- Scott Burnside, NHL
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TORINO, Italy -- For the second time since the NHL descended on the Olympic Games, the United States will come home without a medal.
That will come as little surprise to the many who believed this team lagged far behind the other so-called Big Seven nations in terms of talent. True, the Americans did finish with a desultory 1-4-1 record and four straight losses. But it wasn't all doom and gloom in Torino.
Here's a breakdown of some of the issues surrounding this U.S. team, and what the future might hold for the red, white and blue.
OK, we've been over the Ryan Miller thing a million times. He's the best American-born goalie in the NHL, but at the time of the selection process, he was out with a broken thumb. A compelling case could be made to rate the three netminders who were selected -- Rick DiPietro, John Grahame and Robert Esche -- ahead of Miller.
But in hindsight, it might have made more sense to take a flyer and include Miller on the original roster given the uncertainty of the goaltending situation. If he didn't recover from the thumb injury, he could have been dropped in favor of Esche or Grahame. He is, at least at this point in time, the future of American goaltending.
What about Rick DiPietro?
The former first overall pick came into these Olympics looking to establish himself as the American netminder of the future. There were questions about his role here because of his inconsistent play on Long Island. After solid performances in 2-1 losses to Slovakia and Sweden, it would be unfair to saddle DiPietro with the Americans' 4-3 defeat in the quarterfinals. He kept them close when they started so poorly, and it's hard to fault him on any of the goals. Still, fair or not, DiPietro could not deliver the virtuoso performance required to advance, or, frankly, to steal an important game.
What about the others?
Grahame came into the Olympics as the hottest of all three American netminders. He got the chance to earn the starting job in Torino, but after an ordinary performance in an opening-night 3-3 tie with Latvia, he did not play again. Esche played in the meaningless final preliminary-round game with Russia and was not at his best in a 5-4 loss. It's hard to imagine they will play a role in future best-on-best tournaments.
American defensemen chipped in just two goals in six games. For a team whose success was going to be its balanced attack, that wasn't nearly enough. In the end, having Chris Chelios, Derian Hatcher and Bret Hedican aboard diminished those chances tremendously. The top-scoring American defenseman in the NHL, Mathieu Schneider, was all over the map during the tournament. His ill-advised cross-checking penalty on Saku Koivu in the quarterfinals likely cost the U.S. the game.
The Chelly effect
At 44, Chelios is a lightning rod for criticism of the American team and its disappointing showing at this tournament. He played his best game in the quarterfinal loss to Finland, just when you want your veterans to come to the fore. Still, that Chelios at times ended up on the power play spoke volumes about the curious makeup of this team.
The old guys
For all the veteran leadership that guys such as Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Mike Modano and Chelios were supposed to bring to the table, it amounted to very little. The Americans lost four one-goal games, the kind of games that cried out for a veteran to take charge and make a difference. It didn't happen. Tkachuk failed to score and took a series of ill-advised penalties vs. Finland. Guerin scored once in the tournament's second game and Weight did not score at all. Modano's carping about the coaching and USA Hockey sadly will be a stain on what has otherwise been a stellar international career.
The young guys
It didn't turn out the way they wanted, but players such as Brian Gionta, Jordan Leopold, Jason Blake and Erik Cole showed they are well-positioned to be leaders at future international events. Gionta was the team's best forward and Cole built on his strong NHL play with a solid tournament. Chris Drury, a co-captain in Buffalo, took on a lesser role in Torino without complaint.
Modano's criticism of Peter Laviolette following the quarterfinal loss might be traced back to the World Championships last year, when Laviolette chose rookie Zach Parise to take a penalty shot late in a preliminary-round game against the Ukraine instead of Modano.
The U.S. ultimately tied the game at 1. Notwithstanding Modano's carping, Laviolette has proven himself to be both loyal to USA Hockey and a fine NHL coach as witnessed by the turnaround of the Carolina Hurricanes, who entered the Olympic break with the second-best record in the NHL.
Intense and direct, Laviolette might have been better served with a younger team that might have followed direction more closely or been able to more completely embrace his system. The Americans were at their best when they looked like the fierce-checking, hard-working Canes. Unfortunately for Laviolette, that didn't happen nearly often enough (see The Old Guys).
Is Laviolette the guy for Vancouver? Four years is a long time, but assuming the Vancouver team will be much younger, Laviolette looks like a good fit.
Who wasn't here?
GM Don Waddell didn't have the dilemma that his Canadian counterpart, Wayne Gretzky, did in putting his team together. All the top American scorers were on this Olympic team, unlike Eric Staal, Jason Spezza, Sidney Crosby, Marc Savard, Brendan Shanahan and other Canadian scorers who didn't make the cut.
The questions in the aftermath of the Americans' disappointing showing surround the team's role players, who ultimately create the team's identity.
Paul Mara, who's having a strong year in Phoenix, might have helped. Keith Ballard is a rock-solid young defender, also in Phoenix. Dustin Brown has provided great energy in L.A. Paul Martin, a member of the taxi squad, certainly would have been more effective than Hatcher. The logic for having Hatcher aboard was his physical presence, but these were not NHL-physical games, but games determined by puck movement and smarts. Martin has both.
Statistically, Parise and fellow rookie Ryan Suter weren't Olympic caliber, but given the play of veterans like Tkachuk and Hatcher, it would have paid dividends down the road to have them here.
The past couple of years have been banner ones in terms of young, American-born prospects, and the interesting thing will be to see how they develop between now and Vancouver in 2010.
Jack Johnson, Bobby Ryan, Brian Lee and Jack Skille are all top-10 picks from last year's draft. Two more Americans, Erik Johnson and Phil Kessel, will likely go early in the first round of this summer's draft. Most of these young prospects are products of the National Team Development Program and there's no reason to suggest that flow of U.S. talent will slow anytime soon.
Look for the U.S. team in Vancouver to bear little resemblance to the Torino team. That's probably not a bad thing.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.