The NHL's decision to skip the 2018 Olympics in South Korea and perhaps even the 2022 Olympics in China has devastated several obvious groups: the fans, who want nothing more than to see the best players in the world compete against each other, thus creating hockey in its most sublime form; the players, who want nothing more than the opportunity to represent their country, something many have dreamed about as children; and the media, who want nothing more than to not have to learn the names of college players and people on teams overseas that will now likely be the ones competing in the Games.
But there's one group this decision hurts more than anyone else. One group who should feel worse than anyone because this group is the most important group in the world.
That's right. America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. Cradle of the next generation of international hockey dominance.
USA Hockey finally has the players to usurp the aging, decrepit Canadian monolith on the Olympic stage in both 2018 and 2022, and the NHL has taken that away from us.
You're probably reading this and thinking, How can this person say that Team USA, which was embarrassed at the 2016 World Cup, was sent home without a medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and was vanquished by Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, is just about to take over the hockey world from Canada?
Well, if there's one great thing about the NHL not going to the Olympics it's that anyone can put forth insane hypotheses about things like, say, America possibly winning gold over Canada in two Olympics in a row. Since the NHL won't send its players, you can never disprove that theory. So if you're a Canadian who enjoyed that gold in 2014, you should prepare to hear insane, rambling theories as to why the United States has had Olympic gold stolen from it by Gary Bettman and the NHL.
Here's my insane, rambling theory as to why the United States has had Olympic gold stolen from it by Gary Bettman and the NHL.
Admittedly, the 2016 World Cup isn't exactly the best jumping-off point for making a case for impending American hockey dominance. Dean Lombardi and John Tortorella combined to create the biggest American flop since Green Lantern. So let's focus on all the good Americans who participated and shined in the NHL's watered-down, store-brand version of the Olympics.
The members of Team North America.
Johnny Gaudreau. Jack Eichel. Auston Matthews. Brandon Saad. Seth Jones. Shayne Gostisbehere.
That's the foundation of American gold in South Korea and China, if the NHL wasn't so short-sighted.
Here's a potential Team USA roster for 2018, with some possible replacements for 2022, along with the players' ages for those respective Olympic Games:
F-Auston Matthews (20/24)
F-Jack Eichel (21/25)
F-Johnny Gaudreau (24/28)
F-Brandon Saad (25/29)
F-Patrick Kane (29/33)
F-Max Pacioretty (29)/Kyle Okposo (33)
F-Phil Kessel (30/34)
F-T.J. Oshie (31/35)
F-Blake Wheeler (31/35)
F-Joe Pavelski (33)/Alex Galchenyuk (28)
F-James van Riemsdyk (28/32)
F-Ryan Kesler (33)/Vincent Trocheck (28)
D-Ryan McDonagh (28/32)
D-Ryan Suter (33)/Torey Krug (30)
D-Kevin Shattenkirk (29/33)
D-Seth Jones (23/27)
D-Shayne Gostisbehere (24/28)
D-Dustin Byfuglien (33)/Jacob Trouba (28)
G-Cory Schneider (32/36)
G-John Gibson (24/28)
This would be the most talented team in decades (we're assuming someone will be in charge of Team USA who wouldn't pick guys like Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan). It's tough projecting things like scoring wingers down the road—maybe J.T. Miller or Chris Kreider or someone who isn't in the league yet could go—and what will happen in 2022 with several core members in their late 30s, but no matter how you slice it, this is pure gold.
Don't believe me? Look at the garbage Canada would have sent if the NHL wasn't covering for them by abandoning the Olympics altogether.
F-Sidney Crosby (30/34)
F-Jonathan Toews (29/33)
F-Connor McDavid (21/25)
F-John Tavares (27/31)
F-Tyler Seguin (26/30)
F-Patrice Bergeron (32/36)
F-Jamie Benn (28/32)
F-Ryan Getzlaf (32)/Mark Scheifele (29)
F-Claude Giroux (30/34)
F-Corey Perry (32)/Mitch Marner (24)
F-Steven Stamkos (28/32)
F-Jeff Carter (33)/Jonathan Drouin (27)
D-Duncan Keith (34)/Morgan Rielly (28)
D-Drew Doughty (28/32)
D-Alex Pietrangelo (28/32)
D-P.K. Subban (28/32)
D-Brent Burns (33/37)
D-Marc-Edouard Vlasic (31)/Aaron Ekblad (26)
G-Carey Price (30/34)
G-Braden Holtby (28/32)
Look how old Canada will be in 2022! Old! Very old! And yeah, Canada is a magical, ice-covered land where younger Canadians will surely rise to take the place of the aging players, but the gold-winning core of the team will not be old enough where they are likely to be replaced in 2022. I'm assuming Keith won't be asked back in 2022, but it's possible Team Canada will want him when he's 38.
It is undeniable that America has far more young talent than Canada, which lends credence to the much-discussed conspiracy theory (that I am now making up) that the NHL is bailing on the Olympics to allow Canada to save face on the international stage. The goaltending should still be elite, but look at the rest of the team when it's time to go to China.
Canada will have mid-30s Crosby and Toews matching up against peak Matthews and Eichel. Can you picture a worn-down Keith-Burns pairing trying to catch Gaudreau on the big sheet of Olympic ice? What is coach Mike Babcock going to do when Drouin oversleeps before the gold-medal game?
And we wouldn't even have to wait four extra years to watch the Americans' speed dismantle the heavy-footed Canadians. This would have been a problem for Canada in South Korea. The problem for the Americans in Vancouver and especially Sochi was a lack of speed, and now they have it by the boatload. By the time China rolled around and Crosby and Toews were using walkers to step on the ice, Matthews would have single-handedly been winning gold for America.
If you're Canadian and have made it this far, you're probably saying, "We will see about this at the next World Cup, you unbelievable idiot."
Wrong. Sad! It's not the same event. The same players won't be as interested in going. It would take place in different years. So let's say Canada throttles the Americans in the 2020 World Cup—you can't use this against me, for there are no claims within this piece about that tournament.
But if things change and the NHL goes to Pyeongchang in 2018 or Beijing in 2022 and Canada destroys this exact Team USA squad…
Doesn't matter. One way or another, it will never happen.
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