The new year is upon us, and with that, comes another Winter Classic … well, this year at least.
It’s kind of funny how the news cycle can make us all forget the rage that came just about a year ago when the 2013 Winter Classic was “postponed” thanks to blind, stupid greed, huh? OK, it’s depressing instead of funny, but I still cannot help but marvel at how easily that profound disappointment was swept under the rug. Then again, maybe it’s the sight of 5,071 other outdoor games that softened everyone's edges.
Regardless, the NHL went back to forcing many hockey + booze fans to battle their hangovers by airing the game in the early afternoon. And the results were as good as anyone could expect, really.
(Personally, I’d recommend that the league take the blessing in disguise that was the primetime start for the Washington Capitals - Pittsburgh Penguins Winter Classic and run with that placement, or at least move things a few hours later. But I’m still in the “at a real risk of experiencing a rumbling tummy and headache during the Winter Classic” demographic, so there’s some obvious bias here.)
The Toronto Maple Leafs brought their getting massively out-shot and out-just-about-everything-but-goaltending act to a national stage on Wednesday, absolutely stealing a 3-2 shootout win from the Detroit Red Wings.
There's something strangely fitting about the Red Wings losing something that was, by almost all standards, a "fake" home game. Losing in Ann Arbor with a healthy (maybe healthier) Maple Leafs contingent on hand drops them to a jarring 6-10-7 at home, by far the worst mark for any contending team. (Actually, the New York Islanders are the only East team with a comparably bad home record at 5-8-7).
Speaking of that growing theme of cranial discomfort, David Poile and the United States Olympic “brain trust” made many brows furrow with some downright mystifying decisions regarding the 25 players America will send to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics (assuming injuries don’t force some logic back into the situation).
In all honesty, those selections really stole the show from the Classic,* which is rapidly declining to the level of “All-Star game with the novelty of possible snow.” So, as any upstanding, tax-paying American, I thought I’d channel my bewilderment and moderate outrage into a fantasy-friendly series of insights about the addled American roster.
After this quick break, I’ll discuss some of the “winners and losers” from these selections. Please keep in mind that this isn’t a comprehensive list; I don’t have time and you don’t have the interest to mention every Jason Pominville-type who deserved more consideration.
Some of these insights will be pretty straightforward (what is the DEAL with hockey people’s dismissal of Bobby Ryan???**) while other considerations are more abstract (injury considerations on both ends).
Naturally, I probably have my own quirks in regards to team-building and whatnot, so feel free to share your own insights via Twitter or the comments.
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I’ve heard people who are equally confused about a few other “snubs,” but for me, no decision is even in the same zip code as leaving Bobby Ryan off the roster. In fact, the more I write about this subject, the more I notice my usual shield of humor dropping in favor of an increasingly genuine sneer of disgust.
Really, the anti-Ryan argument brings about the kind of exhaustion Billy Beane probably felt in “Moneyball”-era personnel debates when he heard old-school baseball types talk themselves out of productive prospects because they didn’t have prototypical physiques or … because they had ugly girlfriends.
(Those discussions couldn’t have happened in reality, could they?)
Simply put, Bobby Ryan scores goals. A lot of them. And as much as we all love heart and hustle and sticktoitiveness, goal-scoring is the single most valuable (and often elusive) skill any skater can boast.
If you’re looking at the skaters America is sending to Sochi, there are only a select few who are better at finding the net than Ryan. You have to tie yourself in knots looking for reasons to leave him off the roster because any explanation that denies a 26-year-old four-time 30+ goal-scorer from the conversation beyond “He’s literally so injured he can barely walk” should be laughed out of the room.
RYAN VS. WHEELER: A ONE-SIDED BATTLE
Instead, the “brain trust” decided he was too sleepy. But hey … when you have the chance to add a so-so scorer in Blake Wheeler,*** you have to, right?
I hate to beat up on Wheeler*** too much, but he’s the name being bandied about as the guy who took Ryan’s spot, and the comparison doesn’t do the Winnipeg Jets winger any favors. Consider this:
-- Since 2008-09 (when Wheeler debuted), Bobby Ryan is 10th among all active players with 160 goals in 397 games played ... one behind Sidney Crosby and one ahead of Thomas Vanek. Blake Wheeler is 58th with 108 in 414 games played, one behind Milan Michalek and one ahead of Bryan Little.
Phil Kessel is the only American-born player who scored more goals than Ryan in that span with 175.
-- Keep in mind this also cuts off one of Ryan's four 30+ goal seasons. Wheeler hasn't ever scored more than 21 goals in a season, though he has a good chance of doing so in 2013-14, as he has 15 in 42 games played. (Fittingly, Ryan still has more goals  than Wheeler during what seems like an over-his-head year for Wheeler.)
-- If you change the criteria to pure points, Ryan has 315 in 397 games, good for a tie for 32nd overall with Jason Pominville (just one behind Zach Parise, tied with Jason Pominville, another surprising omission). Blake Wheeler comes in at 59th with 264 points in 414 games.
-- The explanation for choosing Wheeler over Ryan seems to be athletic, as I doubt anyone’s talking about Selke nods for either forward. Yet I’d wager Team Canada will be OK with Corey Perry despite his lack of foot speed.
… Let’s just move on before this gets ugly, but I hope it’s clear that Ryan is an unusually prolific goal-scorer, whether he’s fighting for ice time on the Anaheim Ducks or asked to be something of a scoring savior for the Ottawa Senators. Apparently much of the same silly logic that prompted his trade out of Anaheim pushed him off America too.
What’s the deal, honestly? Is he a big jerk? Is that the real answer? Because even the simplest numbers say this is a lame-brained idea. (Decides to stop as the risk of turning into a werewolf mid-sentence dramatically increases.)
Let’s gather our thoughts and discuss other winners and losers after the jump.
* - I was going to do faux game summaries for past Winter Classics, but Poile & Co. brought enough buffoonery to the mix that I scuttled that plan. So, you can either thank him for killing that gimmick (until next year, maybe?) or condemn him for leaving Ryan off the team and derailing a fun idea.
** - Yes, that warranted multiple question marks.
*** - I mean, I kind of like Wheeler, but SERIOUSLY. Come on.