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Olympic teams revisited: Who should Team USA take to Sochi?

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy

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You probably saw where Harrison Mooney put Taylor Hall and Dan Hamhuis on an actual Canadian Olympic team that he thinks will win the gold medal in Sochi.

I can't say for sure, but I think he probably did it with a straight face. Which is baffling.

Oh yes, Canada is packed to the gills with superstars, to the point where they're not even running Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews down the middle, such is their embarrassment of riches. Other centers subjected to playing on the wing in Canada's world included John Tavares, Eric Staal, and maybe even Patrick Marleau (over Joe Thornton? What a world!). Anyway, what that should tell you is that Canada's wing depth is about as good as Latvia's.

But now's the time for roster tweaking, and so tweak USA's I shall. Perhaps not extensively as Canada would, given that the US doesn't have a lot of aging guys living on past glory to filter out — hey, just like Hockey Canada itself! — but rather young and exciting and good players. Modest guys who don't need to overwhelm with huge point totals just to prove how good at hockey they are.

Is Canada's forward depth the equivalent Corvette the 48-year-old accountant buys himself? Tough to say. But its goaltending situation is definitely what it's compensating for. The US, meanwhile, drives a dependable car that gets plenty of miles per gallon.

They're gonna ride it all the way to the top of the podium.

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Forwards

Zach Parise - Joe Pavelski - Patrick Kane

Ryan Callahan - David Backes - Phil Kessel

Max Pacioretty - Ryan Kesler - Bobby Ryan

James van Riemsdyk - Paul Stastny - Dustin Brown

Extras: Jason Pominville, Derek Stepan

CHANGES: Brandon Dubinsky out; Derek Stepan in.

In the almost-full season and playoffs since the last projected roster was published, I've really only seen one change that I needed to make to the group of 14 forwards USA Hockey will send to Sochi. That, though, one the New York Rangers already made.

It's Derek Stepan, he of the 44-point, 18-goal season in for Brandon Dubinsky, whose possession stats and bad luck don't make up for the fact that he has 12 goals in his last 108 games.

However, following the monster season Paul Stastny put up from a possession standpoint, along with a perfectly-acceptable points total, on an awful Colorado team for which he faced the best competition every night, there's no way I can make Stepan the preferred fourth-line center. So let's just leave Stepan there on a provisional basis. He can absolutely steal a job from anyone here (Ryan Kesler, I'm looking at you), but I'd like to see another half-season from Stepan to make sure he can continue scoring at a 30-goal pace.

The US is deep down the middle in terms of second-line two-way centers. None of them score a ton of points (Pavelski's 31 was tops among the four actually in the lineup), but they all win draws efficiently, with the lowest win percentage last season being Pavelski's 51.8, which was actually his lowest by far since 2006-07.

Everyone else is pretty straightforward. Kane, Kessel and van Riemsdyk are all grouped with two very strong two-way scoring forwards to make up for their defensive deficiencies, and the third line is all-around solid. When your No. 3 right wing had 130 goals over the four seasons prior to the lockout, it's pretty safe to say that the team is fairly strong.

Now with all that having been said, I acknowledge that there will be those who prefer to see your Brandon Dubinskys and possibly Blake Wheelers on this team, but everyone ahead of them does what they do just a little bit better, or at least makes up the difference in other areas; Dubinsky's possession stats blow Stepan's out of the water, but you can't argue with production like that, even if it was against comparatively soft competition.

Here's what I wrote in putting out this forward group last time around: "The US has always lived and died by its versatility up front, and these 14 guys represent the ever-improving mix the American talent pool provides in all areas of the ice." I'll stick by that now.

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DEFENSE

Ryan Suter - Kevin Shattenkirk

Keith Yandle - Ryan McDonagh

Paul Martin - Dustin Byfuglien

Extra: Jack Johnson, Justin Faulk

CHANGES: Brooks Orpik out; Ryan McDonagh and Jack Johnson in.

I had a few more changes to make with regard to the US defense, which remains deep and very good.

I caught a lot of flak on the previous list for including Brooks Orpik over Ryan McDonagh in particular, but I will say that I did so wanting to see if his incredible sophomore season was for real. It was. He not only replaces Brooks Orpik on the team, but also supplants Justin Faulk, who still had a very good season on a very bad Carolina team, and Dustin Byfuglien.

As for the extra D afforded by the IIHF allowing for the 25-man roster instead of 23, Jack Johnson, he of the roughly 10 trillion minutes for Columbus last season, gets the nod for obvious reasons. Even if he hadn't been added, he probably did well enough last season to boot Faulk, who has the benefit of still being extremely young.

And the thing is, you could probably swap out most of these guys for other, still-very good defensemen. The US will be leaving John Carlson, Zach Bogosian, and Matt Carle at home, among others, and all of them logged big minutes against top competition for not-very-good teams.

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GOALTENDERS

Jimmy Howard

Jonathan Quick

Craig Anderson

CHANGES: Cory Schneider out; Craig Anderson in.

(This section right here is going to be controversy central.)

Yes, I really have Jimmy Howard as the starting goaltender for the United States of America. Yes, I know what that means.

But here's my reasoning: If Jimmy Howard can put up stats like the ones he posted last season (you'll recall they could be categorized as "very good") behind a Detroit defense so patchwork MacGyver couldn't make something workable out of it. And then look what he did to almost get the Wings past the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. The three games his deeply mediocre team won in that series were all down to him stopping 86 of 88, and then he almost stole Game 7 as well.

The obvious counterargument to this is screaming, "But Jonathan Quick though!!!!!" at me for 14 hours straight, and look man, I get it. Quick is probably one of the two or three best goaltenders on the planet. He's outrageously good. It's kind of crazy. I understand this. However, since this is being judged on the basis of last year alone, and Quick was actually sub-average for the regular season. I have little doubt that he will rebound, and I have little doubt that he won't usurp Howard again by the end of November. But right now, right this second, I don't know that he's the best-best option.

This is a 1a/1b situation. Relax.

And now you're probably down to the No. 3 goalie, and screaming again. If you're judging on the basis of last season alone, and you're also leaving Craig Anderson, whose statistics were some of the best in league history (except for his only having played 24 games), out of the starter conversation, you are seemingly being dumb and wrong. I'm just not convinced those stats weren't smoke and mirrors brought on by his only having played half of a shortened season.

He does, however, have more credibility on this team than Schneider does for me at this point, especially because Schneider is going to be a backup goalie — fair or not (it's not) — to a 72-year-old man.

Not that it really matters, though. The US has the deepest goaltending pool in the tournament.

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