NHL player poll: Olympic predictions
February, 5, 2014
By Craig Custance | ESPN Insider
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonCanada's depth at center -- Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews included -- is a big advantage.The players were given anonymity in hopes that it would lead to more honesty. Because truly, what patriotic person could ever publicly pick against his own country to win gold in the Winter Olympics? For the most part, in this Olympic player poll that included 15 NHL players, guys tried hard to come up with honest answers in an attempt to project success in the coming Winter Games.
Of course, not everyone could shed his loyalty. In picking Canada to win gold, a Western Conference forward’s explanation was simple: “I’m Canadian. I grew up in Canada, watching these guys. I’m [picking] Canada. Nothing else I can do."
So in factoring in the results, there may be some bias built in. It’s not perfect, but it’s still interesting to see players pick their gold-medal winner, tournament MVP, biggest roster surprise and prediction for host Russia.
1. Which team will win gold?
Team Canada (10 votes). Canada won by an overwhelming margin, with most players believing that Canada’s sheer talent will overcome any issues with the big ice or home-ice advantage for the Russians.
“It’s their tournament to lose,” said one forward. “And Canada seems to be the most healthy, as far as we know. There’s a big difference between playing at 95 percent and 100 percent.”
One Eastern Conference defenseman highlighted Canada’s centers -- led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Ryan Getzlaf -- as the reason he picked Canada for gold. “The amount of names is ridiculous. The strength at the center position is gross. Those guys are the best in the world,” he said. “They’re good at both ends of the ice. They’ve got every makeup. The only downside could be goaltending, that’s the only thing I see.”
His pick to start in goal? “I’d say [Carey] Price, because he stoned me. Yeah, I’d start Price. I think he’s really good.”
That decision wasn’t unanimous. “If you asked me a month ago, I would say Carey Price for sure. [Now], I would go [Roberto] Luongo,” said the forward. “Price isn’t playing well right now and Luongo played last Olympics. That’s who I would start to start the tournament.”
Team Sweden (3 votes). Sweden’s health issues scared off a couple of voters, but the Swedes still had enough support to finish with the second-most votes.
“They have top-end talent,” said one veteran defenseman. “They’re very coachable and structured. At the same time, they have big guys with experience.”
Said one Canadian who picked Sweden to win it: “Their defense is incredible. Just all mobile. They’re not so much big, but they’re lanky, long guys. I like how they’re built for the big surface. A little better than North American teams, for sure.”
Others receiving gold-medal votes: Team Russia (1), Team USA (1).