The Czech selections for Sochi are so strange that a squad of snubs measures up well against them.
Snub-snub-snub, snub-snub-snub, snub-snub-snub, snub-snub...
Without quoting an official statistic, no word has been uttered more in the hockey world this week. The Olympic rosters came out and the players who didn't make the cut were all we could talk about.
The Czech Republic received less air time than powerhouses like Canada and the U.S., but no nation's cuts were more egregious if you ask me. Petr Nedved, seven years removed from NHL play, made the team at age 42 over Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler, the third- and fourth-leading Czech scorers in the NHL this season. Tomas Kaberle, unable to crack an NHL top six, made the blueline over Jan Hejda, a top-pairing defenseman on a breakout Colorado Avalanche team. This happened in real life. Living, breathing humans made these decisions. This is not Rick Nash or Patrick Marleau edging Claude Giroux. This more like, say, Mark Recchi edging Claude Giroux. Or Harrison Ford beating out Chris Pine for the right to reprise Jack Ryan.
Vrbata, Hudler and Hejda were by no means the lone questionable Czech snubs, so I began legitimately wondering if a rival Czech GM could assemble a superior team. I played the role (Matej Larkinek?) and built a 'B' squad. Let's
Czech check out the tale of the tape.
ACTUAL CZECH FORWARDS
Roman Cervenka, Patrik Elias, Michael Frolik, Martin Hanzal, Ales Hemsky, Jaromir Jagr, David Krejci, Milan Michalek, Petr Nedved, Jiri Novotny, Ondrej Palat, Tomas Plekanec, Vladimir Sobotka, Jakub Voracek
'B' SQUAD CZECH FORWARDS
Jan Bulis, Radek Dvorak, Martin Erat, Tomas Fleischmann, Martin Havlat, Jaroslav Hlinka, Roman Horak, Jiri Hudler, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jan Kovar, Rostislav Olesz, Jiri Tlusty, Petr Ton, Radim Vrbata
If Hudler or Fleischmann moves to center, a top line of Hudler, Vrbata and Fleischmann could be every bit as dangerous as, say, Krejci, Jagr and Voracek on any given night. The 'A' squad gets the edge in depth, at least in terms of NHL representation, but the 'B' squad is sneaky. Hlinka and Ton are 1-2 in the Czech League in scoring and Nedved is tied for sixth in the same league. Blues prospect Jaskin is a physical specimen, albeit raw. Erat and Havlat are done being effective top-six NHLers, but wouldn't be totally overwhelmed against NHL competition. The wild card is Kovar, a 5-foot-10 firecracker who is tearing up the Kontinental League at 23 years old with 55 points in 43 games. That's great production placing him second on the whole circuit, ahead of Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov in the world's No. 2 league.
Still, I won't pretend the 'B' squad has a better forward corps than the 'A' squad. The 'A' squad can roll more lines that skate and score at a high-end NHL level.
Edge: 'A' squad
ACTUAL CZECH DEFENSEMEN
Michal Barinka, Radko Gudas, Tomas Kaberle, Lukas Krajicek, Zbynek Michalek, Michal Rozsival, Ladislav Smid, Marek Zidlicky
'B' SQUAD CZECH DEFENSEMEN
Miroslav Blatak, Jan Hejda, Michal Jordan, Jakub Kindl, Rostislav Klesla, Radek Martinek, Roman Polak, Andrej Sustr
There's a case for Hejda/Polak as a better shutdown pairing than whatever the real Czech team can throw at the competition. Hejda is having arguably the best season of his NHL career, playing 23-plus minutes a night, leading the Avs in hits and posting a plus-13 rating. He and Polak would be a punishing tandem, albeit not the fleetest of foot. Polak likely returns from a broken ankle next week. The rest of the 'B' defense corps would be hard-pressed match up against the 'A,' though I'd take Kindl and maybe even the puck-mover Blatak (who played on the 2010 Vancouver team) over a washed up Kaberle.
Edge: 'A' squad
ACTUAL CZECH GOALTENDERS
Jakub Kovar, Ondrej Pavelec, Alexander Salak
'B' SQUAD CZECH GOALTENDERS
Marek Mazanec, Petr Mrazek, Michal Neuvirth
I prefer the 'B' stoppers here and the decision isn't that hard. Pavelec is among the most peppered goalies in the NHL, and guess what? He doesn't stop the puck very often. His .901 save percentage ranks him 40th in the league – not 40th among all goalies who've played a single minute, but 40th among qualified leaders. A struggling Neuvirth still managed a .912 mark with the Caps this season before losing his job. And I've always been a big Mrazek fan. I believe he'll be a star in the NHL one day if he gets the chance. His first seven NHL appearances haven't disappointed (1.83 goals-against average, .917 save percentage).
Edge: 'B' squad
This isn't the moment where I self-servingly declare the 'B' squad superior to the 'A.' Admittedly, the chosen Czech squad has better depth. But the very fact the 'B' squad could compete with the 'A' – at least on its first line, top 'D' pairing and in goal – tells you how far-fetched GM Slavomir Lener and the Czech brass are with some of their selections.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin