You see what you want to see.
The problem with the Olympic tournament, in general, is that so much importance is placed upon it that it's easy to forget that you're basing broad assumptions about the sport, players, coaches, and entire nations on — at most — six games of evidence. Relying on small sample size to formulate predictions, or far more often back up those you already had, is a dangerous thing to do when you're dealing with a quarter or even half of an NHL season; how many times have we seen teams like, say, the Minnesota Wild scream out of the gate and build what seems a very creditable lead in a division, only to watch it evaporate over the back half of a year? How many forwards have gotten out to mega-slow starts, as in Alex Ovechkin's case last season, only to demolish every goaltender from sea to shining sea in the final run to the playoffs?
Hell, it's not even a good idea to make these kinds of broad assumptions based on postseason performances when “the pressure” builds and games are therefore “more telling.” How many guys like Bryan Bickell have cashed in on big-time playoff runs and made themselves far more money than they ever deserved? How many teams, like those in Alberta, have gone on improbable streaks to Cup Finals and used them as evidence that they can be competitive for the big prize every year?
So here you have six games of Canadian dominance that underscores everything observers ever thought they knew about hockey. But if you looked at any six-game stretch in the NHL — for example, when Calgary was on its five-game winning streak, or when the Blackhawks recently lost five of six — and said “Yes this is indicative of what we can expect,” you would rightly be branded a lunatic, just as you would if you pointed to the Blackhawks ripping off six straight in November or Calgary dropping five games out of six right before that five-game winning streak. The funny thing is that in saying this, the likely results over the course of an 82-game season between these 12 Olympic teams would have played out more or less like they ended up overall, with Canada winning and the Swedes and Finns and U.S. relatively distant seconds, thirds, and fourths, though the order on those also-rans might drift a little bit from the final standings in Sochi.
But that does not, however, mean that the broad takeaways that will certainly come out of these games, and be employed by analysts for, say, the next four years, are likely to be anything but hogwash. Remember, all we heard about during the run-up to these Olympic Games was that Sidney Crosby was something of a disappointment in Vancouver, even if he did score what I guess was an important goal in overtime of the gold medal game against the U.S., and this despite being a point-a-game player against the best in the world, against a much tougher schedule than the Canadians faced this time around. So that's why you gotta bring along Chris Kunitz: The chemistry. Well Crosby and Kunitz combined for two goals and as many assists in six games, and both the goals came in the gold medal game.
So one has to wonder what that means. Did they Rise To The Occasion as any great linemates would? Or were they disappointing for the entire tournament? That's going to be what it boils down to, and not the fact that Crosby, Kunitz, and Patrice Bergeron spent basically the entire tournament outside their own defensive zone. That's to say nothing of the fact that the first of these three, the most talented and best player in the world, was saddled with perhaps Canada's least offensively-talented or -inclined, respectively, for about 80 percent of the tournament or more.
Those who believe Crosby is a consummate leader will say his dagger of a goal to put Canada up 2-0 is indicative of what happens irrespective. Those who believe he's hard to play with might advocate for bringing more Penguins next time around, just to be safe. The goal by Kunitz, tacked on entirely without meaning to a game that was already well in hand, was like the sack at the end of “Rudy.” Great moment personally, and maybe even for the team, but anyone who used it to argue he should have been starting at outside linebacker after all is an idiot.
And what of Carey Price, who allowed only three goals in the entire tournament (.972 save percentage) but has long been viewed as something of a conundrum in the crease for Montreal. While his stats over the last few years suggest he's an above-average goaltender by a wide enough margin that this shouldn't be a discussion at all, he is continually derided.
Price's performance seems unlikely to convince anyone either way. Those who entered thinking he was in fact a high-quality netminder were likely to feel reassured. Those who didn't would argue that Canada so smothering in all parts of the ice that you could have put a medium-sized Sochi Stray between the pipes and still posted a positive goal differential so long as the dog understood the Russian word for “Stay.”
Or how about the fact that even as Crosby was catching flak for not producing, Jonathan Toews: Leader Of Men had the exact same production in this tournament and indeed in the run-up to this game (two assists, no goals until he opened the scoring)? Not a word about what a disappointment he'd been, unless you lumped him in with all the other Canadian forwards who spent most of this tournament not-scoring. This for a top-five forward on the planet, completely free from blame.
But once Toews beat Henrik Lundqvist, all we heard about was how he also scored the opener in the Vancouver gold medal game, and isn't that just like him to do it again four years later? One supposes that maybe it is, but at the same time, Toews scores a lot of goals so perhaps you can't get too excited when he does so again, no matter what the stage. Let's make no mistake here: There was never a point at which Canada wasn't in control of its games once it reached the medal round, and probably before it. All its alleged problems were the result of bad luck (namely a crazily low shooting percentage) even as it ran basically every game front to back. In terms of possession and where the game was played, the entire tournament resembled what would happen if the Los Angeles Kings played a team from the bottom third of the AHL's table; things were that ugly. Even if Toews hadn't scored, it would have said nothing about the kind of tournament he played, as he was magnificent throughout. No one would have said otherwise unless a few extra bounces had gone against the Canadians in, say, the Latvia and U.S. games, which they dominated but were one-goal affairs. That's hockey.
