Despite World Cup of Hockey Failure, Future Bright for Team USA



Despite World Cup of Hockey Failure, Future Bright for Team USA

Team USA's poor performance in 2016 World Cup of Hockey could bring changes.

Team USA’s poor performance in 2016 World Cup of Hockey could bring changes.

Among the biggest stories to emerge from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey tournament was the woeful performance of Team USA. Entering the tournament considered among the favorites, the Americans lost all three of their preliminary-round games and failed to qualify for the semifinal.

In the aftermath of Team USA’s tournament elimination at the hand of arch-rival Team Canada, American general manager Dean Lombardi and head coach John Tortorella faced considerable criticism for the makeup of the roster and the system they played.

Much of the focus was upon Lombardi’s selection of gritty character players such as Justin Abdelkader David Backes, Ryan Kesler and Brandon Dubinsky over skilled players such as Phil Kessel, Tyler Johnson, Bobby Ryan and Justin Faulk. This version of Team USA was supposed to physically wear down their opponents whilst creating scoring opportunities for skill players such as Patrick Kane, Blake Wheeler, Max Pacioretty and John Carlson.

However, they had difficulty keeping pace with swifter opponents such as Team Europe, Team Canada and Team Czech Republic. Against the Canadians, they faced a team not only deep in skilled players, but also capable of playing a physical style. That was very apparent in the pre-tournament games between the two teams. The Americans crashing style seemed to catch the Canadians by surprise in the first game, resulting in a 4-2 American victor. The Canadians quickly adjusted in the second game and easily beat the Americans 5-2 the following night.

Tortorella later said Team USA lacked the depth in talent to compete against the Canadians. That’s as may be, but perhaps if the Americans hadn’t left some of their skilled players at home, perhaps they could’ve had a better showing in this tournament.

Much was made about Team North America, the squad comprised of players 23-and-younger from Canada and the United States, siphoning off depth from Team USA. Notables such as Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Dylan Larkin, Brandon Saad, Vincent Trocheck, Jacob Trouba, Seth Jones, Shayne Gostisbehere and John Gibson were unavailable to Lombardi. But considering Lombardi’s mindset toward a more physical and experienced roster, it’s doubtful he would’ve selected many of those young Americans.

Whenever the next version of Team USA involving NHL players is assembled, be it for the 2018 Winter Olympics or another World Cup of Hockey in 2020, it’s a safe bet there will be a different management group in place and a different head coach behind the bench. They will undoubtedly put more emphasis on speed and skills over physicality and truculence.

The good news is they’ll have more skilled talent to choose from for their next incarnation. Assuming the NHL agrees to participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, many of those young Americans who skated for Team North America this year will play on Team USA. It’s also possible some of the veterans passed over for this year’s World Cup will be part of the ’18 Olympic roster.

If the NHL passes on the 2018 Winter Olympics, those young Americans will be seasoned veterans in their playing prime if there’s a World Cup of Hockey tournament in 2020. They will provide Team USA with a much-needed boost of skilled talent, and that’s not counting any potential late-blooming talent over the next four years..

By that point, only Matthews and Eichel will be 23 or younger and forced to play for Team North America. Assuming we’ve yet to see the best of Gaudreau, Larkin, Trouba, Jones, Trocheck, Gostisbehere and Gibson, the Americans should give their opponents fits in 2020.

Of course, that doesn’t guarantee the Americans will win the next World Cup or Olympic gold over the next four years. Canada, Sweden and Russia should remain the dominant hockey countries, Finland is improving, the Czechs rebuilding and the mashup that is Team Europe proved to be no pushover in this tournament.

But with more emphasis on skill over brawn, with a bevy of young talent coming into its prime and with a management and coaching staff that sees its club not as plucky underdogs but as genuine championship caliber, the Americans should significantly improve in the coming years.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – September 23, 2016



NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – September 23, 2016

Vlaidmir Tarasenko scores the game winner as Team Russia defeats Team Finland 3-0 at the World Cup of Hockey.

