As of this writing, Team USA still has one game remaining in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, an ultimately meaningless match-up against the Czech Republic. The Czech’s, like the Americans, are looking for their first win of the tournament. It could be argued though that the Czech team likely expected to be in this situation while Team USA did not. It should be noted that losing to Team Canada isn’t the issue here, in a best on best tournament Canada will likely be the team to beat. The issue lies in how you lose and who else you lose too.
Team USA Autopsy, World Cup of Hockey
The Team North America Excuse
Saying that Team North America hurt the depth of Team USA is an undeniable fact, however, the fact that this has been laid down by some as a leading reason that Team USA failed to move on in this tournament. It’s garbage. Looking at the style of player that the management of team USA had brought to the tournament it is hard to see anyone aside from John Gaudreau, Jack Eichel or Brandon Saad make this team. Would those players have made this team better? Probably. Would it have been enough of a difference for team USA to make serious noise? We will never know.
Auston Matthews has had a breakout tournament for Team North America and many have suggested that he would have made Team USA. This is also nonsense with the benefit of hindsight. It is highly unlikely that Team USA who is still much deeper than they are given credit for would take a player as highly touted as Matthews is without any NHL resume. Players like Dylan Larkin could have made an impact but would have likely been overlooked had Team North America not existed. On defense Shayne Gostisbehere, Seth Jones, and Jacob Trouba are likely future pieces for Team USA going forward but again likely would not have made the cut for this tournament.
Better Players Left At Home
The biggest issue for Team USA in this tournament was the players who were left at home. While it is important to repay the loyalty to those that have been loyal to the system you need to balance that with putting the best team on the ice. Case in point would be defenseman Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Johnson has represented his country for the 12th time over the course of his career starting with the U-17 tournament in 2004. However, I think you would have a hard time finding someone to answer with a straight face that Johnson is better in any aspect of the game than Justin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Braun or Keith Yandle.
Jack Johnson isn’t the only player who would fit in this category, he is simply the most egregious example of this problem. Looking at the forwards missing faces like Kyle Okposo, Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel (who is injured now), and Bobby Ryan. The goaltending was selected properly it is hard to find a better trio than Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, and Cory Schneider. You may disagree with how they were used but it is difficult to blame Quick for most of the goals he allowed.
Built To Beat Canada
Once the tournament teams were made we heard one repeated theme about this Team USA roster. It was built to beat Canada. Now obviously this is a tall order in a best-on-best tournament Canada is the team to beat just like team USA is the team to beat in best-on-best basketball. Wanting to beat the best team is admirable, the problem is when you don’t beat Canada or more importantly the other teams. There is obviously the sentiment that Team USA could take it’s best players and still lose. It’s true they could but in a single game anything can happen and if you bring your best players you increase your odds. If a team from a country like Latvia can give Canada a scare than certainly a team of the best USA has to offer has a really good chance.
If they wanted a team that embodies America then it would actually feature only elite players and ignore the average players https://t.co/ZTE5PFr2tE
— Error Free in 2015 (@mlse) September 22, 2016
@wyshynski The one thing that hasn't changed at all between 1980 & now is that team identity is far more important than team ability.
— Cassie (@dagmar27) September 22, 2016
Team USA Not Alone
It is easy to pile on to Team USA’a management for the creation of this team but they are not alone in making decisions based on politics or misguided loyalties. Team Russia has also iced inferior teams in the last two Olympic Games because they tried to balance out their team between players in the NHL and those in the KHL. While there are some superior Russian players in the KHL to those in the NHL there is certainly not enough to warrant a 50/50 split.
Teams like the Czech Republic or Finland, don’t enter international tournaments building a team to specifically target another team they simply ice their best talent and hope for the best. If Team USA wants to become the hockey power that they should be they will need to change their philosophy and approach the game differently. The players coming out of USA hockey are the best they have ever been if they can get out of their own way they would be a lot more competitive than the teams we have seen of late.