(As the NCAA hockey season is done, our own Ryan Lambert needed something on which to opine. Say hello to a special Tuesday series from yer boy RL, PUCK LISTS, in which he arbitrarily lists hockey things.)
10. Alex Galchenyuk
The 23-and-under North American forward group is as purely talented as just about any other team in the tournament. Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman were always going to end up leaving someone good at home. And while Max Domi, Boone Jenner, and maybe one or two other young scorers in the league may seem like snubs, it's tough to argue that a guy who scored 50 goals in the last two seasons — and 30 this year — doesn't deserve to crack the roster.
If you're putting together a list of 23-and-under North Americans, the number who have netted at least that many goals since the start of last season is quite small: Sean Monahan (made it), Johnny Gaudreau (made it), Brandon Saad (made it), Alex Galchenyuk (didn't make it). More recently, only Saad, Galchenyuk, Gaudreau, and Boone Jenner (also didn't make it) cleared 30 this season.
Again, it's tough to say who you leave off from this group. Maybe J.T. Miller or Dylan Larkin, both of whom were named to the initial roster back in March. But other than that you're in tough to find someone even a player as talented as Galchenyuk should have supplanted. The four additions up front were Jonathan Drouin, Auston Matthews, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Mark Scheifele.
9. Justin Faulk
This isn't exactly the biggest snub on the U.S. blue line, nor is it even close to the biggest snub on the U.S. roster overall, but this is still a strange move.
Well, I mean, strange insofar as Justin Faulk is undoubtedly one of the eight best American-born defensemen currently over the age of 24. Not strange as it relates to the U.S. roster selection overall, which is abysmal beyond language. That in itself is strange but perfectly expected given who had a hand in the decision-making process (Brian Burke) and who's coaching the team (John Tortorella).
One might have thought that Dean Lombardi, the man who brought a binder to before-Sochi meetings advocating for Keith Yandle (at the time the best offensive defenseman America had to offer), would have been able to put aside the American predisposition toward bringing in players to fill specific roles rather than asking actual talented players to fill those roles. That is how successful teams put together rosters at the international level. Picking players like the people in charge of the U.S. team is a good way to finish very poorly. Say, Sochi-level poorly.
Will it surprise you to learn that three other American players are on this list as well?
8. Tyler Johnson
Oh, here's another one now. Johnson had something of a down regular season, with only 14 goals and 38 points. A lot of players on the Lightning frankly didn't have particularly good regular seasons, offensively speaking. Nikita Kucherov led the team in scoring with just 66 points. But Johnson was a point-a-game player in the postseason and scored 71 points last year.
It's almost like he's really good.
And again, if you're bringing Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan instead of Johnson, fair enough. You're looking for something different — something fundamentally wrong — from your roster selections. But this is a guy with 40 points in 43 playoff games over the last two seasons, and that is (or at least should be) something that even the staunchest of Old School Hockey Guys value. He shows up when the games matter most, or something?
This, and every other U.S. snub, seems to be a case where management had to talk itself out of bringing Player X because he doesn't do a thing Player Y does in his own zone, theoretically. Of course Player Y can't put the puck in the net, but given that the foundation of every U.S. medal in the history of international play is built on “unsustainably hot goaltending in a short tournament,” I guess who cares?
7. Kevin Shattenkirk
I went on Edmonton radio to discuss World Cup rosters soon after they were announced I advanced the idea that Shattenkirk was arguably as good as or better than Alex Pietrangelo, a teammate who made the deeper Canadian D corps (I doubt the Canadians would have taken one blue liner the U.S. did).
My position here is borne out by WAR and other metrics over the last few years, but there is the still-pervasive idea that if defenders are not provable “shutdown guys” they are of lesser value, even if the ability to drive offense — which Shattenkirk does very well — outweighs the other player's ability to shut down others.
I mean that doesn't begin to explain the Jack Johnson selection but okay sure. Shattenkirk is a defenseman whose value is derived mostly from his offense. Given how this team is designed, it's a dumb move that should have the people who made it thrown in jail, but you see where they're coming from.
6. Kyle Okposo
Take all the stuff I said about Tyler Johnson and apply it here. Now pretend I said it about a guy who had an awesome regular season (22-42-64) in addition to a good-but-not-great playoff and so forth. Just doesn't make sense.
5. John Klingberg
At least we know now that it's not just the Americans who make bad decisions on defense.
Sweden initially named six players to their blue line, a lot more than Canada, the U.S., and others. This is largely because the Swedish blue line is the best in the tournament by a decent margin, and there's a pretty clear top-six there overall. Of course, Klingberg should be in it, but instead they brought... Niklas Kronwall(???).
To say Kronwall is “past it” undersells things considerably. His impact is marginal if not negative. Meanwhile, Klingberg is awesome and trending up. He and Hampus Lindholm should be on this team, even ahead of Mattias Ekholm, the last addition who is good. But Lindholm asked out due to injury, so fair enough. Leaving Klingberg off is a borderline-criminal act.
4. Kris Letang
See above about Klingberg. I just don't get it except Canada obviously wanted a better mix of left- and right-shot D than adding Letang would have provided. But I dunno, Jake Muzzin and Shea Weber are very clearly not better than Letang, and while it probably doesn't matter because they're going to win anyway, it's still a dopey move.
3. Taylor Hall
The kid is the third- or fourth-best left wing alive (depending on how you feel about Brad Marchand, who is also third- or fourth-best depending on how you feel about Taylor Hall) and certainly among the top-three for Canadians. Only Jamie Benn is clearly above both.
So they added Marchand, which is fair enough. But Claude Giroux playing out of position — he's not getting a center spot, full stop — has less value than Taylor Hall. Hell, Claude Giroux playing in position probably has less value than Hall. Canada is so deep at center that this is what's going to happen time and again: Super-talented wings just get pushed off the roster because there are even more talented centers from there.
But in this case, there aren't too many players alive who are more talented than Hall, so Canada made a clear mistake here.
2. Phil Kessel
Look, my feelings on Philip Joseph Kessel, Jr., are pretty clear by now but only 12 players have more goals in the last three seasons than Kessel's 88. Only two of those players are American. And he's ninth in points among all players with at least 80 goals in the same stretch. Only two Americans are ahead of him there as well.
Not to put too much credence into a Steve Simmons take, but the idea — if it's truly out there — that American players were blaming Kessel for the subpar Sochi performance is just about the stupidest [expletive]ing thing I've ever heard in my life. He had five goals, to lead not only the U.S., but the entire tournament. He had eight points, to lead not only the U.S., but the entire tournament.
So the idea that Kessel was in any way a drag on the team is ludicrous to the point that it's not worth discussing. Or at least wouldn't be if it didn't seem like the people picking the U.S. roster didn't 100 percent buy into it. This is a world-class player and his teammates in Pittsburgh seem to like him very much. He's currently tied for the top spot in Vegas's Conn Smythe odds because he's shredding the postseason.
But hey, maybe the hot dog story was true, right? Can't take that kind of chance.
1. P.K. Subban
I mean jeez. What else is there even left to say? One of the, what, three best defenders on the planet? And even if you don't rate him that highly, there's no way you have him outside the top five. But Canada found at least seven better than him from one country? Yeah, okay, sure.
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