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Three Reasons Team USA Will Fail to Medal Without Bobby Ryan

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COMMENTARY | It's been over a month since Team USA announced its 23-man roster to represent American hockey in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Thanks to Scott Burnside, we were afforded a candid look at how the roster was selected.

Brian Burke, Dean Lombardi, David Poille, and other members of the USA hockey brass dissected 30 to 40 players, reduced to names and statistics on a white board. One of the most discussed players was Bobby Ryan, a former draft pick of Burke's while he was the general manager in Anaheim.

Ryan was ultimately left off the roster, and reactions ranged from sheer outrage to a regurgitation of the infamous Herb Brooks quote about looking for the right players, instead of the best players.

It might be one of the biggest mistakes of Poille's distinguished career.

Bobby Ryan as a Goal Scorer

Over the past six years, only 15 players have scored more even-strength goals than Ryan, and only one of them is an American -- Phil Kessel. He made the team. Now consider that Kessel has only 14 more than Ryan, but in 130 more games.

Leaving off your country's best goal scorer is an unexplainable sin that is hard to comprehend. It'd be like Team Canada leaving off Sidney Crosby, or Team Russia leaving off Alexander Semin. Well, they did, but quickly rectified that mistake when injuries opened the door.

On the year, Ryan has already reached the 20-goal plateau. With the pace he's on, breaking 30 for the fifth time in six seasons seems to be in the cards. So, it's not as if a slow start had caused Team USA to rethink his inclusion.

Internationally, Ryan has scored 6 goals in 14 games, though he notched just 1 in the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Compared to other countries, the United States isn't as deep, despite its recent silver medal. Leaving an Eric Staal off of Team Canada will not hurt nearly as much as leaving a Bobby Ryan off of Team USA.

Bobby Ryan as a 'Checking Forward'

The argument, for some reason, was that because Ryan didn't have a spot in the top-six, he wouldn't fit in a bottom-six checking role. But how much checking really goes on at the Olympics?

International ice is much bigger, and speed is the name of the game. Ryan, called "sleepy" by Burke, is a deceptively quick skater, routinely beating opponents to loose pucks. Even so, loose pucks are rarer than the NHL game and dancing around defenders who attempt to play the body will result in glorious scoring chances -- out-of-position players have way more ground to recover.

Possession, often synonymous with "checking," is valuable, and Ryan is capable of tilting the ice toward the opponent's goal. During his shifts, his team controls 50.9% of the play. A middling number at the NHL-level but when combined with his goal totals and the larger ice, should shoot upward. If his line is out-chancing the opponents', does it matter how it's done?

Team Canada and Team Sweden are built with forwards capable of possessing the puck and beating you from all four lines. A well-rounded team will beat a specialized team every time.

Bobby Ryan -- Not Even as a Healthy Extra?

Poille and Burke decided that their team was so good, that they refused to even include Ryan as a 13th forward. Sochi is a two-week tournament, and injuries are inevitable. So why not include Ryan in case one of their top-six forwards do go down?

Instead, it will be a player like Blake Wheeler who fills in, and that's not a good thing. Wheeler is a fine player having a good season, but this is only the second time he's eclipsed the 20-goal mark. If Wheeler is thrust into a top-six role, Team USA will be in even more trouble than it currently is.

Unbelievably, Ryan wasn't even among the last few out. Jack Johnson and Brandon Saad were ahead of Ryan in the pecking order and were harder decisions, according to the decision-makers. Saad is another good player, but at just 21 years old doesn't have the success under pressure that Ryan has. Or the success in general.

Maybe being tucked away in Canada's capital has made some forget that Ryan is an American. Maybe his relationship with Burke really is that toxic. Whatever the reason, it's not good enough.

Sometimes the best players really are the right players.

Andrew Luistro is the managing editor of the
Sunbelt Hockey Journal.

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