On the eve of Hockey Canada revealing their Olympic roster and nearly a week since USA Hockey announced theirs, snub has been on the lips of almost every hockey fan. Pittsburgh Penguins fans are hoping Chris Kunitz won't be left off the Sochi squad and the Bobby Ryan-Brian Burke feud is so juicy it's TMZ worthy. The life lesson here is being snubbed hurts. It hurts bad. So why is no one offering Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen a hug?
USA and Pens coach Dan Bylsma went with a defensive core dripping with international experience. That's why Cam Fowler, Justin Faulk, and John Carlson beat out guys like James Wisniewski and Zach Bogosian. Those three are lousy with World Juniors and IIHF tournament appearances. That and they're good. Darn good. But better than Matt Niskanen? Not really.
Niskanen has five goals, twenty-one assists, and a plus-21 rating in forty-four games this year. That's awesome. If you take out the givens (Suter, Shattenkirk, and McDonagh) and Disco Dan's boys (Martin and Brooks), Niskanen's point output is only topped by Cam Fowler. And that's only by five points. Plus there's his blocking, solid hitting, great awareness, and that canon of a shot (that won the Pens their game against the Jets yesterday). Matt Niskanen could easily be on the USA Olympic squad and no one's talking about it. Instead, Keith Yandle and Dustin Byfuglien are getting the sympathy cards. Fans look at their numbers (Yandle-6G, 22A and Byfuglien-9G, 23A) and are instantly curious/outraged they didn't make the cut. While both are having amazing seasons and are great players, they are not designed for international play.
The ice-surface awaiting teams in Russia is bigger than the NHL's and that is the nail in Dustin Byfuglien's Olympic hopes coffin. Despite that Hulk-esque shot, 265 pounds is 265 pounds. Byfuglien's lack of speed would hinder the team more than his slapper helps it. No dice, Buff. Keith Yandle sees the ice better than most forwards, but his small frame kills his chances (ironic). At 6'1" and 190 pounds, Yandle would be abused by some of the powerhouse forwards Canada and Russia will throw at him. So sorry, Keith.
Matt Niskanen is the porridge that's just right. He's shot is not as hard as Byfuglien's but it's still a pretty wicked. Niskanen may be a inch smaller than Yandle, but he's twenty pounds thicker. In the NHL, twenty pounds the difference between holding a stout winger back and getting bulldozed over. Now add all that stuff mentioned before and you have the 2014 Snub of the Snubs (plus, his nickname is really cool).
It makes sense for all eight of the guys coach Bylsma picked to be on the team, but Niskanen fits right into the fold as well. If there is a injury to any of those players, Bylsma's call for a replacement shouldn't go to Phoenix or Winnipeg. It should go to the locker room down the hall from his office.
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