Here’s the thing. I love Anze Kopitar. I love watching him play. I think he’s the equal of Toews or Bergeron as two-way centers who can do anything you ask him. If he didn’t play on the West Coast he’d probably have a Selke to his name already (though Bergeron should honestly win it every year until he retires, and then maybe one or two years after that).
That doesn’t mean I think an international tournament should be mutated so that he can play with a mishmash of other players from countries the NHL just doesn’t fancy instead of Slovenia. While that’s not the reason Team Europe was created, it sure feels like it. The NHL feared Denmark or Switzerland or Norway or whatever else getting embarrassed in three games. I’m not sure this outfit will do much better.
Europe’s biggest problem, on the surface, is that it doesn’t have a goalie. Thomas Greiss is a fine backup who barf-hiccuped a really good season last year, but isn’t an NHL starting goalie long term. The only other possible replacement is the goalie he displaced in Brooklyn, Jaro Halak. No team is going to get through this tournament without really good goaltending, except for maybe Canada and Sweden. And they’re going to be rocking the two best goalies in the world, most likely. For any of the unfavored teams to make some noise they’re going to need some 45-save performances, and neither Greiss or Halak is going to provide it.
The defense is also on the weak side. Roman Josi might be able to skate well enough to make up for the fact the Zdeno Chara can’t get there anymore (he’s been doing it with Shea Weber the past two years, after all). Sure didn’t look good against Nathan MacKinnon last night, though. Behind that though there just isn’t much. Mark Streit is good for a second pairing on an NHL team. On this one? Not so much. We’ve already been through the Christian Ehrhoff experience here. It feels like about eight different teams have been waiting on Luca Sbisa, leading you to believe that if it were going to happen it would have already. Seidenberg and Sekera? Yeah, no thanks.
Down the middle, this team actually has some things to brag about. Kopitar-Draisaitl (perhaps my new Kopitar)-Nielsen is certainly a good start (and almost certainly better than anything Team USA can come up with). There are a couple sneaky good forwards here in Niederreiter, Boedker, Tatar, and Zuccarello. If Hossa and Gaborik actually care and are healthy (iffy on both for both), this team might be capable of some goals here and there. And Jannik Hansen always finds a way to score annoying goals, as we well know around here.
That said, they’re basically scrapping with the USA to get the second spot, so the game between the two is obviously going to be big and starts off the tournament for both. Considering how much stronger down the middle the Europeans are, this could be a very tight game. But no matter how much they can turn that into their advantage, it’s still going to be Griess vs. Schneider/Bishop/Quick (like I don’t know Torts will totally be transfixed by Quick’s rings, even though the other two are superior goalies). Greiss is just not going to hold up.
Reasons For Optimism: The centers, which is one of the strongest collections in the tourney. And enough possession forwards that they could surprise.
Reasons For Not Optimism: The defense and goalies just aren’t going to keep the puck away from and out of their net enough.
Predicted Finish: Lose in OT to the US, thwacked by Canada, beat the Czechs but it’s not enough for the semifinals.