So what are we left to think of Team USA after the debacle known as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? That’s probably the only question left to contemplate after watching a tournament that started with so much promise and progressed into a six-day tire fire.
There is so much to contemplate about this team. Surely it was not as bad as its record indicated. There were notable omissions on the roster, yes, but so notable that this team couldn’t muster a single goal against a hybrid team of players from third-world hockey countries? So glaring that it could not beat a Czech team that had only three NHL defensemen, not a single one who is a top-four for his varsity team?
Well, let’s see what we can come up with here:
Is this the worst best-on-best showing for an American entry in the history of the game?
Statistically, there’s no question. This team went 0-3-0, finishing the tournament with a 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic in a game in which the American team couldn’t even salvage some pride. But practically speaking, probably not. That dubious distinction still belongs to the 1998 Olympic team, which entered the tournament as the co-favorite to win the gold medal. It had six players who had scored 50 goals in the NHL and five players who would go on to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
That team won just one game in the tournament, against Belarus, was beaten 4-1 by the Czechs in the quarterfinal, then trashed their rooms in the Nagano athletes’ village.
This team was bad, even worse than the 1976 Canada Cup team that was loaded with non-NHL players, but given the expectations and talent level of the 1998 team, that still represented the nadir for USA Hockey. This one is close, though.
Is this one of the rare times where the eye test clearly supersedes analytics?
At first blush, you might think so, but once you dig deeper into the numbers, it becomes a little less convincing. It’s easy to forget that Team USA outshot its opponents in each of its three games, even the game against Canada. Overall, it outshot its opponents by a 110-78 margin and the shot attempts were a mind-boggling 212-148. But you also have to remember that the Americans were playing from behind most of the time, so it’s natural that a team sitting on a lead is going to let up and a team playing from behind is going to pour it on.
Still, though, according to www.naturalstattrick.com, the score adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi was plus 24.6 against the Czechs Thursday night and plus-15.1 against Europe. Against Canada, it was (gulp) minus-29.3. The Americans also outhit their opponents by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 90-42, which suggests they were chasing the play quite a bit. Actually, they were chasing the entire tournament. And when it comes to the eye test, was there any time that it seemed the Americans were dictating the pace of the game, where they had things under control, where they were successfully executing a game plan?
“You fall behind early in this tournament and before you know it, you’re 0-and-3 and packing your bags,” said Team USA winger Blake Wheeler. “I think that first game (a 3-0 loss to Team Europe) was the killer. We could just never really recover.”
Did the Americans leave their best goaltender in the stands and on the bench?
Well, we’ll never know how well Cory Schneider would have done had he been given the N0. 1 job on this team because he was never given a real chance. His only action was to mop up the game against the Czechs, a game in which he stopped all seven shots he faced. But we do know that Jonathan Quick surrendered seven goals on 51 shots and Ben Bishop allowed four on 20 shots in what could only be characterized as a shaky performance.
There were some goals against Europe and Canada on which Quick did not have much of a chance. The goaltending wasn’t near good enough and the defensive coverage was so lacking that it made Quick look even worse.
The coach defended his roster and liked its compete level. So if that wasn’t the problem, is it just a matter of USA’s players not being good enough to compete at this level?
Well, it’s pretty difficult to convince anyone that Patrick Kane isn’t one of the NHL’s best players. He has the scoring championship and Hart Trophy to prove it. He also hasn’t scored a goal in a best-on-best tournament since the Olympics in Vancouver. Only four forwards on the team scored a goal and all were outscored by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had two. Team USA had 11 power-play opportunities in the tournament and scored just once.
“This team has been kind of characterized as a team just full of plumbers and grinders,” said Team USA coach John Tortorella. “I don’t agree with that. I think we have some really good offensive people. I think we have a really good mix. The bottom line is we leave here with nothing, and so certainly we can’t be happy about that. In a tournament like this, I think you’ve got to be really careful not to lose your mind as far as what’s going on with some of the guys.”
What does the future hold for USA Hockey?
Well, first, you’d have to think there will be some kind of housecleaning done here. Don’t be surprised if a young, bright mind such as Bill Guerin has a more prominent role in the best-on-best player selection process. Mike Sullivan, who won a Stanley Cup this spring, will likely be at the top of the list of coaching candidates. The people who put this team together did it based on a completely flawed logic, then hired the wrong coach and picked the wrong group of players.
As far as players are concerned, there are some loyal men who have likely played their last games for Team USA. Jack Johnson and David Backes were healthy scratches. Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Ryan Kesler and Pavelski are all getting on in their careers. The play of young stars such as Auston Matthews, Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel assures that the program is in good hands, but it won’t do any good if USA Hockey sticks with the same group of people who put these teams together.