Vlaidmir Tarasenko scores the game winner as Team Russia defeats Team Finland 3-0 at the World Cup of Hockey.

 World Cup of Hockey scores plus updates on Evander Kane, Joffrey Lupul & more in your NHL morning headlines.

NHL.COM: Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Telegin and Evgeni Malkin scored and Sergei Bobrovsky made 21 saves as Team Russia blanked Team Finland 3-0 to advance to the World Cup of Hockey semifinal, where they’ll meet Team Canada on Saturday.  Russia’s victory eliminates the Finns and Team North America from further competition. Team Europe will face Team Sweden in the other semifinal matchup on Sunday.

Team USA’s attempt at a face-saving victory against Team Czech Republic fell short by a score of 4-3. Both clubs were already eliminated from advancing to the semifinal. Czech goalie Petr Mrazek made 36 saves and Milan Michalek scored twice in the Czech victory. 

USA TODAY:  USA coach John Tortorella wasn’t pleased at Phil Kessel’s subtle criticism on Twitter aimed at the team’s management for not selecting him to participate in the tournament. USA GM Dean Lombardi, meanwhile, defended his player selections.  “If you’re talking about Justin Abdelkader, Blake Wheeler, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Kesler, David Backes, I’ll take those guys any day…Those guys have big-time heart and when I talk about caring, they’d be the nucleus of caring. They compete. They can play for me any day.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: It wasn’t lack of heart that hurt Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, but lack of skill. Would they have been better with Kessel, Tyler Johnson, Justin Faulk, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Okposo? Maybe, maybe not, but if you’re going into an international tournament, it makes sense to bring your most-talented players. The Americans didn’t do that. 

NBC SPORTS:  New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault hopes to reduce 34-year-old goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s workload this season to ensure he’s fresh for the playoffs. 

THE BUFFALO NEWS: Sabres winger Evander Kane is shrugging off his off-ice legal problems as something that happens to athletes or high-profile people like himself. Kane face misdemeanor charges stemming from an incident in a Buffalo bar in June, plus he’s launched a counter-claim against a woman who filed a civil suit claiming he sexually assaulted her last December. “For me, it’s just trying to stay out of that kind of stuff, kind of picking my spots better,” said Kane.  He also said he’s maturing and focusing on the upcoming NHL season. 

TORONTO SUN: Maple Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul will start the upcoming season on injured reserve and faces an uncertain future. Having recently failed a team medical, his playing career appears in jeopardy. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some readers on this site questioned why it’s taken so long for Lupul to recover from last February’s sports-hernia surgery, insinuating the Leafs are trying to pull a fast one simply to get him off the roster and remove his $5.25 million cap hit from their books. Put away the tin foil hats, because the reality is Lupul’s long injury history is catching up with him. His body can only take so much punishment before he wears down to the point where he can no longer be an effective NHL player. 

ARIZONA SPORTS:  Coyotes center Dave Bolland failed his physical as expected and will begin the season on LTIR. He’s been battling a combination of injury issues. 

NEWSDAY’s Arthur Staple reports New York Islanders center Mikhail Grabovski isn’t cleared to skate due to concussion symptoms. 

CALGARY SUN:  Flames defenseman Ladislav Smid will miss the upcoming season due to ongoing neck issues. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: He’ll be on LTIR, meaning the Flames can go over the salary cap by $3.5 million if necessary for this season.

NBC SPORTS:  Former NHL defenseman Tomas Kaberle has officially retired as an active player. He last played in the NHL in 2012-13 and skated last season in the Czech Republic. In 15 NHL seasons, nearly 12 of those with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kaberle tallied 563 points in 984 games. He was part of the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup championship team in 2011. 

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: The announcement of the name of Las Vegas’ NHL franchise has been delayed again, possibly until November. 

