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Four key position battles for ’14 Winter Olympics

May 10, 2013, 4:14 PM EDT

RobertoLuongoCanada

With news of a working understanding that NHL players will participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics, we thought it’d be a good time to start looking at the fight for jobs in 2014.

Why four? Because the games are every four years, and I couldn’t come up with a fifth.

Who’ll be Canada’s  starting netminder?

While the state of Canadian goaltending is hardly in flux, the current choices for No. 1 do come with question marks…

Roberto Luongo, who led the country to gold in Vancouver, was resigned to a backup role with the Canucks.

Carey Price struggled mightily for Montreal down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Cam Ward suffered a season-ending knee injury in March.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been benched in favor of Tomas Vokoun.

Martin Brodeur will be closing in on his 42nd birthday.

Other candidates — Mike Smith, Corey Crawford, Brian Elliott — have been mentioned, but they’re considered peripheral contenders at best.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun is pushing Braden Holtby for consideration, but that seems like a longshot.

Who’ll be Finland’s starting netminder?

Almost the polar opposite situation from Canada’s — it could be argued Finland has the best goaltending depth in the world right now:

Tuukka Rask, who just posted arguably the finest regular season of his career.

Antti Niemi, who just received his first-ever Vezina nomiation.

Pekka Rinne, who finished third in last year’s Vezina voting.

Niklas Backstrom, who tied for the NHL lead in wins (24) this year.

Kari Lehtonen, who posted back-to-back 3o-win seasons from 2010-12.

No shortage of quality candidates to choose from, and this list doesn’t even include Miikka Kiprusoff.

Who’ll be Team USA’s head coach?

The smart money is on Pittsburgh’s Dan Byslma who, since taking the Pens gig in 2009, has:

– Posted a 201-92-25 regular-season record (.671 winning percentage).

– Qualified for the playoffs every year, won Stanley Cup in 2009.

– Captured Jack Adams in 2011.

Despite that resume, Bylsma will have challengers for the gig.

New York’s John Tortorella and Philadelphia’s Peter Laviolette will likely be in the mix, as both have coached at the national team level in previous years.

Jack Capuano, coming off a highly-successful campaign with the Islanders, will also garner some consideration, as will Jackets bench boss Todd Richards after orchestrating a tremendous playoff push in Columbus.

Who’ll play defense for the Russians?

According to NHL.com, there were just nine Russian defensemen in the league this year — Andrei Markov, Sergei Gonchar, Slava Voynov, Fedor Tyutin, Alexei Emelin, Dmitry Kulikov, Nikita Nikitin, Anton Volchenkov and Dmitry Orlov.

It’s an odd group, age-wise:

– Gonchar (39) and Markov (35 in December) are old.

– Orlov (22), Kulikov (23) and Voynov (23) are young.

– The guys in the middle are…nothing to write home about.

There were signs of trouble on the Russian blueline during the ‘1o winter games, when the roster included three KHL defensemen (and a fourth, Edmonton’s Denis Grebeshkov, who would soon join them.)

Team Russia proceeded to allow 13 goals over four games, including seven in a quarterfinal loss to Canada.

  1. devilsarethebest - May 10, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    Brodeur will probably play for Team Canada.

  2. chuchie414 - May 10, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    To me Rinne as the starter is a no brainer. Rask/Nemo as backup/emergency backup…flip a coin IMO.

    USA Bylmsa with Capuano & Richards as asst.

    • chuchie414 - May 10, 2013 at 4:51 PM

      Also I can’t wait to see the Swiss rack up some upsets. This will be the breakout Olympics for them.

  3. jb8383 - May 10, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    I would say Marty’s better than the other candidates on that list. If he is still playing at a high level, he should play!

  4. steelpenbucs87 - May 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    The juxtaposition of those first two questions is pretty incredible – an absolute embarrassment of riches for the Fins while Canada has a bunch of question marks. My guess is Rinne and Ward (pending his recovery) get the nods.

  5. thecheeman - May 10, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    Why not let Ron Wilson coach the USA team again? He almost won a gold last time and should have lots of time to focus on the job without an NHL gig.

