- Craig Custance
DETROIT -- The Sound Board theater in Detroit's MotorCity Casino was packed with people in hockey representing teams all over the NHL. They were in town to honor Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and the rest of the inductees into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Nashville Predators and U.S. Olympic hockey GM David Poile was sitting near the front of the stage, and in more than one conversation with his peers and other team representatives, was reminded of the simple truth that will come when the American men's Olympic team is announced on Jan. 1. There are going to be a lot of people upset over who was left off.
"I've already been told this by 10 people tonight, how I'll be chastised by somebody in every city who should have been on the team," Poile said when we chatted after the outstanding event put on by USA Hockey. "This is a positive. That's good. In 2010, we got a little bit of a pushback, if you will, on some decisions, but the player pool is so much deeper."
The one area that has been surprisingly murky for the Americans is in goal. Entering this season, you could argue that there wasn't a country with a better potential starting goalie than Jonathan Quick, and it didn't stop there. Jimmy Howard has been one of the most consistent goalies in the NHL the past couple of seasons and was coming off a postseason in which he nearly carried the Red Wings past the eventual champion Blackhawks. Craig Anderson had a save percentage that was off the charts, and even John Gibson, the Ducks prospect, raised eyebrows with his play at the World Championships. Then there was Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, Tim Thomas, Ben Bishop -- the list kept going,
"You tell me what the order was in August," Poile responded when asked how the order has changed.
It was almost impossible. So the strategy?
"We're just open-minded," Poile said.
That means giving serious consideration to 39-year-old Thomas, despite his year off and no invitation to orientation camp. It means consideration for Bishop, despite the recent memory of his struggles during the World Championship. It means watching Miller closely, despite his unfortunate circumstance in Buffalo as an elite player on a bad team.
It's been reported that Poile has narrowed his goaltending candidate pool down to five, and there are players already crossed off his list. But injuries and inconsistent play can change that in a hurry, even as we get down to the final few weeks of decision-making.
"Do I have a list and an order? The answer is yes. Does that change? Has that changed? Absolutely, yes," Poile said.