ESPN.COM: Walter Bush, former USA Hockey president and primary founder of the Minnesota North Stars, has died at age 86. “Bush was enshrined into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980, the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, and the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2009. Awarded the Olympic Order in 2002, he managed the 1959 U.S. national team and 1964 U.S. Olympic team, serving on the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1963.”

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Bush’s family and friends. 

 










NHL Mid-August 2016 Musings



NHL Mid-August 2016 Musings

Patrick Roy's temperamental nature didn't help to improve the Colorado Avalanche.

Patrick Roy’s temperamental nature didn’t help to improve the Colorado Avalanche.

 As a goaltender, Patrick Roy was among the best in NHL history. He backstopped two teams (Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche) to four Stanley Cups, winning three Vezina Trophies as top goalie and becoming the only player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP three times.

As coach, general manager and owner of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts, he guided that club to the 2006 Memorial Cup championship. They also topped the Eastern Division in three straight seasons from 2009 to 2011.

In Roy’s first season (2013-14) as an NHL coach, he guided the Avalanche to their first playoff appearance since 2010. As a result, he won the Jack Adams Award in 2014 as the league’s coach of the year.

For all those accomplishments, however, Roy probably did himself no favors by abruptly resigning last week as the Avs bench boss and VP of hockey operations.

Roy is renowned for his driven, temperamental nature. While it served him well as an NHL star and in running the Remparts, it couldn’t overcome the fact the Avalanche regressed over the last two seasons. Reports suggest Roy wanted the Avs to make some big moves this year via trades and free agency to bolster their lineup. Instead, they re-signed youngsters Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie to lucrative new contracts.

It appears a difference of opinion in the direction of the Avs lead to his departure. Some observers, however, suggest this move proves Roy isn’t a team player, preferring to have total control over player personnel decisions.

The NHL probably hasn’t seen the last of Patrick Roy. Perhaps he will attempt a return to the NHL in a general manager’s role. That could be best suited to his domineering personality. However, his demanding ways could make life very uncomfortable for any coach under his employ.

 

Nearly six weeks after being traded from the Nashville Predators to the Canadiens for P.K. Subban, defenseman Shea Weber traveled to Montreal and met with reporters for the first time.

If you’re wondering why such a big deal is being made over this, Weber probably asked himself the same question.

Weber is no rube. He knows he’s going from a market in Nashville where he didn’t face all-encompassing media coverage to a fishbowl existence in hockey-mad Montreal. He handled his first meeting with the press – along with the inevitable comparison questions about Subban – rather well.

But that was just a small taste of what Weber can expect in his first season with the Canadiens. Unlike the happy-go-lucky, media-savvy Subban, Weber isn’t exactly a ready-made quote machine. He could find that fishbowl existence rather annoying after a while, especially if the Habs fail to notably improve in 2016-17.

 

Unrestricted free agent defenseman James Wisniewski last week signed a professional tryout offer with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It leaves one wondering how many of this summer’s remaining UFAs might follow his lead?

NHL training camps will open in less than a month. However, notabe UFAs such as winger Jiri Hudler, defenseman Kris Russell, right wing Radim Vrbata, forward Brandon Pirri and blueliner Kyle Quincey have yet to land new contracts.

Some of them could ink deals with new teams in the coming weeks, albeit much shorter contracts for far less than they envisioned when the UFA market opened on July 1.

Others, however, could find themselves accepting training camp tryout offers in hopes of continuing their NHL careers.

 

The members of Team USA’s 1996 World Cup of Hockey roster will be inducted this fall into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

It’s a notable honor for that roster, which includes Hockey Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Chris Chelios, Brian Leetch and Mike Modano. They upset heavily-favored Canada to win that tournament, marking the first time in international tournaments involving NHL players than the United States bested their northern rivals.

That victory was also instrumental in the United States’ emergence from Canada’s shadow on the international hockey stage. Its influence upon American youth hockey cannot be understated. Today’s American-born NHL stars, such as Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Jonathan Quick and Phil Kessel, can trace their big-league careers back to the inspiration of the ’96 Team USA squad.