The Olympics are the focus of a special edition of our Take Five feature. This week’s five questions were posed to the following analytics minds of Hockey Prospectus: Timo Seppa, Corey Pronman, Ryan Wagman, Thomas Crawshaw, and Rob Vollman.
1. First things first. Who do you pick for the Gold, Silver, and Bronze?
Seppa: I would like to think Finland will be in there somewhere – they usually are, but it’s tough to make that prediction. Sweden would be my favorite if I was more confident about Lundqvist. You have to like Russia as the hosts as well, and Canada for the gobs of talent. So those three teams make sense, in some order. For my the ESPN series I am writing for, there is a “surprise” bronze medal team, with Canada bumped to fourth. Sorry.
Pronman: Canada, Sweden, USA
Wagman: Russia, Sweden, Canada
Crawshaw: I can’t say I’d have a huge amount of confidence in this, but I’ll say Canada has the most talent and will actually perform away from North America for once, beating Sweden in the final. Finland over a demotivated Russia for bronze. (Without checking the format to see if that’s actually possible.)
Vollman: Canada’s the favorite, in my view. Sweden and USA are close, and a step up on the host country.
2. Of all Olympic roster selections, who are the most puzzling oversights?
Seppa: Rather than looking at the “snubs” in a myopic sense, I will step back a bit. Thinking back to the summer, I am surprised Letang didn’t play enough and well enough to at least be in the conversation, and I would have thought Schneider might have made the US goaltending trio. His career save percentage and ESSV% are outstanding.
Wagman: Hudler/Fleischmann/Vrbata being left off the Czech roster. They had some weird selections throughout and the rumors of personal issues between those above-average NHL scorers and the Czech coach will reflect very poorly on him after the Czech squad flames out. Petr Nedved?!?!
Crawshaw: Aside from the Czechs somehow leaving out Jiri Dopita and Josef Beranek, I’m not sure I get Henrik Tallinder over Victor Hedman.
Vollman: Aside from the highly confusing Czech roster, I was surprised by Alexander Semin’s absence in Russia, Bobby Ryan and Dustin Byfuglien on Team USA, and Claude Giroux on Canada. No surprises in Sweden.
3. Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis all have 10 Olympians. How might this affect NHL playoff races?
Seppa: Extra wear is probably much ado about nothing. Now if someone blows out an ACL or gets concussed, that is a different story.
Pronman: Can hurt Detroit, but Chicago and St. Louis are going to cruise to playoff spots in the Central. If they need rest, they can likely find a way to be safe with deployment for the next few weeks after the Olympics.
Wagman: Minimally. Chicago and St. Louis are so far in front of everyone else, they can afford to rest their Olympians plenty upon their return. Detroit may be affected somewhat, but their chances lie just as much on general weakness throughout the Eastern Conference as well as the development of their younger players (ie. Tatar, DeKeyser, Nyquist, Jurco), most of whom will not be in Sochi. Barring an injury, they are still odds-on favorites to finish in a Wild Card spot in the East.
Crawshaw: My entirely unscientific gut feel is that the impact would be felt more deep into the playoffs than before that (and I don’t expect two of those teams to have to race much to get in anyway).
Vollman: There are both positives and negatives with having one’s players compete in the Olympics. I’m not convinced that there’s a predictable effect it will have either way.
4. Which non-NHLer will you be watching most carefully?
Seppa: A KHLer that I know had some NHL interest over the summer.
Pronman: D Ilya Nikulin (RUS) I think has top-four NHL potential. Former NHL draft pick from a long time ago by the Thrashers (RIP) but has opted to stay overseas and likely will continue.
Wagman: Ilya Kovalchuk
Crawshaw: Maybe the poster boy of the enigmatic Russians, Ilya Kovalchuk, as a single player, but I’m more interested to see if the Swiss continue to push up to a level at or beyond the Czechs and Slovaks.
5. How great an impact will IIHF rink sizes and rule differences have on the outcome?
Seppa: Moderate. Canada and USA were gold and silver in Salt Lake and Vancouver, and way down the standings despite the usual stacked lineups for Nagano and Torino. Whether it’s wrong personnel and/or tactics for the big ice, it has made a difference. Likewise, the prototypical big North American forward/defenseman may take more minors with the low tolerance for physical play in Olympic tournaments.
Pronman: Mild. Officiating may be more of a factor.
Wagman: They will favor the European-based players and those with much experience on the big ice. Even though the North American squads have stressed the differences in their practices, instinct will have an adverse affect on the Canadians and the Americans.
Crawshaw: Not too much, aside from the usual early tournament “I can’t believe these European refs call so many penalties on us physical North Americans” complaints.
Bonus: What is your favorite Olympic hockey memory?
Seppa: When Finland defeated archrival Sweden in the 2006 gold medal game while I watched in my Selanne jersey. Oh wait…
Wagman: The Salt Lake City Olympics. I spent a lot of time in downtown Toronto at that period of my life and all Canada games were being shown on big screens in random malls, food courts, etc. and watching them win with hundreds of strangers made the whole event extra festive.
Crawshaw: “Favo(u)rite” is a stretch, but I remember sleeping right through my alarm and the whole 1998 gold medal game, which started at some especially inconvenient time in the UK. I heard it was a thrilling game, too.
Vollman: Watching Mario Lemieux in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. That no-look, between-the-legs pass against the Americans was simply amazing.
Rob Vollman is one of the founding authors of Hockey Prospectus, long-time contributor at ESPN Insider, author of Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, an author of all four of our annuals, and the creator of all of the great charts you find in Hockey Prospectus 2013-14.
Follow Rob on Twitter at @robvollmanNHL.