It’s not the case everywhere, I’m sure, but here in Canada where I live there isn’t much people are talking about other than the Winter Olympics hockey tournament. Excitement really started building a month ago when the rosters were announced. Now that we are just days away from the start of play, people are positively giddy. Whether you are as obsessed as Canadian hockey fans or just mildly interested, the Olympic hockey action deserves some attention. It is the most star-laden, compelling hockey we can possibly see, and it can present some nice betting opportunities as well. Here’s a look at how the tournament breaks down with picks and predictions (all odds to win the tournament are from Bovada):
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The Canadians are young and immensely talented right now. They are so deep that a second team of Canadians would be viewed as meal contenders as well. They suffered a minor setback when Steven Stamkos, the world’s finest pure goal scorer who was trying to recover quickly from a broken leg, was ruled out of action on Wednesday. Still, they have plenty of offensive depth to make up for his absence as well as a defensive corps that is just ridiculously good.
There are two concerns here, though. The first is chemistry. So many of these players are the alpha dogs of their NHL teams, so there is always uncertainty over whether they can find line combinations that work here. That’s especially important here when practice time is in very short supply.
Second is goaltending. While Canada is producing offensive and defensive players at dizzying rates, they have not kept up with that level of talent production in the nets. Both Carey Price and Roberto Luongo, the two likely to play the bulk of the minutes, are capable of exceptional play, but neither guarantee the kind of brick wall that would all but assure the gold for Canada.
The team faces immense pressure back home, but it’s nothing like what they did in Vancouver four years ago, and they came through that just fine.
This is dangerous to say, but this is Canada’s tournament to lose — and I don’t think that they will.
Vancouver was a disaster for this team, and they can’t afford a repeat of that — especially at home.
Their goaltending is simply outstanding, and their offense is filled with remarkably-talented offensive players. Chemistry up front is a concern, though, and that’s what failed them in Vancouver. So did their defensive play, and that could be a concern here as well.
What the biggest issue is, though, is their depth — they are by far the most top-heavy of the major contenders. They will face massive pressure playing at home, and I am not convinced that they are up to the challenge.
They are not a good bet at this price.
This is a very hard team to read. They have plenty of offensive talent, and Henrik Lundqvist is playing great hockey right now and can carry this team in the net. They are also coming off a World Championships gold medal.
This is a much different roster than the one at the worlds, though, and they are up against better competition. I don’t like their depth at all, and am underwhelmed by their defensive play. I question how they are going to manage against offensive powers like Canada and Russia unless Lundqvist stands on his head.
Still, if everything goes their way they are certainly a major contender. I like them at this price much better than Russia at theirs.
The story here is very similar to Canada’s. The offense is deep, the defense is very good, and the goaltending is a big question mark. Their problem, though, is that this time around the gap between Canada and the U.S. in terms of talent is significant.
They aren’t as talented up front as the team that they lost to in the gold medal game in Vancouver, and they don’t have the defensive depth, either.
It won’t make me popular given that most of the readers of this will be American, but I just don’t like this team very much — at least not compared to that 2010 squad.
In something of a surprise, the Finns won bronze in Vancouver. The key there was excellent goaltending, and they should have that again.
Their trio of Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen is as good as any in the tournament. They also have some pretty decent forwards and a nice mix of younger and older players.
Where they are really going to struggle, though, is defensively. They just aren’t good enough. I don’t see them matching their bronze of last time out.
Czech Republic (12/1)
These guys are just a mess. Ancient stars Jaromir Jagr and Petr Nedved are being called on to carry far too much of the team on their shoulders. The goaltending is really ugly.
Most significantly, though, it seems that personality conflicts and the ego of the coach have guided team selection, and that has meant that they aren’t icing the best team they could. Guys like Jiri Hudler, Tomas Fleischmann, and Radim Vrbata will all be watching the proceedings from home when they could definitely make the team better.
The rest of the pack:
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