The San Jose Sharks only had four players arrive at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics that was still seeing some teams practice for the first time Monday, February 10. The pictured list shows how each will fare individually (from most to least playing time), but perhaps the more interesting question is how many medals they return with?
The Sharks had seven players represent their countries in the Vancouver Olympics: Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley were on Team Canada, Douglas Murray on Team Sweden, Joe Pavelski on Team USA and Evgeni Nabokov on Team Russia. They amassed five medals between them—four Canadian golds and one American silver.
Heatley, Murray and Nabokov are neither still with San Jose nor representing their teams at the Sochi Olympics. Thornton and Boyle were not brought back, leaving only Marleau and Pavelski remaining from 2010, with Antti Niemi joining Team Finland and Marc-Edouard Vlasic joining Team Canada.
That means anywhere from none to all four of them could return with medals, but neither is likely. Bovada has Team Canada at 2:1 to win the gold medal, Russia at 12:5, Sweden at 9:2, USA at 6:1 and Finland at 11:1.
If the teams fall in that order, only Vlasic and Marleau will earn medals (both gold). No matter how unoriginal or safe it is to predict them in that order, it is the only logical prediction.
Canada has a fourth line that would the top line for almost any Olympic team. They have a third pair that could be the top pair on their closest competitor, Russia. Their only "weakness" is in net, where they can choose between a Stanley Cup winner, a two-time All Star and former Vezina Trophy finalist or a young star riding a .967 save percentage in his last four games.
Even the loss of Steven Stamkos could actually be a blessing in disguise: Canada will rally around replacement Martin St. Louis, who is certainly in his last chance to earn a medal since he will pass 40 before the next Olympics.
Meanwhile, Russia's home-ice advantage could actually work against them thanks to the added pressure. If not, a lack of depth could wear the top forwards (perhaps as good as Canada's) down over the medal round. Either way, the blue line is too suspect defensively to win gold.
However, USA is in the same group as Russia and is the road team head-to-head. That gives a team with a home-ice advantage by location functional edges in the circle and line matchups. That means the deeper but less top-heavy American talent might be forced to play one more elimination game and deal with lower seeding for not winning their group.
Fortunately, there is enough goalie depth to not worry as much about extra games. America also has depth at other positions and one of the best defensemen in the game heading a solid defensive unit. Their shortage of star forwards relative to the other medal contenders actually means not wearing down top lines during heavy schedules.
However, Sweden still has a better path as the best team of its group. The top forward lines are better than America's, and the goalie in net for the medal rounds is widely considered the best in the world. Henrik Lunqvist's backups will be able to get action in the weakest group to let him be rested for the medal rounds.
In fact, Sweden is better than Russia thanks to a better back end (blue line, goalies). However, the hosts will ride emotion and their better scoring lines and similar forward depth to get to the gold medal game that Canada wins comfortably.
Finland will have to go a similar route to USA, and also has the goalies for it. However, their depth is not as strong as America's at forward or the blue line, and this will be the first Olympics since NHL players were allowed that does not result in a Finnish medal.
That makes USA more likely to make it deeper into the medal rounds, and should make the bronze medal game compelling. As close of a contest as that would create, the difference will be Sweden getting the line matchups and faceoff advantages.
Joe Pavelski will probably play seven games for Team USA. He is the leading forward in ice time for the San Jose Sharks because of his versatility, and that is going to give him many opportunities.
Look for him play both center and wing, plus maybe even the blue line occasionally on the power play. He will lead the tournament in blocked shots and be among its leaders in faceoff percentage. He will also add a couple goals and four assists.
With Patrick Marleau's customary streaky play, he could find himself replaced by the depth of talent Canada has. However, his versatility to play wing or center and his skating make him a very attractive option if his recent goal for the San Jose Sharks has him back to playing how he was the rest of the 2013-14 NHL season.
Expect him to play at least five games, but he will be on a checking line. Nevertheless, he will score a couple goals and add a couple assists—three of the latter if he plays six or seven.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic will likely have to platoon with Dan Hamhuis as the two are similar players who do not have a natural pair as most others do. However, Pickles is among the world's best in the defensive end and capable offensively. Ultimately, the coaches will be able to trust him too much not to put him on the ice.
That should lead to at least four games played, even with Canada's likely first-round bye in the medal rounds. Vlasic will have just one assist for the tournament, but be among his team's shot-blocking leaders in every game he plays.
Antti Niemi is likely to get just one start in the three-game preliminary round because even Kari Lehtonen is good enough to play once. In all likelihood, Tuukka Rask starts against Canada in group play and both games in the medal round.
Thus, Niemi should get a start against either Norway or Austria. Neither foe will make him regret his play or the team's result. Fortunately, he is used to going stretches without a shot on goal and he gives up just one goal on maybe 18 shots.