  6. atwatercrushesokoye - May 10, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    If the team were chosen right now I think the top 2 goalies would be Mike Smith and Roberto Luongo, with a young guy (maybe Jake Allen?) as the third goalie just in case they keep the Olympic endeavor going in 2018. Carey Price will also be considered, i would guess he could still play hus way onto the team with a great October and November next season. After the way he’s played in the playoffs the past 2 years I don’t think Fleury will get any consideration. And with all due respect to Brodeur, he’s been a great goalie for a long time, I don’t think they’ll entertain the idea of taking a 42 year old who looked shaky last Olympics.

    The Finns obviously have the most depth in net, I think Rask, Rinne and Niemi will be the three, in my opinion when he’s on top of his game Rinne is the best goalie in the league so I think he’ll be the starter.

    The US coach will depend on who the GM is, if it’s Pat Quinn then I think there’s a real chance Ron Wilson is back especially with how close they came to winning gold in 2010.

    The Russians are thin on the blue line and in net (who will be there goalie? Nabokov?) but they have more fire power than anyone, and since it’s in Russia they may want to put on a show, they may decide to follow the 80’s Oilers’ attitude of “we don’t care if you score 6 on us because we’re going to score 8 or 9 on you” that might make already exciting hockey even more fun to watch!

    • atwatercrushesokoye - May 10, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      gave myself a thumbs down, I meant Brian Burke not Pat Quinn, got my former Leafs’ GM’s mixed up. At least I didn’t write JFJ!

  7. 19to77 - May 10, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    American goalie depth is as daunting as the Finns – Anderson is playing out of his mind right now, Quick’s only a year removed from doing the same, Jimmy Howard and Cory Schneider are talented netminders, Miller’s still hot when the team in front of him isn’t hot garbage and hey, Tim Thomas still wants back in, doesn’t he?

    Lot of options for them, and when names like Miller and Thomas are your long-shot contenders, you know you’re pretty stacked.

  8. hockeyflow33 - May 10, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    When you asked who would play defense for the Russians I assumed no names would be there

  9. DTF31 - May 10, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    It’ll probably be Luongo starting, with Price at 2 and either Fleury/Ward at 3. Both of them ar ethe most overrated “elite” goaltenders in the NHL. You’re as likely to get a fantastic game from them as you are something awful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dubnyk get an invite to summer camp. He did a fantastic job with an awful Oilers defence.

    Rinne-Rask-Niemi if I were a betting man. There will be enough experience on the Fins up front and on D that you could probably get away with younger goaltenders.

    You pretty well named the US staff in whatever varying capacities they are.

    The Russian’s D got exposed last time and there isn’t any evidence to prove it won’t again. They’ll have to bank on Bobrovsky maintaining his play otherwise its Nabakov, Bryz and Varlamov.

  10. stevebass2 - May 10, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    I still don’t understand why Ward gets all this acclaim and consideration when it comes to Canada’s national teams. His numbers have been average at best for several years now. Smith is putting up phenomenal numbers for Team Canada at the WC this year, I think he’s the most likely option just under a year from now.

    • chanceoffleury1 - May 11, 2013 at 2:01 AM

      Agreed. Everyone is pretty quick to throw Fleury and Luongo under the bus, yet Ward really isn’t much better if he even is better at all. That’s not saying he’s a bad goalie or would be a bad choice, but Luongo already has the experience and won you a gold medal so there is probably gonna be a loyalty factor there that might give him an edge for a spot even if it means he’s the third string.

  11. dumbassgreg - May 10, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    for canada flip a coin between smith and brodeur hope the offense gets enough so it does not matter.

    if i had one game to win . could pick any goalie in the world i would take rinne.

    any american coach other then ron wilson

    finally the russian team is going to be mostly khl players with a few elite nhlers datsyuk,ovie,malkin etc.

  12. treydogg97 - May 10, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    No way you kept a straight face while typing, “Who will play defense for the Russians?”

  13. capsfan19 - May 11, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    Who will play in goal for US?!?

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