Following the disappointing finish of the men's U.S. Olympic hockey team in Torino a year ago, USA Hockey has assembled an all-star lineup of NHL general managers to make sure the program gets its best players on the ice at future international competitions.
Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, the GM of that ill-fated Torino squad, will be joined by Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, Nashville Predators GM David Poile and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Ray Shero on the management advisory board.
USA Hockey made the official announcement Tuesday.
The four represent years of experience at the NHL level and are among the most respected names in the game. Poile has built the NHL's best team in Nashville, while Burke's Ducks are close behind in the standings after advancing to the Western Conference finals a season ago. Waddell, a longtime USA Hockey soldier, has fashioned a Cup contender in Atlanta and Shero has his youthful Penguins looking playoff-ready several years ahead of predictions.
It's entirely likely some, if not all, of this well-respected group will assume management roles with American entries in international tournaments like the World Championships, Olympics or future World Cup of Hockey competitions, but it's believed their primary function is to help broaden the base of selection for these competitions and ensure the United States ices the most competitive squads possible.
Last year, Waddell traveled across the NHL landscape in selecting players for the U.S. Olympic team. He was assisted by now-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, but the greatest burden fell to Waddell, who was also trying to ensure his Thrashers stayed in the East playoff hunt. In many ways, Waddell faced an untenable position in selecting the U.S. team. Many of the top young players were either too young or injured, while many of the American standard bearers, who'd won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and a silver at the 2002 Games, were getting long in the tooth. In the end, the team finished with a disappointing loss in the quarterfinals and just one win overall -- over Kazakhstan.
This new body will be able to share the workload in assessing talent for international competition. The group is also reminiscent of Hockey Canada's broad-based selection group that in recent years has included executive director Wayne Gretzky, Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson and NHL executives Steve Tambellini, Kevin Lowe and Marc Habscheid. These men were important tools for Gretzky, who was coaching the Phoenix Coyotes and dealing with the death of his mother when the final selection process for the Olympics unfolded.
The move by USA Hockey is interesting given the tide of young American-born talent now in the NHL or just on the horizon. In recent years, USA Hockey has produced top draft picks like Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson (not related), Bobby Ryan, Kyle Okposo, Al Montoya, Jack Skille, Peter Mueller and others. Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel, Paul Stastny, Ryan Miller, Joe Pavelski and Matt Carle are some of the Americans currently making names for themselves as young NHLers.
All of which means the selection process for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the next scheduled best-on-best tournament, promises to be among the most difficult facing U.S. hockey minds. Having the four-man management group in place now will give much-needed time to track many of these young players' progress, as well as spreading the burden of tracking talent appropriately.
The group's first task will be in selecting a team for the 2007 World Championships in Russia. Traditionally, the U.S. has struggled to get players to commit to the tournament, which is usually played in Europe in mid-to-late May. (This year's event is in Russia, while it comes to Quebec City/Halifax in 2008 for a rare North American visit.)
Canada, which for years suffered the same problem in terms of getting players to agree to travel after a long, grueling NHL season, found players responded more favorably when it was Gretzky on the phone asking to take part.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.