Stan Bowman is going to be a busy man in the next 10 months. Not only is the President of Hockey Operations and General Manager of the Chicago Blackhawks going to have to navigate a trade deadline, potential playoff run, expansion draft, entry draft, summer free agency, and the opening of next season, but he’ll also have to worry about how he’s going to put together a USA Hockey club for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics that can bring home a Gold Medal.
Bowman was officially named the General Manager for the 2022 Team USA Men’s Hockey club on Wednesday, along with Minnesota Wild General Manager Bill Guerin as his assistant GM. While this is all contingent on the NHL, IIHF, and IOC coming to an agreement to allow NHL players to participate in the Winter Olympics again in 2022, the understanding is that an agreement will be made at some point. If no agreement is made, then no NHL players means no Bowman, as well.
With the roster construction looking philosophically different in the last three major tournaments for Team USA with NHL players, the question will be how will Bowman and Guerin navigate possibly the deepest talent pool the USA has had to choose from in Olympic history. In 2010, Team USA was built to be scrappy and makes games difficult for more talented squads and took home Silver. In 2014, Team USA was built to be top-heavy but flamed out and lost in the Bronze Medal game to Finland. In the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Team USA was built to be an imposing, gritty squad but ended up looking silly against much faster lineups with top-end talent.
Stan Bowman to @CraigCustance's question on roster building/identity: "To game plan a roster for one team, is probably not a path we're going to take. Without question, this is the deepest talent pool we've had."
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) March 31, 2021
Team USA has not won an Olympic Gold Medal for Men’s Hockey since the 1980 “Miracle” team won Gold in Lake Placid. That 1980 teams and the 1960 team are the only two Gold Medal winners for the Team USA Men’s club, with eight Silver Medals and one Bronze Medal also on the Team USA mantle. Since NHL players were first allowed to play in the Winter Olympics in 1998, Team USA has earned two Silver Medals (2002, 2010).
What Bowman and Guerin have in front of them is possibly the best chance that Team USA has ever had to topple the likes of Canada and Sweden at the top of the international Hockey pecking order, with the talent-gap being the closest it’s ever been between the USA and the rest of the competing countries.
Here’s how I see Stan Bowman constructing the 2022 Team USA Olympic Men’s Hockey Team.
Team USA 25-Man Roster
Patrick Kane (C)
Auston Matthews (A)
John Carlson (A)
• Average Age (as of February 1, 2022): 27.9
• Players with previous Team USA Olympic experience: 7
• Stanley Cup Winners: 5
• NHL Award Winners: 3 (Kane 2015-16 Hart Trophy, Hellebuyck 2019-20 Vezina Trophy, Matthews 2015-16 Calder Trophy)
This is as good a group of centers as any Team USA that I can think of. There’s a little bit of everything in this group including proven leadership, an ability to play shutdown hockey and create high-danger offense. Matthews is a Hart Trophy candidate every season, Eichel could be too if he ever gets out of Buffalo, and Larkin is the long-standing face and future of the Red Wings. Add in veteran leader Joe Pavelski because I am biased towards my Wisconsin boys, and it’s as best a group of four centers as you’ll see at the 2022 games.
For the wingers, there is so much to like in this group including the combination of size, speed and vision from Blake Wheeler and Jake Guentzel, the offensive versatility of J.T. Miller and Kyle Connor, and a player every opponent will hate to play against in Matthew Tkachuk. Not to mention the greatest US-Born player in NHL history in Patrick Kane, who I would peg as the Team USA Captain for the 2022 Winter Games.
Patrick Kane on Stan Bowman being #TeamUSA GM for 2022 Olympics: "He'll do a really good job. He's very knowledgeable about the game and different players around the League as well. I'm sure they'll do everything they can to get ready to create the best team." #Blackhawks
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) April 1, 2021
Of course, Bowman has to put some personal touches on the Team USA roster, which is why I believe Alex DeBrincat finds his way onto the 25-man roster. With the 2021 season he is having, bouncing back to the form we saw in his first two seasons with the Blackhawks, I find it hard to believe Bowman won’t go to bat for his own guy, even if he’ll likely be an extra forward in the process.
Jeff Petry has established himself as one of the most effective defensemen in the game over the past few seasons and is on the top-pairing with Montreal, playing against the North Division’s top players like Matthews, Connor Mcdavid, and Leon Draisaitl on a regular basis. Same can be said for Carolina’s Jaccob Slavin, who is the underrated stud that drives a talented Hurricanes blue line. Charlie McAvoy has emerged to become the Bruins’ undisputed top defenseman with Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara out of Boston and he will be a key part of this blue line.
"Obviously there's a lot of talk about the 1960 and 1980 teams. Here we are 40-plus years later and we're still talking about those teams.
"I guess the legend lives on if you win, so it would be nice to do that for the country and USA hockey."
Patrick Kane on the Olympics
— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) April 1, 2021
The 2022 Beijing Games will be played on North American-sized ice as opposed to the wider international or “Olympic” sized ice. It’s critical to include defenders who can skate fluidly, make heady decisions with the puck, and who can defend in their own end.
As for the young guns, Quinn Hughes has gone from a guy on the cusp of the roster discussion, to a top-pair candidate over the last year. In New York, Adam Fox is already the Rangers’ best defenseman and is squarely in the discussion for the Norris Trophy this season. These two will be fixtures on future Team USA blue-lines.
Goaltending is probably the most established position for Team USA. Connor Hellebuyck is the defending Vezina Trophy winner, so it’s a no-brainer that he’ll lead the 2022 squad in net. As a backup, Thatcher Demko had a stellar performance in the bubble playoffs for Vancouver and has a solid .917 save percentage and 2.77 GAA with the Canucks this season.
Having a number of players who can do a little bit of everything on defense, mixed with top-end offensive talent in the forwards group should make this the most balanced, attack-driven squad that Team USA has ever had. If you can get Vezina-quality play out of Hellebuyck in net on the back-end, no reasons to doubt that this USA squad led by Bowman could bring home the first Olympic Gold Medal for the Men’s team since before every one of them on the roster was born.