PG1-AJ-BLACKHAWKS-OLYMPICS-0207

(Chicago Tribune)

With 10 Blackhawks and 149 NHL players taking part in the Sochi Games, the fellas decided this would be a perfect time to get together for a roundtable “discussion” of the internet variety. I think Mighty Mike is the most excited out of any of us given that he finally gets to watch NHL-level competition without having to stay up until all hours of the night. The rest of us? Well, that’s why they invented DVR.

Let’s get to it:

Who will win the gold medal and why?

Mike: I’m going to make myself popular and say Canada. There’s a shocking amount of firepower there, even without Stamkos, which also extends to their Defensive corps: when you can ice Keith, Doughty, Weber and Subban you are bringing some serious Offensive upside. Obviously Crosby, Toews, Getzlaf, St Louis and Tavares are all-world elite forwards and the supporting cast is terifying too. I’d expect Drinky Price to do the heavy lifting in goal and he’s in wonderful form, despite the Habs’ struggles of late. Bob and Flopper are more-than capable backups. I really don’t think there’s anyone to touch them, if I’m honest. But I tend to get these things wrong, too.

Adam: Canada, because they’re better than everyone else. Their B-Team would probably make it to the medal round. If the Canadians fail to make the gold medal game, it would be a major upset.

Nakis: Canada. This #analysis is based on that fact that their roster seems to have better players on it than any of the other teams participating in the tournament. They’re so deep they aren’t even dressing Matt Duchene. They’re so deep that they literally buried Marty St. Louis. They’re so deep that Roberto Luongo doesn’t even matter.

Bartl: Let’s take a quick look at some of the players left off Team Canada.

Claude Giroux (11th in NHL with 58 points), Joe Thornton (2nd in NHL with 48 assists), Tyler Seguin (24 G, 32 A), Logan Couture (14 G, 21 A in only 43 games due to injury), Eric Staal (14 G, 31 A).

You could create a new country like Peter Griffin, use these guys as five of your top six regardless of position and you’ll have a potential medal contender on your hands. Not to mention, it’s highly doubtful any of them would have been left off Team USA.

I will take Canada.

Which country with medal aspirations is most likely to be a total bust, a la Russia in 2010?

Nakis: Russia, again. Hamstringing your team to promote your crappy NHL alternative is a good way to avoid earning a medal. The Soviets never would have made these kind of mistakes.

Bartl: I hate to say it, but I think it could be Team USA. They don’t have enough firepower up and down the lineup – especially for the bigger ice – the defensemen outside of Suter are uninspiring and Bylsma still has no idea who is starting in net. The trip to Sochi has the potential to be a disaster for the Americans.

Adam: The United States. Yeah, not going to make a lot of friends with this choice but the US is built to play like the Kings, a team I would really have a hard time seeing compete on international ice, and they’ll need to hold opponents to two goals or less to win games. There simply isn’t enough firepower on the US roster to beat the big contenders in this tournament like Canada, Sweden and Russia. The popular pick to underwhelm is the Russians. Their top line is Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Semin. The top line for the US looks like Dustin Brown (really looking forward to him plodding around the big surface. Thanks, Poile, Burke and Co.), David Backes and Patrick Kane. That line is getting torched by Russia’s top six, and skullfucked by the Canadians. I’d wager that the USA’s third line is their most dangerous and that’s Kessel-Pavelski-JVR.

Mike: I think it will be Russia again. For one thing, they have a huge amount of pressure on them (no, I’m not going to do a Don Cherry and suggest that DEM COMMIESES CANT TAKE DA PRESSUR) and for another, they’ve suffered from political expediency that has left them with an even split of KHL and NHL players. The K is seriously overrated and I think all the teams that have a mix of players used to different ice sizes are going to struggle to gel as quickly as ones where everyone is used to the same area. I can see the Russians finishing Fourth, behind the North Americans and Sweden which would represent a disaster for them.

Where do you see Team USA finishing and why?

Adam: Bronze if we’re lucky. More likely losing in the bronze medal game or even the quarterfinals.

Mike: Silver again, I fear. While no team with Kane, Perry, Kessel and Parise could be called lacking in offense, I fear that there are a few too many “Just Guys”  like Oshie and Wheeler to hold off the Canadians. Their defense is suspect too: Suter isn’t in great form and Orpik and Martin don’t inspire a huge amount of confidence. Goaltending is an issue too, ironically, considering it was meant to be the USA’s trump card. Jon Quick is a shadow of himself this year, Jimmy Howard has been hurt and pretty average so Ryan Miller is going to have to continue the great form he’s been in. That said, it’s a game of Hockey and stranger things have happened.

