey IQ, as well as a little balance with all the right-handed talent on their blue line. But he lacks much offensive skill, with only one season of scoring even one point per three games.
With all the talent on Team Canada’s blue line, do not bet on Vlasic making the team unless it pays 10:1.