Hey, I realize that we may not even have NHL hockey when the next Olympic Games come around. At the rate the two sides in the ongoing dispute are meeting (much less agreeing on any issues of substance), it will be a while. And if this thing lasts one full season, which is entirely plausible, what will be the impetus to play again a year from now?
In other words, if there are supposed “principles” at play for both the league owners and the NHLPA, those principles will still be keeping the sides apart next year at this time, right?
In any event, that’s neither here nor there, to a certain extent, when it comes to my thought for the day. I know that Hockey Canada has already gone back to Steve Yzerman, the former Red Wing captain and current Tampa Bay General Manager, to head our efforts for the Sochi Winter Olympics. (This assumes not just a new CBA, but, I presume, an agreement between the players and the league on the actual issue of participating in the event…)
But I’ve been thinking about the 2010 Games, and how close the U.S. came to “upsetting”, if I can call it that, the Roberto Luongo-led Canadian squad. It took a peculiar goal by Sid the Kid to ensure an overtime “golden goal’ victory for the Canadian side.
I’ve admitted in this space before that I loved the Olympics more when I was a kid, especially when it comes to hockey. Back then, there was a mystery about the great players from “foreign” countries who played against Canada. Whether it was Vaclav Nedomansky or one of the great Russian players, you knew they were considered sports heroes back home. One of those sides (Czechoslovakia or Russia) usually won gold at the Olympics every four years—and at the annual springtime Winter Championships- which have always been a big deal for European players…
I also loved the fact that Canadians used to send true amateurs, basically college players, to take on the best in Europe. It wasn’t an approach that would usually lead to medals, but there were some gutsy performances when Fr. David Bauer, the Canadian national team coach, prepared the youngsters who were playing for pride—and truly representing Canada. Names like Morris Mott, Fran Huck and Seth Martin are some that I still remember from those golden days at various points in the 1960s. (Seth Martin is the goalie in the first row, above, in the great old team photo of the Trail Smoke Eaters. That great British Columbia-based senior team won the World Championships for Canada in 1961, and I remember cheering for Seth Martin when I was maybe 7 years old or so. Martin also went on to play briefly in the NHL with the St. Louis Blue and Glenn Hall in the early expansion days...)
But things are different now. The Olympics is an even bigger business than ever before. Plus, I’m not a fan of these one-game elimination events. I’m much more old-school, I guess, in the sense that I live for NHL-style playoffs. You know, when you have to win four games in a grueling 7-game series against teams just as amped up as you. And if you are good enough—and lucky enough—to get through one round, you have to do it three more times successfully to become champions.
That not easy.
But for today, I’m thinking about the U.S. team and how good it has become with the growth in the game in the United States over the past thirty years, especially since the dramatic gold-medal win by the U.S. in 1980. I also read quickly through a piece (I think it was on ESPN) that suggested it was pretty much a slam dunk that Maple Leaf General Manager Brian Burke would get the nod again as the U.S. Olympic squad GM.
As much as Burke did a great job last time, and has a formidable background as an NHL General Manager, I couldn’t help but think that there are a lot of other guys, as the article alluded to as well, that could also deserve this kind of appointment.
Who, you may ask, has similar credentials to Burke?
Well, here are some awfully good names (and I’m probably missing some) that are eligible to handle the responsibility for the United States, including:
I believe those are all qualified guys. My personal favourite is probably Davis Poile, because I’ve watched his career over more than two decades. He totally revamped a very bad Washington Capitals franchise through the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s and built them into a perennially strong team- sometimes a Cup contender.
He has done the same thing with the Predators, taking a first-year expansion team more than a decade ago and not only selling hockey where (Nashville) no one much cared initially, but again building a class organization with a tremendous work ethic—and a heck of a team, too. He has kept the same coach since day one, and doesn’t blame others for his team’s failings. He’s just a first-rate guy and hockey executive.
So if the decision was up to me, I’d select Poile. His Dad was a big name in hockey circles, too, but David has earned a reputation as a well-respected GM in his own right, and for me, he is the best of the bunch.
That said, we all know that Lamoriello has won a few Stanley Cups and turned a “Mickey Mouse” (according to Wayne Gretzky in that memorable 1980s quote) organization into one of the best in hockey over the past twenty years.
I like Holmgren’s approach a lot. Tallon basically built the Chicago team that won the Cup a couple of years ago. Ray Shero won a Cup with the Penguins. Dean Lombardi did a fine job in San Jose, and now has built a Cup winner in Los Angeles.
How do you feel? Objectively, any Leaf bias aside, is Burke the guy you would choose to lead Team USA this time around?