Brian Burke is a shrewd executive and one of the best people in the world at evaluating hockey talent. He has proven it time and again. He drafted the foundation of the Vancouver Canucks team that is in the playoffs nearly every year, and built the Toronto Maple Leafs roster that nearly knocked off the Bruins last spring. He won a Stanley Cup as the GM of the Anaheim Ducks, and put together the Silver Medal winning Team USA for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. You may not always agree with the moves he makes, but the man gets results. He also doesn’t much care what people say about him. In that regard, he reminds me a lot of Bill Belichick and Danny Ainge. Belichick, Ainge, and Burke are all smart and good at their jobs, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to second guess them. It doesn’t make unpatriotic to be critical of the personnel decisions regarding Team USA (or the Patriots, for that matter).
The biggest issue regarding the American hockey roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games was Burke’s decision to go with Winnipeg Jets (and former Boston Bruins) forward Blake Wheeler over Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan. Ryan was a big part of the 2010 team, is phenomenally talented, and was drafted #2 overall after some guy named Sidney Crosby in 2005 by Brian Burke of all people, when he was still the GM in Anaheim. Wheeler is a good player, but he was very frustrating to watch when he was in Boston because he could never seem to figure out how to be physical and generate scoring chances at the same time; it was always one or the other with him. Ryan is still a very productive player for a bad Sens team, and he should be representing his country in Sochi next month.
Burke had issues with Ryan’s effort and his aggressiveness. It’s clear he’s going for a certain style with this roster, trying to give Team USA a blue collar identity (which is why Burke probably went with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin instead of Jack Johnson, Torey Krug, and the several other more worthy American-born blue liners), but this isn’t like building an NHL roster. There’s not salary cap to maneuver. There’s no 82 game regular season. There’s no fighting, and less hitting. The games are being played on a larger sheet of ice, providing more space for skilled players to skate. It’s a tournament where the most talented players from each country compete for two weeks. In a situation like that, it seems silly to leave a talent like Bobby Ryan on the table while Russia has home ice advantage and Canada has a much deeper talent pool to work with. The United States is stout between the pipes between Ryan Miller (the MVP of the 2010 Olympics), Jonathan Quick, and Jimmy Howard, but they’re going to need as many scorers as possible against Canada and all the highly skilled European teams like Russia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic standing in their way.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Brian Burke has the perfect formula for striking gold in Sochi. He knows more about hockey than I do. That’s why he’s in the position he’s in, both with USA Hockey and with his latest project of turning around the fortunes of the Calgary Flames. One way or another, Bobby Ryan being left off the roster will be a major story to follow in Sochi.