The biggest news coming out of Ann Arbor today isn’t that Daniel Alfredsson scored in today’s Winter Classic, it’s that Senators forward Bobby Ryan has been left off the United States’ Olympic hockey team.
Ryan’s notable omission confirms suspicions that were being kicked around earlier in the week and he joins the likes of Keith Yandle and Cory Schneider as surprising oversights by the USA Hockey selection committee.
The Ottawa Senators’ playoff chances haven’t been submarined yet, but you can thank their underachievement through the first half of the season for sinking Ryan’s Olympic chances and assuredly played a part in the selection committee’s decision-making process. Mind you, if not for the production and play of Ottawa’s unheralded (at least outside of Ottawa) line of MacArthur, Turris and Ryan, I don’t even want to imagine where this team would be situated in the standings.
ESPN’s Scott Burnside spent the past four past chronicling how the U.S. hockey team was selected and he published it in its entirety here. It’s an excellent read and provides some candid commentary by the selection committee on their critiques and endorsements of certain players.
Support for Ryan apparently wavered early on.
"Are guys nervous about Bobby Ryan?" A flurry of hands go up in the air.
"That's a lot of guys," Poile notes.
Only ten NHL players have more goals than Ryan’s 18 this season, but it was the question marks surrounding Ryan’s speed, defensive aptitude and intangibles that outweighed his offensive contributions in the eyes of the selection committee.
"I think we have to know what we're taking with Bobby," says Burke, who had him in Anaheim when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
"He's a passive guy," Burke says. And over 82 games, yes, Saad and or Pacioretty might be more attractive than Ryan. But Ryan's a game-breaker.
From this point in Burnside’s article, criticisms became a little more biting…
"He is not intense. That word is not in his vocabulary," Burke says. "It's never going to be in his vocabulary. He can't spell intense."
"I think he's sleepy. I think he skates sleepy," offers one member of the selection committee.
They’re not exactly the most flattering things that you ever want to hear being said about a player, but nothing could have prepared us for what was to come.
Burke recalls fighting with his scouts in Anaheim over whether to take Bobby Ryan or Jack Johnson at the 2005 draft.
The scouts won and the Ducks took Ryan.
"I should have taken Jack," Burke says. "No way he lets us down for 12 days.
Questioning Ryan’s style or intensity is one thing, but a public admission that an NHL executive would have preferred drafting Jack Johnson over Bobby Ryan is one of the most offensive things that I’ve ever read.
Maybe the USA Hockey braintrust expected their pointed and credited comments to be aired to the public like this, especially since players like Ryan could be added to the roster in the event of an injury, for example.
The comments certainly don’t necessarily paint their group in the best light.
Not surprisingly, in the wake of USA Hockey’s announcement, Senators fans rallied to Ryan’s defence.
In fairness to USA Hockey however, the highlighting of Ryan’s shortcomings is inevitably going to be part of the process. Hell, it’s not like we haven’t seen Ryan’s ice-time diminish under Paul MacLean because of these same shortcomings. Frankly, looking ahead towards Ryan’s impending UFA status at the conclusion of the 2014/15 season, we could be having the same conversation about Ryan’s worth and how many years we can expect his production to outweigh these shortcomings over the course of a prospective contract extension.
There were reasons why he wasn’t selected and it remains to be seen whether USA Hockey made the right decision. But, holy hell will it be fun as hell to throw it back in their truculent faces if it blows up in their face.
From a Senators-perspective, there are two positives to this:
1) Here’s hoping Ryan’s omission leads to a highly-motivated player who now gets the opportunity to rest and relax during the Olympic break.
2) I can remain grateful that Brian Burke, the man who would have preferred Jack Johnson and Cam Fowler to Keith Yandle, is not running the Senators. Best of luck to the Calgary Flames and their fans.
Jason Spezza’s Health…
In yesterday’s Ottawa Sun, Bruce Garrioch reported that Jason Spezza is suffering from a hip injury that he aggravated in the team’s Friday night loss to the Bruins.
Having already suffered through a groin injury earlier this season, Spezza’s ailments have reminded me of Roy Halladay’s struggles with his own back injury.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Halladay, the former Toronto Blue Jays ace developed shoulder problems as a result of altering his pitching mechanics to compensate for some back problems.
“Really, it's just made it hard to pitch with the mechanics I want to pitch with. So over the last two seasons, I've had to change some things, do some things different to be able to throw the ball, and unfortunately, that's led to some shoulder issues. But the big thing has really been the back.” ~ Roy Halladay via Philly.com
I’d love to spend time poring over film with some skating guru who can pick up subtleties in Spezza’s skating style that may have changed or could contribute to Spezza’s current problems, but I can’t help but wonder whether or how much of his current issues are being caused by learned muscle memory that he developed while compensating for his previous back injuries.
It could be completely baseless, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing if there have been any significant mechanical changes to Spezza’s skating that could make him more susceptible to other types of injuries.