The men’s hockey tournament at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games may be decided by the old adage: He who dies with the most toys wins.
In other words, since the National Hockey League refuses to release its players to travel to South Korea for the Games, which begin this weekend, the country with the most former NHL skaters will probably take the gold medal.
The biggest question entering the Games: Would Russia be allowed to participate following a drug scandal? When they were -- albeit, under the Olympic banner -- the Fatherland (to be called Olympic Athletes from Russia) became the favorite and leaving Belarus (remember them? -- fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics) out of the 12-team field.
2018 Winter Olympics
Odds to Win the Gold Medal
Czech Republic +900
South Korea +75000
OAFR (Russia) Even
United States +1400
A look at the top teams:
OAFR (Russia): Anchored by Pavel Datsyuk, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Detroit, and Ilya Kovalchuk, a former Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s leading goal scorer, this club is the easy favorite.
North America is largely unaware about the younger stars in the Kontinental Hockey League. OAFR will feature 15 players from SKA Saint Petersburg (KHL), so this team has been, basically, playing together all season -- no one else can state that.
The young standout to watch is St. Pete’s Vadim Shipachyov, a brief member of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Canada: Los Angeles Kings fans will remember goalie Ben Scrivens, who set several NHL rookie records, then was courteously traded to Edmonton when L.A. found a glut of talent in goal (same with Martin Jones going to Boston/San Jose).
Oilers management blamed Scrivens for their lack of success-- wrong! -- so the former Ivy League netminder (Cornell) headed to Russia; now in his third KHL season.
Since most of the young talent from Canada that signed professional contracts are on offense, should Totals be offered to the betting public, expect strong play on the blue line (Chris Lee and Marc-Andre Gragnani), so look at the Under.
Sweden: Do not ignore Tre kronor (“Three Crowns” in Swedish) to reach the Olympic final considering they own a pair of recent goal medals (1994 Lillehammer, 2006 Turin).
The Swedes roster mirrors the Canadians with a strong defense, anchored by goalie Rasmus Dahlin, the consensus No. 1 NHL draft pick this summer. The backup in net is former NHL second-round draft pick Jhonas Enroth (mostly with Buffalo).
Despite a lack of depth, at +450, a probable semifinal meeting with the Maple Leaf could make Sweden a nice underdog selection.
Favorites: United States (-115), Canada (+110), Finland (+2000)
Canada is the 4-time defending champion, but most observers state the Americans are deeper and stronger, dominating a series of pre-Olympic events, including the Four Nations Cup.
The chances for Finland, the only possible challenger to tackle the Big Two are slim. In the five previous Games featuring women’s hockey, Team ISA and Canada have captured 9-of-10 gold and silver medals.