The 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang is the first since 1994 not to feature a men’s ice hockey tournament stocked with NHL players. For the U.S. men’s team, that’s a big problem. And it already showed in Team USA’s first game against Slovenia, a 3-2 overtime loss.
Many of the players on the roster are way past their prime. Some never had a prime. Brian Gionta, at 39 years old, has played 1,006 career games in the NHL. James Wisniewski, who turns 34 later this month, skated 47 seconds with Carolina Hurricanes in 2015 and was released by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2016 after failing to secure a spot on a tryout contract. Before heading to PyeongChang he was skating for the Kassel Huskies in the second tier of the German league. Mark Arcobello, 29, played in three games for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2015-16 season, his last stint in the NHL. According to Terrence Doyle of FiveThirtyEight, this roster has played 3,083 games at the NHL level, scoring 1,216 points, a per game average (0.39) that is lower than the average found in the Olympics among all rosters (0.42). It is almost half the talent found on the team composed of the Olympic Athletes from Russia (0.76 NHL points per game played in the NHL leading up to 2018 Winter Games).
|2018 PyeongChang||Points per game scored in NHL|
|Olympic Athletes from Russia||0.76|
But there is experience in other leagues aside from the NHL. The Americans are also using four college players (Jordan Greenway, Ryan Donato, Troy Terry and Will Borgen), three American Hockey League players (Chris Bourque, Bobby Butler and John McCarthy) and five players from the Kontinental Hockey League (Brian O’Neill, Ryan Stoa, Matt Gilroy, Jonathon Blum and Ryan Zapolski). Using Rob Vollman’s NHL equivalencies, which help translate stats from one league to another, we can expect this squad to score 219 goals per 82 games at the NHL level, on par with the 2017-18 Ottawa Senators (19-26-9, 47 points and seventh out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division).
That sounds good — to be anywhere near an NHL level of scoring with a ragtag group of non-NHL players is commendable — but considering the 2010 squad in Vancouver scored goals at a rate of 351 goals per 82 NHL games and the 2014 unit in Sochi was at 446 per 82 it is easy to see just how big a falloff we can expect in PyeongChang with no NHL players.
|Winter Games||Goals scored in NHL per 82 games|
|2018 PyeongChang||219 (estimated)|
I know what you’re thinking: in 1980 in Lake Placid, the United States rallied behind non-NHLers and it became the country’s greatest Olympic moment. True, but that squad was, on average, 22 years old, with 25-year-olds Buzz Schneider and Mike Eruzione the elder statesmen on the team. The 2018 team averages 29.6 years old, with just three players — Borgen, Greenway and Terry — 22 or younger. The average NHL skater plateaus from age 22 to 25, pushing this 2018 Olympic squad into the “old” category, even if there is a sprinkling of collegiate athletes on the roster.
Could another dark horse U.S. men’s hockey team rise up and beat the Olympic Athletes from Russia, currently the favorite to win gold, or their archrival Team Canada, the second choice in the betting markets? Sure, but it will be a shocker if they do. Based on the opening odds from the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, Team USA has just a 9 percent chance at going home with gold for the first time since 1980.
|2018 PyeongChang||Chance at gold medal|
|Olympic Athletes of Russia||26%|
|Republic of Korea||<1%|
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