Which team will prevail – Team Canada or Team USA? Roos runs through it point by point to come up with a prediction

 

Thanks to everyone who read last week’s column on North America vs. Russia. We’re mere days from finding out if cage match was correct in pointing toward Team Russia as the winner. And we’re also less than seven days from the round one battle of Canada vs. USA, who split their exhibition contests and are the focus of today’s second special cage match in honor of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Like last week I’ll pick a winner based on which team has the edge in side-by-side comparisons, while providing fantasy tidbits along the way. The good news is the average age for each team (Canada 28.69, USA 29.04) is close enough that, unlike last week, we won’t need to age-adjust data. So let’s dive in!

 

Track Record of Being on Trophy/Medal Winning Teams – HUGE ADVANTAGE TEAM CANADA

Although anything can happen in one game, when predicting who’ll prevail it’s nevertheless key to see which team’s players have a better track record of winning in analogous situations. After all, if they’ve been on teams that’ve won Stanley Cups or medals in international tournaments, then it’s all the more likely they can win early round World Cup games as well. Here’s how things stack up:

 

Team

Stanley Cup Titles among players

International Medals Won among players

Canada

12

82 (Gold = 66; Silver = 15; Bronze = 3)

USA

6

39 (Gold = 16; Silver = 13; Bronze = 10)

 

I figured Canada would hold an edge, but not this wide — its players have twice as many Stanley Cups wins and total medals, and four times as many golds! Beyond that, only three of Team Canada’s players (Corey Crawford, Braden Holtby, Logan Couture) have never won an international medal, versus six (Dustin Byfuglien, Brandon Dubinsky, Matt Niskanen, Max Pacioretty, Blake Wheeler, Jonathan Quick) for Team USA. Simply put, there’s no way to sugarcoat the extent to which Canada has the advantage in this extremely important area.

FANTASY TAKEAWAYS – Focus on players with the least international experience, as they’re likely eager to make a strong showing, which in turn could help them hit the ground running in 2016-17. Goalies who log significant tournament minutes might end up with a lighter than normal workload during at least the first handful of weeks of the regular season, so poolies should watch for that, especially those in H2H leagues.

 

Leadership and Individual Accomplishments – HUGE ADVANTAGE TEAM CANADA

Team

NHL Captains or Assistant Captains among skaters

NHL Individual Trophies among players

Canada

70% (i.e., 14 of 20)

28

USA

45% (i.e., 9 of 20)

9

 

Although the average ages on each team are virtually identical, the fact is nearly three quarters of Team Canada’s skaters are current NHL captains or assistant captains, compared to less than half for the US. Also, Canada’s players have collectively won three times as many individual trophies – an enormous gap which dwarfs even the two to one margin for team medals.

 

What’s more – two possible silver linings for the US can be easily discounted. First is the notion that with numerous leaders on Canada’s roster there could be a “too many chefs in the same kitchen” type of situation; however, given the number of golds they’ve won it’s clear their many captains and assistants can check any egos at the door. Also, over half the individual trophy wins among Team Canada were by just three players (Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby); however; inasmuch as all three will play key roles not only in the tournament as a whole but also in this particular game, that might not offer much solace to the US team either.

 

FANTASY TAKEAWAY – There’s reason for concern about band-aid boys who are hard-nosed, lead by example types (e.g., Brent Burns, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Kesler) going overboard in an effort to help their country emerge victorious. Doing so could increase their already elevated risk of getting injured or could lead to them perhaps playing through a minor ailment, which in either case could linger into the regular season.

 

Versatility and Roster Balance –SLIGHT ADVANTAGE TEAM USA

International tournaments are not all-star games, and are often won by teams who control play at both ends of the ice. So let’s look at 2015-16 data to see which squad, on paper, is most balanced:

Team

Players with

<45% Offensive Zone Starts

Players with >55% Offensive Zone Starts

Defensemen with >2:00 ice time per game both on the PP and PK

Forwards with >2:00 ice time per game on the PP and > 1:30 on the PK

Canada

1 (D)

7 (all F)

6

5

USA

8 (4 D, 4 F)

6 (all F)

5

2

 

Clearly there was a focus on versatility in assembling the US roster, with its players more used to skating in their own end.  But Canada has more defensemen and forwards equally adept on the PP and PK. The takeaway is Canada is built a bit more to score and the US to prevent that from happening, making this a neutral category.

FANTASY TAKEAWAY – Watch the roles taken on by players for their respective teams, since you could see someone shine in an unfamiliar situation. Take Sean Couturier, who posted six points in ten games for Canada at the 2015 World Championships and stayed in step with offensively elite countrymen. Fast forward to 2015-16, and Couturier parlayed that into 39 points in only 63 games, with 31 coming in his last 40 contests. On the flip side, watch Marc-Edouard Vlasic closely. At age 28, Vlasic had a scoring explosion last season; but as the only Team Canada defenseman with an OZ% below 45%, he’ll likely play a strictly defensive role at the World Cup, and that could trickle into the regular season.

