Red, White, Black and Blue Dennis Bernstein believes it's time for a change in management with
LOS ANGELES, CA -- In what should have been a celebration of hockey in
the United States, the selection process of the U.S. Olympic Team and
its aftermath have reduced a promotion opportunity to an unnecessary
discussion about media access and apologies to perennial 30-goal
Setting the aside the need for a savvy public relations person to be
out in front of potential powder kegs that's explode in their faces,
the roster built by primarily by David Poile looks like they will
struggle to win a medal.
Winning the gold isn't a bet I would make on this group because it
appears that many of the selections were made on either reputation or
While the spotlight has been on omissions, the main reason that the
U.S. team will struggle in Sochi is that it doesn't have a No. 1
center among them. After the Winter Classic concluded, Poile revealed
the strategy that was the genesis of the controversy,
"We did not pick the 25 best players," he said. "We picked the 25
players we thought gave us a chance to win the gold medal."
I agree with the first part of the statement, not so much on the
The roster pivots are David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny and Joe
Pavelski -- Backes and Kesler are great No. 2 centers. Stastny's play
has lifted early but has fallen off as trade talks start to swirl
around him again, and while Pavelski is a winner and a no-brainer,
he's the third best center on the Sharks when coach Todd McLellan
chooses to put him in the pivot. Derek Stepan's inclusion is an
insurance policy against an injury to the top four.
In a pound-for-pound matchup against Team Canada, the Americans are
overmatched down the middle. While I won't challenge their -- here
comes that word -- intensity, they're staring down the barrel at
Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares on every
shift (that's IF Superman Stamkos doesn't come back). So, you can
debate the omissions until late February, the evidence is indisputable
that the disparity down the middle has nothing to do with politics or
The defense corps is where the politicking takes hand, especially with
the selection of Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Paul Martin and Brooks
Orpik. The duo presence was encouraged, if not demanded, by Pittsburgh
bench boss Dan Bylsma; the Orpik selection is necessary as the need
for a physical presence, the Martin selection leaves a lot to be
I've seen Keith Yandle play plenty during his seven year NHL career,
in meaningless October as well as Conference Final matches. He's on
track to put up double digits goals for a fifth consecutive season,
while Martin has yet to do so in his nine years in the big show.
More curious about the pick is that Poile, Brian Burke and Dean
Lombardi all see Yandle toil as Western Conference executives. Martin
could have been included at the expense of another Pacific Division
rearguard, Anaheim's Cam Fowler, but to leave off Yandle is a whiff.
On to the Bobby Ryan debacle, there is a mitigating factor once all
the voicemail and text messages are returned by a player who was a
member of the silver medal winning team in Vancouver. With six weeks
remaining before the Games, it's not a stretch that a significant
injury could occur among the wingers currently on the roster. While
Kyle Okposo and Brandon Saad have as a legitimate claim to be the next
man up if and when an injury occurs, the embarrassment of leaving the
current third highest goal scorer in the NHL likely tips the scale in
favor of the Ottawa sniper.
"Brian Burke drafted Bobby Ryan. When I asked for a blind ballot from
our members, Bobby Ryan was on Brian Burke's team and he said great
things about him that were never heard," Poile conveyed during an
interview to Sportsnet's Hockey Central.
In the course of the interview, Poile would not go as far as to say
Ryan is the first alternate, but the with the spotlight shining so
brightly on the commentary, a second omission is a public relations
issue the organization shouldn't deal with for the roster's 25th spot.
Ryan's comments prior to Friday's Senators practice are healing ones
playing the good solider. "Any time you get a chance to wear the U.S.
jersey, you put it on."
The bigger issue is that the roster has the look of one that was
decided over the summer and not in the days leading up to the Winter
Classic. The ability for a player to play himself on or off this
roster appears to be non-existent. For Jimmy Howard to earn a place on
the roster over Tampa's Ben Bishop, given Howard's injury-plagued
season, is a far bigger issue that any critical comments made in the
room. Bishop's poor performance in limited international play was
given as a reason for Howard's selection, but when you consider the
Kings' Jonathan Quick was the third goalie in Vancouver, the track
record argument flies out the window.
Could Saad and Okposo have replaced Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan?
The numbers this season say yes, but big game experience likely
trumped a return by the gritty forwards. From a personal standpoint,
the X-factor that Dustin Byfuglien provides, including of playing up
front from time-to-time, would have been hard to defense by the
opposition. Big Buff's lack of foot speed combined with the
international ice surface had him on the outside looking in.
Unless the USA Olympic team pulls off a second Miracle on Ice, the
takeaway from this sad chapter in American hockey is that a change in
leadership needs to take place.
Though the Americans will never be favorites in any international
competition with NHL players, the end result of the Olympic roster
selection and the bad feelings surrounding a promotional opportunity
that comes once every four years signals a need for a savvier hockey
mind who can deal with the external ramifications of a highly
There's no surprise that the controversy has the finger, palm and
elbow prints of Burke all over it and the time has come and gone where
the Calgary President of Hockey Operations should be a major
influencer in the USA Hockey organization.
A simple three words to the embedded journalist like "off the record"
or "don't use that" and the black eye never materializes on USA
Hockey's collective face, but Burke's ego let those painful comments
Burke's polarizing presence needs to be lessened if not totally
eliminated from the organization; while we don't question his love of
country or drive to win, there are other executives equally as capable
to lead the charge.
As one who witnessed Lombardi build a championship organization in Los
Angeles from the bottom up, the time has come for him to take the seat
at the head of the table. While he's not shy with his quotes, he picks
his spots very carefully. He's not an outsider as a current member of
the brain trust and one can argue his track record makes him more
qualified than Poile.
While Poile has put as good a spin on a no-win situation, it's time to
see what new leadership can do.