Tuesday, March 10, 2009

2010 Olympic Preview Part IV

The Velvet (although not technically) Sleeper (not really) #2


6. Finland


The Fins have talent, there is no denying it, but when it comes down to it I feel much the same way about them I do about the Czechs.  With the exception, their depth is good, but not quite to the point where they have four lines that you can expect to score.  Also like the Czechs, they really don’t have many guys that you really have to watch out for. 

This is what keeps both of these teams out of the top five, and in my opinion, out of the medals.  The 6 and 7 slots really could have gone either way.  The Czechs take a slight edge at forward, defenseman is pretty much a wash (maybe a slight edge to the Fins), but a sizable edge at Goaltender for the Fins.  In the short tournament, I will take my chances on a hot goaltender, rather than the flash up front.  With all due respect to Vokoun, he would probably be the 3rd, maybe even 4th string goalie for Finland. 

Having said that, I have always been a believer that goaltending is only a part of team defense, only slightly more important than play of skaters in their own end (after all, how many goals would one really blame the goaltender for at high levels), and Finland does not intimidate along the blue line by any means.  Just as importantly, who is Finland going to look to when they need a big goal?  Jokinen probably, possibly Selanne (if he can turn back the clock).  Those guys are fine, but I will take my chances with the Crosbys, Ovechkins, Parises or Hossas of the world.  Mainly for that reason, a medal seems like a long shot for the white and blue.


(most importantly, Finnish names are absolute hell to attempt to spell phonetically- Mika Kippersof?  Valateri Phillipula?  Hell no, try Miikka Kiprusoff and Valtteri Filppula…and excuse me for assuming that Kari Lehtonen and Jere Lehtinen had the same last name-, so just know that this post was a grind to put together)


Line 1


Teemu Selanne (RW- ANA) – Olli Jokinen (C- CGY) – Antti Miettinen (LW- MIN)


Didn’t believe me about the lack of top end talent? 

How about now?

Jokinen is certainly capable of being a first liner on an international team, and Selanne probably is as well (at least he was 3 years ago), but is Miettinen really the best left wing option for a team hoping to contend for Gold?  Yes and no.  Yes, in that he is indeed Finland’s best option (as you will see in the following lines), and no in that he really shouldn’t be on the first line of an international power.

That is nothing against Miettinen, I actually like him as a player.  His 41 points in 65 games this year are respectable, if not remarkable, but he doesn’t compare to anyone playing on a first line for the top 7 teams (those with hopes of winning a medal).  Miettenan didn’t even play on the first line for Dallas last year or for Minnesota this year.  This is a glaring weakness, despite the fact that he really is their best option at that spot.

Olli Jokinen has often been criticized for inconsistent play, but never for a lack of talent.  Jokinen is a premier centerman in the NHL, with a combination of size, good hands and an excellent shot that makes him a deadly scorer when on.  Having said all of that, Jokinen doesn’t quite stack up against the elite players in the tournament (at least on a consistent basis).  He is a great player, but perhaps not an absolute top tier one.  For Finland to have a shot, he will need to make himself one for at least two weeks.

Selanne is something of a wild card for the Fins.  Presumably he has the talent to be a solid first liner for them, but he has played just 76 games in the last two seasons for Anaheim.  His production has been solid this year, he has 40 points in 50 games despite injuring his quad and missing most of December and January.  Despite the fact that he will be 39 when the games are played, Finland will need Selanne to be a key part of their offense in Vancouver.


Line 2

Mikko Koivu (RW- MIN) – Saku Koivu (C- MTL) – Niklas Hagman (LW- TOR)


In another similarity to the Czech team, the second line for the Fins is nearly as potent as their first.  The Koivu brothers are on the opposite ends of their careers (Saku is 9 years older than Miku), but both are productive players.  Mikko is enjoying something of a breakout season in Minnesota with 58 points in 65 games, already eclipsing his previous high of 54 points in 2007.  Saku has been less productive, playing in only 49 games and registering only 36 points thus far for Les Habitants, but he is a solid second line centerman who plays both ends of the ice and will bring veteran savvy to the Finnish team.