Bartl: Being optimistic, I think the U.S. can beat Slovakia and Slovenia in group play with a loss the Russians and get through to the tournament round. Once there? I’m not confident. I think the best this team can do is bronze. And I would like to clarify that I hope I’m very wrong.

Nakis: Bronze. They don’t have the scoring up and down the lineup that our neighbors to the north possess, the goaltending situation is far more shaky than it looked even a few months ago, and the team is carrying a few too many question marks like Dustin Brown and Ryan Kesler. Stan Bowman for USA GM.

Ten Blackhawks are competing. How terrified are you of something horrible happening?

Bartl: I’m sure there’s plenty out there who are saying, “They’re going to be fine! Look what happened in 2010!” I’m not in that group. While I know the maximum games they can play is six, that’s six opportunities for a guy suffer some freak injury. I will be cringing every time a Blackhawk hits the ice/boards, and I’m sure that will take some of the enjoyment out of watching these games. When it comes to hockey for me, the order is Blackhawks, then country, then fuck Canada.

Nakis: Moderately terrified. I’m a lot more worried about general fatigue than I am catastrophic injury, but knowing the possibility exists is still unsettling. The fatigue didn’t appear to have much of an impact on the 2010 ‘Hawks team, but these guys are all four years older now. We’ll see.

Adam: Terrified enough that I hope the gold medal game consists of Russia and the Finns, with Canada, Sweden and the US not making the medal rounds.

Mike: To be honest, I’m not. Obviously accidents can happen but I feel they’re also more likely to occur in the faster, more violent NHL rather than the somewhat more staid International play. Yes, it would be nice to get a rest but, there’s also the point that the three Hawks elder statesmen in Hossa, Handzus and Roszival likely won’t be progressing past the opening round, so they’ll still get something of a break. But yes, I’ll have my fingers crossed just in case!

What are your thoughts about NHL players competing in the Olympics, forcing a three-week break during the season when playoff races are heating up?

Mike: I like the idea of an International tournament featuring the world’s best players but would rather it was in a World Cup format than under the auspices of the IOC. Hockey is the only major North American sport that is truly international (baseball would come closest) and I like these tests of strength. The problem is scheduling, though: the season is so long that you couldn’t really have the tournament after the Stanley Cup so, although it’s far from ideal, this break is the best option for now.

Adam: Please let this be the last year that this happens. This isn’t the NBA where the Olympics happen during the offseason and the players can use the Games to stay in shape. This elongates the season for groups of players and puts their NHL teams at a competitive disadvantage.

Nakis: I hate that fact that the NHL closes up shop for a month just as it’s about to enter the homestretch. I think the owners are going to have to put the kibosh on this one before 2018.

Bartl: There needs to be some sort of international tournament during the offseason every couple of years – like baseball does with the World Baseball Classic, only hopefully not as terrible. While I personally hate it, I know the players are all for this, which makes it tough. If the NHL doesn’t allow its players to play in 2018, someone will go rogue and play anyway. I fully believe that. All of these guys are going voluntarily and want to play. Hopefully they can be convinced not to oppose the NHL banning them from going. It takes away from the NHL season.

Do you see any dark horses who will make an impact on this Tournament?

Mike: I would have picked Finland until they were decimated by injuries and withdrawals. They’re going to have the best goaltending at Sochi and have some exciting young players like Granlund. So I’ll go with Sweden, who have been preparing to make a run at a medal for some time now. Remember how they sought to limit NHL players from playing in the Eliteserien during the lockout? That was clearly being done with a view to protecting and developing their domestic players towards this Olympics. Oh and my heart says Slovakia but I fear they’ll settle for giving the Russians a nasty shock in the opening round

Adam: The one owned by Eddie Olczyk because it probably impacts the game with its hits that directly lead to goals.

Bartl: Midnight Hawk, owned by Q, Kitchen and Mike Tice. That’s dark AND a horse.

Nakis: Is the Black Widow Bomber a horse? I have no idea. I keep up with the US, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland because of Teuvo.  I’ll pick the Swiss just because I love Jonas Hiller.