 

Team Dynamic– SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE TEAM CANADA

Among Canada, one set of four players (Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Vlasic) and six duos (Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford; Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf; Shea Weber, Carey Price; Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester; Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand; Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin) are currently on the same “real-life” squad, while for Team USA it’s one set of three players (John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, Matt Niskanen) and five duos (Corey Schneider, Kyle Palmieri; Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler; Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky; Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan; Ryan Suter, Zach Parise). Thus, 16 players on Team Canada and 13 on Team USA will have one or more “real-life” teammates, except Weber has yet to play with Price in the NHL, so I think they should be omitted, leaving 14 for Canada and 13 for USA.

But the gap widens in Canada’s favor when looking at how familiar these teammates are, with two sets of rearguards (Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester; Doughty, Muzzin) who are “real-life” partners plus two sets of forwards who regularly skate together (Bergeron, Marchand; Perry, Getzlaf), whereas nearly all Team USA teammates play different positions (e.g., goalie and defense; defense and forward) and the only ”real-life” teammates who share the same position(Carlson, Niskanen) were on the ice together for just 27 total minutes at 5×5 during all of last season. On top of that, for five of the six NHL squads with real-life teammates on Team Canada at least two of the players have been NHL teammates for 4-plus years, with it being six seasons for Crawford and Toews and Bergeron and Marchand and ten seasons for Perry and Getzlaf. For Team USA, although four sets of teammates have been together on the same squad for four seasons, that’s the longest duration overall.

FANTASY TAKEAWAYS – Make note of real-life teammates, especially those likely to also play alongside each other in the regular season, as they could get a nice boost heading into 2016-17. Although Burns and Vlasic aren’t a regular defensive pairing, just as Thornton and Couture tend not to skate together at even strength, the four sometimes shared the ice on the PP, and thus if they form a PP unit during the tournament that could provide a boost to SJ’s PP into 2016-17. To some extent, the same 2016-17 PP boost could potentially occur for Stepan and McDonagh, Wheeler and Byfuglien, plus Suter and Parise.

 

Pressure and Who Wants It More – SLIGHT ADVANTAGE TEAM USA

The game is being played in Toronto, amounting to essentially home-ice advantage for Team Canada; but the crowd will expect nothing short of gold, which will ratchet up the pressure even for this single game. Meanwhile, the location of the game could incent the US (including current Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk) to play spoiler. Moreover, the fact that – as noted above – Team USA has twice as many players who’ve never won an international medal of any kind, should serve as added motivation.

In terms of contract status (which should coax even better effort from players with deals expiring within the next year), it’s a markedly different situation from last week as there are only five players poised to become UFAs this summer and none unsigned for 2016. And although the slight edge goes to Team Canada, with three 2017 UFAs to be (Brad Marchand, Joe Thornton, Brent Burns) versus Team USA’s two (Ben Bishop, T.J. Oshie), I nevertheless give a slight edge to the US in this overall area, given the totality of factors.

FANTASY TAKEAWAYS –Among the five players set to become UFAs after 2016-17, probably the key one to watch is Bishop, who’d love to make a strong showing on such a major stage. Of course first he has to make sure he gets starts, which is not guaranteed given USA’s other quality netminders. Otherwise, it’s Burns, Oshie and Marchand who’ll be looking to pad their resumes prior to what will likely be their last major pay days. On the flip side, Thornton won’t be signing a long term deal, so his status as a UFA to be won’t be as much of a major factor/motivator.

Coaching Staff – SLIGHT ADVANTAGE TEAM USA

Both teams will utilize one head coach and several assistants – five for the US, four for Canada. Among the staffs, Team Canada has twice as many Stanley Cup wins (four vs. two) but Team USA has more total international medals (six vs. five), with me only counting wins that occurred when each staff member was either a player or head coach. Also, members of Team Canada’s staff are “real-life” head coaches of four players on its squad, versus three players for whom a Team USA staff member is their NHL coach.

John Tortorella is notorious for his hard-nosed style, which has produced short term results in the past. Plus, his comments regarding the US National Anthem might stir up patriotic sentiment among players. Team USA’s assistants include two current NHL head coaches, but also two former players with no coaching experience at the NHL level. While that might seem like a negative a first glance, non-NHL perspectives could prove useful and help Team USA think “outside the box.”

For Canada, Mike Babcock is widely regarded as a world class coach, as are all other members of the Team Canada staff; however, playing in front of not only fans from his home country but his home team could test Babcock’s nerves at least somewhat. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that Team USA might enjoy a very slight advantage in this area.

 

Who Wins?

It’s unquestionably Canada, with its advantage in three areas, including an enormous edge in two areas, and USA’s only slight advantage in three. Although of course anything can happen in one game, and the US – realizing the talent edge that Canada has on paper – went about selecting a team that can play both ends of the ice in hopes of negating Canada’s firepower, the reality is – regardless of what happened in last week’s exhibitions – if this match was played ten separate times Canada should win roughly eight of the ten given its strong advantages in experience and leadership.