Then there's the actual reason why Canada won. In pieces that won't be linked here for obvious reasons — i.e. reader sanity — some of Canada's best-known analysts of the sport think it's because their country has something different in its hockey-playing DNA (Sportsnet's Mark Spector) and because the 2010 silver medalist USA are a bunch of spoiled rich kids (The Hockey News' Ken Campbell). On TV, the CBC's Glen Healy chalked some of it up to Patrick Kane being selfish, and not his having been unlucky to miss two penalty shots on which he beat Tuukka Rask.
No, it was not that Canada was the best, or threw a blanket heavy with the tears of their defeated opponents over every game the second they scored the opening goal, but because Canada Is Different And Just. Nor was it that the U.S. used its own confirmation bias, based on bringing a crap roster to Vancouver and winning silver, to select “the right team” rather than “the best one,” got handed its lunch by a team so bottomless you could drown in its center depth, then suffered what — had it happened to the Canadians — would have been termed an emotional letdown in the bronze medal game, rather than an indictment of its nation's entire hockey culture. (And by the way, as an aside: Wealth inequality is having a massive effect on the sport's accessibility not only in the U.S., but globally, and that includes Canada, where it's just not as easy as getting out on the pond for six hours after school every night here in 2014. Don't tell Hockey Canada that, though, because according to Phil McKee, executive director of the Ontario Hockey Federation, which is part of Hockey Canada: “People think it is their right to play hockey but it is a privilege,” vis a vis people setting up their own leagues for their own reasons. Hockey Canada senior director for insurance and member services Glen McCurdie then more or less backed up that statement, saying Hockey Canada has won court decisions that allow it to be arbiter of any aspects of player movement and other issues it sees fit. Not very inclusive.)
This tournament, having now come to a close after what honestly feels like about two months without NHL hockey, is going to loom large over the league's best players for years to come, but we didn't learn a damn thing from it. Not really, anyway. Not anything we didn't already know.
What We Learned (Olympic edition)
Austria: After that partying scandal, Jake Voracek totally has Michael Raffl's back. “Yeah, you go to have a beer if you can. I’m sure if they won the game against Slovenia, who gives a (darn)? They lost, so obviously the people, the papers, the country of Austria, they’re looking for a problem to solve. It is what it is, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the game.” Enjoy Dry Island II, guys.
Canada: Rob Ford was at the popular bar Real Sports in downtown Toronto for the Canada game, and celebrated with fans afterward. I know, I too am shocked that Rob Ford was in a bar before noon.
Czech Republic: Ondrej Pavelec says he had a positive experience at the Olympics despite being in the stands for the opener. “I played in four of the five games,” he said, while failing to mention that he got yanked from one of those four.
Finland: Really loved this breakdown of why America got demolished by the Finns. It had as much to do with the team's undying love for Teemu Selanne as the Americans total failure to show up for the second and third periods. I honestly couldn't be happier for Teemu, who gets to add another Olympic medal to the pile of trophies in his closet at home.
Latvia: Imagine how bad things would have been if Vitalijs Pavlovs hadn't been on the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine. Their shot differential might have broken minus-triple-digits.
Norway: Mats Zuccarello could be out for up to a month, but that only translates to like three weeks of actual NHL hockey. Not like the Rangers need offense or anything. Not with Ryan Callahan coming back!
Russia: The IOC says Russia “delivered all it had promised.” As long as you forget about those hockey medals, I guess.
Slovakia: The good news for Zdeno Chara is that he got a bunch of days off following his Olympic ouster (only returning to practice early this week) and on Thursday gets to play against the Buffalo Sabres, the Slovakia of the NHL.
Slovenia: So does this mean we give Slovenia an asterisk for beating Austria?
Sweden: Hey, y'know, if the Swedes had just gotten the chance to put Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup, they would have … still lost 3-0? Yeah, that sounds more or less right to me. With Henriks Zetterberg and Sedin healthy it's maybe 3-1. Don't sweat it, guys. Lay off the Zyrtec.
Switzerland: I think it's going to take years to figure out what the hell happened in this game.
USA: Well, at least there's one positive to take from all this.
Play of the Weekend
Well you can't say they didn't earn it. Domination from Canada and a gorgeous goal from its best player to ice it.
Gold Star Award
If even Jeremy Jacobs: Evil Plutocrat isn't totally opposed to NHL participation in the Olympics, I'm starting to feel a little less pessimistic about 2018.
Minus of the Weekend
Good preliminary round, Dan. Never coach in them again. Zero even-strength goals against Russia, Canada, or Finland. Thanks.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Smokey McCanucks” seems to have been doing some smoking McCanucks.
Kesler, Hansen, Tanev, Jensen
You know what, let's just stop before we both say something we'll regret, like that horses are better than cows.