Ray Shero Won't Be Building Team USA
We’re all Penguins fans here, and for most of us, that means we’re Americans. The Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi next February, and with our American GM in Ray Shero and American head coach in Dan Bylsma, Penguins fans may have been looking forward to a very familiar team representing the red, white and blue.
Instead, USA Hockey has selected David Poile, regularly the GM of the Nashville Predators, to rebuild the defending silver medalists. At first glance, it doesn’t sound like a great move. Poile has always worked with extreme budget restrictions and has had difficulty putting a successful team on the ice. Ray Shero, Poile’s former protege, has generally been able to win over free agents, spend to the cap, and had the luxury of inheriting two of the best hockey players in the world to build around. With money out of the question on an Olympic roster, does it make sense to hand the reins to Poile instead of someone more accustomed to building around stars?
Actually, yes, I think it does. Team USA is going to be built to beat Team Canada, and everything else is secondary. Canada’s roster will be made of four top lines of superstar players and six all-world defensemen, as Canada can almost pick and choose any players they want, given their majority population in the NHL. Team USA is going to be different. You’ll have your Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan, and Dustin Brown. But all in all, the list of top-tier scorers born in the States can’t compete with Canada.
When Brian Burke built 2010’s silver medalist, he couldn’t just make an all-star team full of the top players at every position. Instead, he built a team. You know, a cohesive unit of players who complemented each other. They didn’t boast 6 or 7 40-goal scorers, but they had something Canada didn’t: a blue-collar, hard-working attitude, a commitment to a strong, responsible defensive system, and a little help from a stellar goaltending performance, courtesy of Ryan Miller. Team USA’s strengths were born both from a commitment to a style of play, and simple necessity because of a more shallow pool of players.
David Poile’s body of work in Nashville fits this narrative like a glove. The Predators haven’t lured in free agents with big money contracts. They don’t have elite scorers. The team is built around phenomenal goaltending, talented defensemen, and forwards who are expected to play the coach’s system and chip in enough offense to win low-scoring duels. Yes, Team USA will have a handful of great scorers, but games will be won on defensive efforts from forwards like Ryan Callahan and David Backes. Jonathan Quick will be the goalie who has to stand on his head and steal games. Ryan Suter will be the anchor on the blueline, as he was for the Predators until this past season.
The official Olympic rosters won’t be confirmed for months, but just based on the Americans’ population in the NHL, they’re going to look more like the Nashville Predators than the Pittsburgh Penguins when compared to Team Canada. That’s why I believe David Poile is the right man to build the team, all due respect to what Ray Shero has done in Pittsburgh. Given their relationship though, I expect to see a few “Shero-type” players dotting the roster. I don’t expect his old friend and former boss to go into this alone.
Perhaps 2014 will have the movie-like ending that 2010 lacked and the scrappy team of hard-working underdogs will topple the all-star team from up north. All I know is that I can’t wait.