January 12, 2010
He wears the 'C' for the New Jersey Devils. He'll see a significant amount of ice time during the tournament. Along with Brian Rafalski(notes) and Chris Drury(notes), he's one of the players on the U.S. roster with Olympic experience. General Manager Brian Burke said all of these factors combined to make the captaincy call one of the least divisive decisions in among the Olympic team brain trust:
"We've had some difficult decisions and some long discussions and some vitriolic, profanity-laced arguments through this selection process, but the one thing we didn't have any kind of a fight on was picking our captain."
The fight, it seems, is the one still being waged against Chris Drury of the New York Rangers, who has been maligned by the press and fans since his selection to the team was formalized.
The fact that a soon-to-be-three-time Olympian and Rangers captain doesn't warrant the captaincy or alternate captaincy on this roster had the critics back on the offensive this week. Like the National Post headline: "If Drury's not Team USA's captain or an assistant, why is he there?"
Allow us to offer five reasons why Chris Drury is "there" for USA Hockey, and why he deserves to be "there."
1. His experience.
When asked why Drury didn't merit a letter during a conference call on Monday, Burke said "leaders lead ... leaders don't need letters to lead" and that "we know what Chris Drury can bring. He doesn't need a letter."
(OK, that was after Burke said the media was sour after predicting Drury would get a letter and then he didn't. But we digress ...)
There's something to be said for the fact that the veteran of the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games was on the short list for every member of the Team USA selection committee, i.e. an unanimous call. They see something in Drury's character that makes him a vital part of that locker room despite the decline in his production.
Too many of the arguments against Drury are stats-based, which completely miss the point of his inclusion on the roster. That point being, in Burke-speak, "We picked Chris Drury because he's Chris Drury. That's not defensive; that's praise of Chris Drury."
2. There's no salary cap in the Olympics.
There are certain players in the NHL that lug around their contracts like a boulder chained around their necks. Guys like Shawn Horcoff(notes) ($5.5 million cap hit), Danny Briere(notes) ($6.365 million) and Scott Gomez(notes) ($7.357 million) are all going to face the cost-per-point scrutiny until their contracts run to term.
Drury is in the same privileged class, with his $7.050 million cap hit and the fact that his base salary for 2009-10 ($8.050 million) is higher than any other Ranger, including Marian Gaborik(notes) ($7.5 million), according to NHL Numbers.
(Man, the 2006 free agent frenzy was like a 1980s narcotics binge in South Beach ...)
In the NHL, Drury has 130 points in 203 games as a New York Rangers multimillionaire. In the Olympics, being a 25-goal, 50-point forward with experience and versatility is something this roster can utilize. The tournament is a vacuum; forget about what Drury "should be" and focus on what he can provide this team. To that end ...
3. Again, it's not about the numbers
Within a passionate but somewhat unnecessary rant against Team Canada for overlooking his former player Marty St. Louis, former Tampa Bay Lightning GM Jay Feaster made this point about Drury's value for The Hockey News:
Drury has never posted big offensive numbers, hitting 30 or more goals only twice in his career and never reaching 70 points in a season. At the same time, he has been one of the NHL's top faceoff men, most responsible defensive forwards and team-leading shot blockers. Drury can kill penalties and play a regular shift on the power play. Moreover, he has "been there and done that" and those leadership qualities clearly counted when Team USA named its roster.
There can be no argument that Drury's numbers have slipped. He's past his prime as a player. But he's the leading penalty killing forward for the Rangers (3:02 average per game), he plays on the power play and his faceoff percentage (52.6) is respectable. Which is to say he has ...
It's clear Drury made this roster based on his previous international experience, which is why he got the nod over players like T.J. Oshie(notes) and Kyle Okposo(notes). But we're argue that his ability to play in different situations and positions made him a more valuable component than players like Scott Gomez (a center-for-life), Brian Gionta(notes) (winger) and Bill Guerin(notes) (winger), all of whom were 2006 Olympic players. The only player that can match Drury's versatility from that 2006 roster that's also still viable in the NHL is Brian Rolston(notes) of the Devils, but he doesn't have the leadership credentials Burke and Co. were seeking.
As a lower-line player, Drury can help in many ways.
"Not to take anything away from the guy because he's had such a great career, but for Chris Drury to be on the team, it baffles me," Roenick told Toronto radio station AM640.
"I know he's a great leader and if he's captain of the team, he'll be a great captain, but I just don't see him being as good for the team as a guy like Gomez would be or T.J. Oshie. Oshie would bring so much energy to this team and this type of format in an international event, that I don't understand how those two guys aren't on the team."
Roenick, who won a silver medal in 2002 with Team USA, believes Burke is likely counting on Drury to provide leadership on a very young team. But the two-time Olympian can think of at least one other player who could have filled the same role.
"They need someone who has been there, a guy that has had success in international competition, a captain in his own right and someone to lead these young guys into the next generation. I thought that guy might have been Mike Modano(notes). He's probably the one guy that can still play and be very effective at his age in international competition. I really thought that he would be on that team. ... That surprised me."
Yes, that would be the same Mike Modano playing out the string in Dallas while Brenden Morrow(notes) wears the 'C.' Yes, that would be the same T.J. Oshie in his second NHL season while Drury is in his third Olympics, on a roster that lacks international experience.
As a talent evaluator, JR's one hell of a T-shirt designer.
There's a notion that not giving Drury a letter is an indication that he may be a spare part forward for this team and not play in every game; and that's a possibility, depending on his play in the earlier rounds. Still, his presence on this roster is important; just as important as Burke and Team USA's brain trust avoiding an even louder backlash had Drury been given a position of power on this team, as Pierre LeBrun suggests.
The bottom line: Chris Drury's role on this team is not a significant factor in its success or failure. Why is he there? Like Burke said: "He's Chris Drury." And don't you want to hear the Little League World Series story for the 10,000th time?