Hagman is another extremely skilled European player who has yet to show the grit to play consistently (I’m starting to sound like this guy).  Prone to spectacular goals, his numbers have never reflected any sort of consistency in the NHL. 

Realistically, either Hagman or Mikko could take Miettenan’s spot on the first line, but Miettenan’s numbers the past couple of years are slightly better than those of his former teammate, and I like the idea of the Koivu brothers playing together (any chemistry you can forge in a tournament with such limited preparation is a plus), so Antti gets the nod over his current teammate.


Line 3

Jere Lehtinen (RW- DAL) – Valtteri Filppula (C- DET) – Jussi Jokinen (LW- CAR)


A fairly mediocre line, these guys won’t hurt you, and may even be able to put the puck in the net on occasion, but they certainly aren’t going to scare anyone.  Filppula is working on his second consecutive 30 point season in Detroit (he is just shy of his career high of 36), but he is hardly asked to carry the scoring for the Red Wings, and luckily for him, that will not be his job for the Fins either.  Lehtinen is another vet for this Finland team which will have 7 forwards 30 years or older at the Vancouver games (the Czechs, by comparison, had only 4, even the aging Russians have just 6).  He has been injured the past two years, but may be capable of one more 40-50 point season if healthy.  To be honest though, any offense from those two would be gravy, for a Finland team that will rely heavily on goaltending and the top two lines to win tight games.  Jokinen is the one player who is a legitimate threat to put the puck away on this line.  Olli’s younger brother scored 55 points his rookie season in Dallas, but has been unable to stay healthy the past few years, bouncing from North Texas to the Gulf Coast of Florida, and now to North Carolina in the process.  Still, Jokinen has established himself as very skilled (not to mention perhaps the most efficient player in the world in the shootout) in his 292 career NHL games, and would be an excellent addition to the score sheet for the Fins.

(Although I am going to stick with Miettenan for now, should he falter, sticking Jussi with his brother on the first line would be a logical adjustment for the Fins.)


Line 4

Jarkko Ruutu (RW- OTT) – Tuomo Ruutu (C- CAR) – Ville Peltonen (LW- FLA)


I can’t think of anything nice to say about the Ruutu brothers, so I will let Don Cherry take over:

This line will add some grit, but shouldn’t bring much offensively.  Peltonen has only scored 30 points once (2007), and the Ruutus have other goals on the ice.


Defense 1

Kimmo Timonen (D- PHI) – Joni Pitkanen (D- CAR)


Ville Koistinen (D- NSH) – Sami Salo (D-EDM)


Toni Lydman (D- BUF) – Teppo Numminen (D- BUF)


This team really isn’t getting any younger once you go back to defense.  Teppo, the most recognizable name in the group, is going to be 41 years old by the time these games are played.  While he is no longer the offensive threat he once was, he is still a solid puck moving defenseman.  Kimmo Timonen is the blueline ace for the Fins, and he will be relied upon to anchor a powerplay that the Fins will need in order to put up any sort of offensive numbers.  Beyond Timonen, none of these guys really create much offense.  The transition game could be an issue, making life harder for the Finnish arsenal of goaltenders.




Miikka Kiprusoff (G- CGY) (Starter) – Niklas Backstrom (G- MIN) (2nd String) – Kari Lehtonen (G- ATL) (3rd String) – Vesa Toskala (G- TOR) (4th String) – Pekka Rinne (G- NSH) (5th String) – Antero Nittymaki (G- PHI) (6th String) – Tuukka Rask (G- BOS) (7th String)


Obviously, the Finnish team will not carry 7 goalies, but I listed all of them to make the point that Finland may very well have taken over from Quebec as the goaltending capital of the world (there are 6 starters, and one blue chip prospect- Rask- in that list, Canada only has 11 starters in the NHL, of which 5 are French).

More importantly, Kiprusoff gives the Finnish as solid a backstop as anyone, including Canada.  If he should go down, there are three, maybe four guys that the Fins should feel comfortable going to.  I just feel like they won’t have enough help in front of them to go anywhere.  A medal will be a long shot in Vancouver, and to repeat or improve on their silver from 2006 seems all but impossible from where I’m standing.

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