The NHL currently plans on sending players to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, with an early February break in the schedule. For some Olympic men’s hockey teams, most roster spots are no-brainers. That said, there’s room to move. Players can work their way off or onto Olympic rosters. In some cases, a fringe player could end up being key.
PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch monitors ups and downs for players for the U.S. men’s ice hockey team, Team Canada, and other countries hunting for medals.
Olympic Stock: Down
• Seth Jones
When USA Hockey named Seth Jones among its first three Olympic selections, people already grumbled. Rumblings were picking up about Jones maybe not being quite the elite defenseman many believe(d) him to be, and the Blackhawks hastily paid him to be. Beyond that, Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner.
It wasn’t unreasonable to draw line between then-U.S. GM Stan Bowman and Jones being among the first three named (two of three were Blackhawks, as Patrick Kane also received that honor).
Apparently a lot can change in a month.
Bowman is out as both Blackhawks and U.S. Olympic GM. The Blackhawks aren’t just a disaster off the ice — they’re also a mess on it.
Now, it’s absurd to lay all the blame on Jones’ feet. Chicago’s problems stem from before he ever arrived. Yet, if you look beyond scoring totals (11 assists in 13 games), it’s tougher and tougher to argue that he’s anywhere close to a $9.5 million defenseman.
You can’t even just wave it away as Jones being sunk by bad teammates alone. By metrics like Expected Goals, he ranks among the worst even relative to his teammates:
Without Bowman’s ego attached to the situation, it’s fair to wonder where Jones should slot in. This isn’t the U.S. defense of the past; there are a ton of quality blue liners to choose from.
• USA Hockey management, in general
Grimly, Stan Bowman isn’t the only high-ranking U.S. Olympic official embroiled in off-ice controversy. U.S. assistant GM Bill Guerin was named in a lawsuit steming from his time as Penguins assistant GM.
You may also recall USA Hockey executive John Vanbiesbrouck’s past (in 2003, he resigned as an OHL coach after using a racial slur while describing Trevor Daley).
It all makes you wonder if Bowman’s resignation may be part of a larger change in USA Hockey management. Or, at least, if there should be more changes.
• Marc-Andre Fleury
Much like Jones, you can’t blame the Blackhawks’ blunders on Marc-Andre Fleury alone. This team’s been an absolute disaster defensively — extending beyond when Jones and “MAF” were around.
But there’s no denying Fleury’s stock plummeted with Team Canada. Harsh or not, a brutal month can make people forget about a surprise (but deserved) Vezina win. Quicker than the Blackhawks giving up a lead.
• Jakob Chychrun
After 11 tries, Jakob Chychrun and the Coyotes finally won a game — and only by the skin of their teeth. Amid that misery, Chychrun’s come crashing to Earth.
During that 11-game losing streak, Chychrun went pointless. The big defenseman fired a ton of shots, but his puck luck reversed from last season.
For traditionalists, his minus-20 rating will tell the story. The drop-off in undelying stats is drastic, too.
Last season, Chychrun was elbowing in on a possible Canadian Olympic team spot:
After one month, he might be lucky to even receive more than passing consideration.
Ultimately, the true Chychrun lies somewhere between those extremes. He might be closer to that quite-good player who nonetheless rode an unsustainably hot 2020-21 season. But as the Coyotes suffer, Chychrun’s Olympic chances fade.
Olympic stock: Up
• Russian goalies
After you consider their options on defense, something becomes clear: whoever tends net for the Russian Olympic team is going to have to be sharp.
If some of those candidates stay as hot as they were through one month, maybe that will be the case.
- Early on, Igor Shesterkin looks like the goalie of the future for the Rangers — and maybe Russia.
- After some rough years, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s … actually playing like a $10 million goalie?
- Yes, you can downplay some if based on the Islanders/Trotz/etc. factor, but Ilya Sorokin‘s off to a strong start.
Frequently, Olympic teams like to bring a mix of veteran and young goalies. Russia might get there quite organically.
• Carter Hart? And Braden Holtby?
Want a lesson in waiting to bring out that “Jump to Conclusions” mat? Carter Hart suffered a pretty brutal start to the season, to the point that he might not make it through an early start. The Flyers stuck with Hart, and while there are valleys to go with the peaks, he’s looking … quite good overall?
Neither Hart (3-2-2) nor Braden Holtby (2-3-1) boast great records. But each goalie has a save percentage above .920 so far this season. Generally, that indicates that Holtby and Hart are giving their teams a chance to win. At least most of the time.
That might not be otherworldly praise. Yet, with Team Canada, you often aren’t asking Dominik Hasek to doctor his passport. Instead, you’re generally hoping for competence.
Now, it’s possible that the U.S. men’s Olympic team or another country might raise the bar and force Canada to lean on elite goaltending. Either way, Canada’s options looked pretty limited heading into the 2021-22 season. Neither Hart nor Holtby inspire the utmost competence, but solid might be good enough for Canada.
(At least if Connor McDavid is healthy enough to be, well, Connor McDavid.)
• Jack Eichel?
If PHT’s Olympic Stock Watch went up last week, Jack Eichel’s stock may have been at an all-time low.
Thanks to a surgical impasse and maybe other factors, the Sabres were really dragging their feet when it came to an Eichel trade. That cost Eichel precious months of recovery from his preferred disc replacement surgery.
Logically, it still feels like Eichel is a longshot to play for the U.S. at the 2022 Winter Olympics even as he preps for a Friday surgery which should require a three-month recovery period.
That said, Eichel expressed doing exactly that. Considering how much pent up hockey Eichel must have in his system, would you really want to count him out? (The Golden Knights might be saying “Uh, yes please.”)
At minimum, Eichel’s chances to participate look much better after that trade, so consider his stock up. It would certainly be welcome news for a U.S. team that’s mostly been rocked by ugly headlines.
• To be determined: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Thanks to a past failed drug test, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 2022 Olympic participation is uncertain and recent reports send mixed messages.
If you look at on-ice performance alone, though, Kuznetsov is off to a hot start. Through his first 11 games, he’s generated an impressive 13 points. Ultimately, the Russian’s Olympic hopes aren’t totally in his hands.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.