If NHL players are allowed at the Sochi Games, look for the U.S. to make a run

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They won gold in 1960. It took a miracle to win it again in 1980. They came within minutes of victory in 2008. But 2014 might be U.S. hockey’s best chance ever to bring home the gold – that is, if its NHL stars are allowed to play again.

We are just about a year away from the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, and one major question remains unanswered: Will NHL players be allowed to represent their countries at the games?

For the past few days, representatives of the NHL, the Players’ Association, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee have been meeting to discuss this question. Talks are scheduled to continue Friday.

As they always do, several concerns have surfaced: If NHL players are allowed to go overseas for a month to represent their countries, will league television ratings suffer? Many of these departing players are all-star caliber, so how does that affect attendance? These are all legitimate questions to consider.

The fact remains that NHL players have participated in the last four Winter Games. Despite their absences, league-wide revenue has increased in each of the past six years. So it’s safe to assume that the NHL players should be allowed to participate in next year’s winter games, right?

We’ll have to leave that up to the negotiators, but for now, let’s assume that the NHL players will be attending the 2014 winter games. This US squad might be America’s most talented team ever. There are a number of great players that the US can select from, and that number has been growing since 2008. Here is the US team I’d like to see on the ice for the 2014 games.

Line 1:
C: Joe Pavelski (San Jose)​​​​
RW: Patrick Kane (Chicago)
LW: Zach Parise (Minnesota)
This is a world-class scoring line.

Line 2:
C: David Backes​ (St. Louis)
RW: Phil Kessel (Toronto)
LW: Max Pacioretti (Montreal)
All three of these guys can easily score 30+ goals this season.

Line 3:
C: Derek Stepan (New York Rangers)
RW: Dustin Brown (Los Angeles Kings)
LW: James Van Riemsdyk (Toronto)
Van Riemsdyk is currently the Leafs’ (8-6-0) leading scorer. An NHL team-leading scorer on the US third line is a testament to the depth this squad would have.

Line 4:
C: David Legwand (Nashville)
RW: Jamie Langenbrunner (St. Louis)
LW: Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay)​
Old-timer Jamie Langenbrunner will provide invaluable leadership and international experience.

Defenseman:
Jack Johnson (Columbus)
Alex Goligoski (Dallas)
Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg)
Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis)
Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles Kings)
Keith Yandle (Phoenix) ​
This is an elite defensive staff – they are all physically-imposing two-way defensemen.​​​​

Goaltenders:
Craig Anderson (Ottowa) – arguably the best goalie in the league right now. Has a .949 save percentage.
Ryan Miller (Buffalo) – 40+ saves vs. Canada twice in the 2008 winter games. Currently holds a .915 save percentage on weak defensive team.
Those are two of the league’s best between the pipes.
This proposed US squad would be supremely talented and competitive. There aren’t any holes and each player contributes a great deal to the team. The 2014 US team should look something like this proposed team. If so, I expect them to play very well against the world next year. Not all of these players will make the team, but as American hockey fans, we can hope.