The defending champions are favored to win the gold again.
Backed by goaltending god Martin Brodeur, the roster boasts a stellar list of names including team captain Joe Sakic, Jarome Iginla, Vincent LeCavalier and Simon Gagne, to name a few. Add defensemen Rob Blake, Wade Redden, Robyn Regehr and Chris Pronger and you have the goods for gold. They are the most solid team with both new and experienced players, skill, size, speed and depth. This time around, they also have the added advantage of chemistry after playing together in (and winning) the World Cup of Hockey in 2004.
Although ďOperation SlapshotĒ could be viewed as a distraction for Canadian players, this isnít an unfamiliar situation. In Salt Lake City, Gretzky spouted off to the media about his "everybody`s out to get Canada" theory just to keep reporters focused on him instead of the Canadian players. This time, while all eyes are again focused on Gretzky, the Canadian team can legitimately escape media scrutiny. In fact, they might even rally behind the Great One.
Canada is at +110 to win gold and barring any major injuries or crises, the Canadians stand the best chance to win gold.
The Americans have an impressive roster, but not as impressive as some of the other top dogs.
Their goaltending is solid, but not stellar. Their defense is their strongest asset, led by team captain Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher, which should help prevent any hemorrhaging that could occur if Rick DiPietro or Robert Esche face too much rubber. As for their offense, the usual suspects: Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin Ė solid players but compared to the super-scorers on other squads, the US team is a little weak offensively.
USA is at +800 to win gold, but they probably won`t see the podium. The best realistic outcome for this aging squad is probably a bronze.
The Czech Republic
If any team were going to dethrone the champs, it would be the Czechs.
They have a proven goaltender in Dominik Hasek whoís already won gold for his country in Nagano. The defense is solid with experienced players like Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina and Marek Malik who is the proud owner of the prettiest shootout goal of the NHL season.
As for their offense, itís no less than fabulous. Jaromir Jagr, Vaclav Prospal, Robert Lang and Martin Straka are some of the stars, so be prepared for highlight reel performances from this team. Should a game get to shootouts, beware. The Czechs have an experienced blue line, fantastic goaltending and their only fault is that they donít have any defensive forwards, which could create turnovers.
The Czech Republic is at +275 to win gold. This team is a serious contender for a medal. If they don`t overtake the Canadians, they should at least come in a close second.
The Russians are also podium chasers.
They have solid goaltending with Evgeni Nabokov and Ilja Bryzgalov, but they couldíve used the assistance of Nikolai Khabibulin, who is out with a strained MCL. The Russians have a terrific defensive squad, with experienced players like Darius Kasparitis and Sergei Gonchar as well as talented newcomers like Andrei Markov. Their offense is even better with two of the top scorers in the NHL Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Ovechkin.
Russiaís goaltending isnít as good as it couldíve been with Khabibulin and like the Czechs, they have very skilled finesse players, but forwards who don`t play defense. Just look at Kovlachukís Ė12 rating in the NHL.
The Russian team is at +500 to win gold. They`re another serious contender, but probably donít have the goods for gold.
Slovakiaís major problem is goaltending.
The only goalie with NHL experience is Peter Budaj, a backup for the Colorado Avalanche, and his experience is limited at best. On all other fronts, the team is spectacular with blueliners Zdeno Chara and Martin Strbak and a ridiculously talented offense. The Hossa brothers, Peter Bondra, Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Miroslav Satan and rookie sensation Marek Svatos fill out the offensive roster and will be impressive to watch under international regulations.
Slovakia is at +1000 to win gold.
Slovakia will finish on top, although probably not a contender for gold. They could definitely go home with bronze, but their goaltending will be a major issue.
Sweden had a well-rounded team, with all the necessary components for a podium finish, but after some major losses in their lineup, gold is pretty much out of the question.
Superstar Peter Forsberg might not be in the lineup until the quarterfinals due to a groin injury, but there are enough offensive strikers to make up for it early on. But if he doesn`t play at all, consider Sweden out of contention. Marcus Naslund will also be seriously missed having been sidelined by a nagging groin injury, and his replacement Tomas Holmstrom just isnít cut from the same cloth.
The Swedish defense is decent, but once again, the loss of Kim Johnsson to a concussion and Niklas Kronwall to a torn knee ligament will hurt the teamís chances.
Sweden is at +800 to win gold.
They do have the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, P.J. Axelsson and the Sedin twins up front and goalies Mikael Tellqvist and Henrik Lundqvist to protect the fort, but the injury-depleted Swedish squad would be happy with bronze.
The runner-up in the World Cup of Hockey in 2004, is another medal contender thatís been run out of contention by injuries.
The most notable missing piece is goalie Miikka Kiprusoff whoís withdrawn to avoid further aggravating an injury. Along with Kari Lehtonenís absence, it leaves the Finnish net open to snipers.
Their blue line also took a major hit with the loss of Joni Pitkanen and Ossi Vaananen, but still boasts names like Aki Berg, Sami Salo and Teppo Numminen, all of whom will make a solid defensive contribution. The Finnish forwards are their strongest features with regulars like team captain Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen and Jere Lehtinen.
Finland is at +1500 to win gold. They probably won`t finish higher than fourth, but they could cause upsets should the team gel.
Germany, Switzerland, Latvia, Italy and Kazakhstan
Germany wouldíve been more of threat had they not lost their two top players, Marco Sturm and Jochen Hecht, to injuries. They do have Olaf Kolzig in nets and a few other NHLers on their roster, but arenít experienced or strong enough to do any real damage in Turin. Germany is listed at +8000 to win gold.
Switzerland has good goaltending with David Aebischer and Martin Gerber but the only other NHLer is defenseman Mark Streit. They wonít allow many goals; they just wonít score any. Switzerland is listed at +6600 to win gold.
Latvia is on par with Germany. They have Arturs Irbe in nets and a few other NHLers in Sandis Ozolinsh and Karlis Skrastins, but arenít a threat yet. Theyíre still an emerging country in hockey and will only get better with time. Latvia is listed at +8000 to win gold.
Kazakhstan and Italy are in a race to avoid last place and are both listed at +20000.