The Contrarian: In the Land of Care-a-Lot

by Demetri Fragopoulos on September 25, 2016

The USA did not select all of its most talented players for the World Cup of Hockey.

There are times when you fantasy teams, especially in keeper leagues, are destined to lose.

It can happen because of poor roster management, bad luck (injuries or players leaving for other leagues), or poor draft strategy.

When you adamantly believe that your veterans can continue to perform the way they did when they were 26 years old, you will fail slowly until reality hits you in the face or they start to retire.

When bad luck befalls on you, it comes quickly. Depending when it strikes, you might have a chance of pulling yourself out of the hole. If not for the immediate season, then for later ones.

Then there are the times when you go into a draft and clearly select the wrong guys. You do not know this at the time, but soon after you recognize your error.

This is what happened to Team USA at the World Cup as NBC Sports (Adam Gretz) and the Boston Globe (Fluto Shinzawa) both point out in their respective articles. They are not the only ones either.

“[It] is no secret that if you want to win an international hockey tournament you are going to have to go through the powerhouse that is Hockey Canada at some point. So that focus on wanting to beat them is at least somewhat understandable. But the focus of the entire team can not be on just Canada,” writes Gretz.

Shinzawa adds, “The Americans could have put up a stiffer fight with better personnel. Lombardi had two windows in which to select Phil Kessel before the ex-Bruin underwent hand surgery after the playoffs. Young, quick, and skilled players such as Tyler Johnson, Charlie Coyle, Chris Kreider, and Justin Faulk were not called upon.”

Both come to similar conclusions. “Team USA will be fine if its leadership emphasizes skill and speed over muscle and character. Perhaps the Americans’ World Cup flameout will serve as an important reminder: Pick your best players.” And “[When] it comes to winning on the ice, the field, or the court, it still a talent based business. There is a reason Rudy only ever played one snap: It’s because there were always better players, and all of the heart and determination in the world wasn’t going to change that”.

Their analysis is not wrong, but it is easy to dump on someone after the results come in.

As pointed out, some focus on Team USA’s belief that caring, heart-and-soul players would out-perform the talent laden Canadians. Others focus on the reactions from the guys left off the team like Phil Kessel (soon to be Birthday Bear) and Bobby Ryan (Funshine Bear).

Few emphasize that Team USA management did not believe that they had enough talent available to win.

“We felt we couldn’t go up against Canada and match skill vs. skill. We felt we could (win) by going another way. That falls on the management staff,” said Lombardi as quoted in an article by the Toronto Star.

I think this is a key component that is overlooked.

When Brian Burke (Grumpy Bear), Dean Lombardi (Tenderheart Bear), John Tortorella (America Cares Bear) and the rest of the management team evaluated the player pool they could choose from, they felt they could not win. Thus they altered their choices.

In Shinzawa’s article he describes the scenario where Tortorella was discussing ideas with other Team USA coaches Mike Sullivan, Scott Gordon, John Hynes, Jack Capuano and Phil Housley. He gets quotes from Tortorella, “Your thoughts are your thoughts and you’re going to believe in them, and when you put us all together, no one wins an argument. No one wins the conversation.” And “But it’s been really interesting to listen to the ideas as we’ve tried to develop our team concept”.

Team USA at least was not afraid to try something different, and when they set down this path they followed it wholeheartedly. There were no coaches ready to jump ship.

Should there have been? Did any of them speak up and say, “Hey, I do not think this is going to work”? We will never know.

I give them credit for being aligned in their thoughts and for willing to experiment, but that is all because they blundered an excellent opportunity.

No I am not talking about their chances of winning the World Cup. I am talking about showcasing the sport to the people of their country. That is really what this tournament is about.

They were part of a joint NHL-NHLPA production, in a North American time zone, being broadcast for the first time in a long time on ESPN and they decided now was the time to experiment?

It should have been the time to show their residents the beauty, speed, and skill of hockey, not how they could grind out a few victories.

Take the example of Team North America. They demonstrated all those great things. Even though they were eliminated early from the tournament, the fans were pumped up and excited with what they saw on the ice. That is what will keep and bring people in to watch our sport.

Instead, the Americans go home battered, bruised, and embarrassed for not winning a single game. Everyone will want to forget their beastly performance, including ESPN.

Our fantasy leagues run counter to this. The other owners will greedily remember your performance. They will want you to come back because you are easy prey for them. You can take advantage of their preconceived notion of you if you correct your drafting. (HINT – A good way to do that is by purchasing Dobber’s Annual Fantasy Guide!)

Things may turn out better for Team USA the next time the World Cup is held. Some of the players selected this time will be too old, and they could choose some of the American kids that played on Team North America in this tournament. As Gretz and Shinzawa state, this is only if the team’s management thinking changes.

But who is going to care when they have already tuned out?