For the first time since 1998, the NHL will not be sending players to the Winter Olympics. While it’s upset many fans, it also puts a damper for a large handful of players that could be representing their countries at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Like most other NHL clubs, the Philadelphia Flyers have a number of players that may have been selected to their national teams. Here’s a look at each of them by locks, on the cusp and hopefuls.
The Flyers can make up the core of the Czech Republic national team with arguably the best player at each position for the country. That starts with Voracek, though, who sits fifth in active scoring from Czech players.
He’d easily be the offensive catalyst for the team, playing on the first line and top power play unit. On top of all that, Voracek’s having a rebound season after a down year in 2016-17.
Gudas is a solid second-pairing defenseman in the NHL and underrated at that. For the Czechs, though, he’d be counted on for top-pairing minutes.
Gudas missed the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 where the Czech Republic had to roll with Andrej Sustr, Roman Polak and Michael Kempny as its best blueliners. Gudas isn’t a premier defenseman, but with defensive depth like that, he’d be counted on for plenty of minutes and a positive impact.
Neuvirth started the World Cup as the Czech Republic’s starter but drew a tough matchup against Canada, giving up six goals. Petr Mrazek started the final two games after that.
Since then, neither goalie has hit many highs for their NHL clubs, meaning Neuvirth would still be in the running for a starting job. With Ondrej Pavelec the only other Czech goalie in the NHL, Neuvirth would make the team at the very least.
Russia — or Olympic Athletes from Russia as they’ll be called at this Olympics — likes to bring a blend of NHL and KHL players, especially on a larger ice surface, which may work against Provorov. But if the “nation” wants its best players there, Provorov will be a part of it.
Andrei Markov, Nikita Zaitsev, Slava Voynov and Dmitry Orlov are the only Russian blueliners that should make it above Provorov — and that’s an arguable list. If OAR decided to be loyal to veterans it could mean Alexei Emelin, Dmitri Kulikov and Nikita Nesterov make it before him, but we’ll assume the team makes the smart choice.
Filppula’s era on the Finland national team is coming close to an end — he’s played in one Olympics, was named to another before an injury kept him out, partook in the World Cup, a World Championship and two WJCs, among other European tournaments — but it’s not over yet.
With the Finns, he’d still be a bottom six center behind Mikko Koivu and Aleksander Barkov. He’d also bring a veteran presence, a positive as Finland transitions to a younger generation that includes Barkov, Patrick Laine, Sebastion Aho and Jesse Puljujarvi.
On The Cusp
Giroux was the toughest to determine for this exercise. Before the season started, he probably wouldn’t even be on Team Canada’s radar. Now, with a position change that should help things, one would have to imagine he’d be back in their thoughts.
Canada, because of its impressive center depth (and usual coach Mike Babcock’s style), typically plays more than four centers, with some out of position. For example, Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has been one of the best Canadian lines in recent years and features two centers.
To start with, it’s probably best to look at Canada’s 2016 World Cup roster and see what’s changed since. Giroux played just one game in the tournament, sitting in the pressbox for the others. Some players above him included Matt Duchene, Joe Thornton and Ryan O’Reilly — all natural centers, who have played themselves off the roster.
However, Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon were on the U23 team and there’s no way the former, at least, wouldn’t make Team Canada in 2018. It’s also important to remember that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn missed the World Cup due to injuries.
That leaves Giroux as a huge question mark in this alternate reality. Team Canada could certainly use him and the Flyers captain has proven this year he can fill a hole that’s usually existing. I’m just not completely sure Canada wouldn’t see a more skilled, younger player as more appealing.
Gostisbehere is one of the premier offensive blueliners in the league. The issue is that his native USA has a handful of offensive defensemen with more well-rounded games. That list includes Dustin Byfuglien, Seth Jones and Cam Fowler. That’s also without mentioning USA shoe-ins Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonagh.
From that alone, it’s easy to see that it’s a numbers game for Gostisbehere. He could make the team as a reserve or an injury replacement, but probably couldn’t win his way in the top six. If the NHL goes to the Olympics in 2022, he may be in for a large role, though.
Much like Giroux, Couturier would have garnered Canada’s attention as the 2017-18 season rolled on. He was always a strong defensive center, but has added an offensive element that every player possesses on the red and white’s usual tournament rosters.
Still, Couturier’s inclusion in “On The Cusp” may come as a surprise for some fans. Where it may not be a surprise is in the national media. ESPN named Couturier a reserve in its “What If” roster along with The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn.
Couturier played for the U23 team at the World Cup in an impressive shutdown role. If Canada needed someone to fill that role in 2018, they could do a lot worse than the 25 year old, and probably not much better.
Simmonds has always been on the outside looking in for his native Canada. He’s one of the best power forwards in the league and arguably the best net-front presence — especially on the power play.
With two 30-plus goal seasons in his last two years, you would think Simmonds was making more of a case for himself, but Canada is just too deep. The skill and speed of Canada continues to grow, while grittiness can still be found.
Simmonds would probably be a lock if he was from any other nation.
Although Lehtera has failed to make much of an impact in Philadelphia, he’s always been a part of Finland’s international rosters. He played in every game of the World Cup and was a part of the 2014 Olympic team — before he even came to the NHL.
Since the 2016 World Cup, though, Lehtera’s downward trend has continued. He scored just 22 points for the Blues last season and probably won’t hit that mark for the Flyers this year. On top of that, as previously noted, Finland could have had a young forward corps at this Olympics, only pushing Lehtera further away from a roster spot.