If Burke had to pick today

What if the Olympics were played this year?

27.02.2011
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Canada Hockey Place Vancouver British Columbia Canada

U.S. goalkeeper Ryan Miller (#39) celebrates with teammate Joe Pavelski (#16) following the semi-final win over Finland. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images

Monday, February 28, marks the one-year anniversary of the gold-medal game between Canada and the United States at the Vancouver Olympics. The Americans came that close to winning, only a golden goal from Sidney Crosby standing in the way in a 3-2 loss. How does that U.S. team look one year later? And if the game were played today, would GM Brian Burke have the same lineup or a radically different one? Here’s a look back, and a look at today at the same time.

Coach

Ron Wilson: General manager Brian Burke would no doubt go with Wilson again this year, and why not? Wilson has an excellent international résumé and took the team to overtime of the golden game last year.

Goalies

Ryan Miller: The MVP of the 2010 Olympics, he is having another excellent year with Buffalo. The only difference is that while he was clearly the best American goalie last year, Thomas would give him a run for his money in 2011.

Tim Thomas: Miller’s backup in Vancouver. Thomas has had a sensational year with Boston, posting a 1.99 GAA and record of 27-8-6. He would likely get the nod in a gold-medal game if the Olympics were played this year.

Jonathan Quick: The third goalie, from Los Angeles, saw no game action for the U.S. in Vancouver.

NEW – Jimmy Howard has been if not spectacular then certainly a superb presence in the Detroit net this year, posting a 30-12-3 record and handling the majority of Detroit’s games. He has more or less beaten veteran Chris Osgood for the starter’s role and deserves to be the number-three goalie.

Defence

Jack Johnson: Having another good year with the Kings, he later played at the World Championships and has been a consistent supporter of USA Hockey. He’d be back.

Brooks Orpik: Not flashy or spectacular, Orpik is one of those under-the-radar defencemen who have made the Pittsburgh Penguins so tough to play against, even when marquee players like Sidney Crosby and Yevgeni Malkin are out of the lineup.

Brian Rafalski: Yes, he was the one Crosby eluded to score the golden goal, but besides that he was the team’s best defencemen and one of its best players period. In fact, his eight points tied him for the team lead with Zach Parise and made him the top-scoring blueliner in Vancouver. Team captain material.

Ryan Suter: Only 26 but a USA Hockey veteran, Suter is a leader and solid at both ends of the ice.

Ryan Whitney: Having an excellent season with the dynamic young Oilers, Whitney is a core player for the immediate future. Still a little raw, perhaps, but a must-have for the team.

NEW – Dustin Byfuglien wasn’t even on the radar last year. In fact, he wasn’t even a defenceman. But he was a major factor in the Blackhawks’ run to the Cup, and over the summer he was traded to Atlanta where he became a defenceman. This year, he is having a Norris Trophy-quality season and would be a lock to play for Team USA.

NEW – Keith Yandle can’t do anything to command attention and respect, what with playing with the Coyotes, a team seldom seen in the East and only heard when words like bankruptcy and relocation are used. But he is having a breakout year, the kind that can’t be but noticed. The 24-year-old would certainly be on Burke’s 2011 Olympic team.

Tim Gleason, Erik Johnson: With the arrival of Byfuglien and Yandle, Gleason and Erik Johnson become expendable. Gleason is having a bit of a tough time with Carolina, and Johnson was recently traded from St. Louis to Colorado.

Forwards

David Backes: Another of the young players on the 2010 team who has matured and developed with the St. Louis Blues this season, there is no way to keep Backes off the team this time round.

Dustin Brown: Considered one of the most complete players in the league, Brown is young and another of the dedicated USA Hockey players who knows the system.

Ryan Callahan: He can do a little bit of everything and is having a solid season with the Rangers.

Patrick Kane: What can you say about Kane? He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal last spring and is likely the best American skater in the NHL.

Ryan Kesler: Just 26 years old, Kesler is having a career year in Vancouver with the Canucks. He also leads all U.S.-born players to date with 33 goals and 57 points in 63 games. He was on the team last year but down on the depth chart. He’d be back – and expected to be a leader this year.

Phil Kessel: One of the most skilled players in the league, Kessel is playing in a city where every bite of food he ingests is well documented by the Toronto media. Still, he is essential to any Team USA.

Ryan Malone: A horse with a good shot who plays with an edge, Malone is a team player and will do whatever it takes to win.

Zach Parise: Recall it was Parise who scored the tying goal of the gold-medal game in the final minute of play with goalie Ryan Miller on the bench. Young, quick, one year more experienced, he’s a keeper for years to come.

Joe Pavelski: Loaded with talent and skill, he’s not the biggest player on the team but he is a threat when he has the puck. A key ingredient in San Jose and a keeper for Burke.

Bobby Ryan: After signing a monster deal with Anaheim, Ryan is living up to his own hype, having scored 29 goals with the Ducks through 62 games. He’s the real deal.

Paul Stastny: Not having his best season and not quite showing the potential of a couple of years ago when he led the league in scoring early in the season, Stastny comes from good stock and is a superb forward for the Americans.

NEW – Erik Cole is nothing if not a solid player in the Langenbrunner/Drury mold. He is tough and skilled, a fierce competitor and leader on ice and off.

NEW – Derek Stepan is perhaps too young, but he might be the wild card in 2011. He’s having a great year with the Rangers, and at 20 years old has only a bright future, but this is still a young and experienced USA team that wouldn’t be harmed by a skilled player with a ton of upside, as they say.

Chris Drury: A fractured finger and then knee surgery have sidelined Drury this season, leaving his spot open for a new face out of necessity.

Jamie Langenbrunner: Last year’s team captain, the 35-year-old is past his prime and can be replaced by someone a bit younger with the same leadership qualities.

ANDREW PODNIEKS


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