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Burning questions as USA Hockey decides men’s Olympic roster

Dec 30, 2013, 12:56 PM EDT

Seth Jones Getty Images

It appears the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team will not include any players with multiple Olympics under their belt for the first time since NHLers were allowed into the Winter Games in 1998.

The 2010 roster, dubbed young and somewhat inexperienced, surprised by winning a silver medal. It beat Canada in preliminary play and nearly did it again in the gold-medal game, falling on Sidney Crosby‘s overtime goal.

The Sochi team is expected to bring back the stars from 2010 — including tournament all-stars goalie Ryan Miller and forward Zach Parise — among as many as 17 players from the 25-man roster (plus two injury replacements) in Vancouver.

The entire squad will be announced at the conclusion of the Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings at The Big House in Ann, Arbor, Mich., on New Year’s Day.

Here are three burning questions going into the announcement:

1. Who will be the No. 3 goalie?

It “looked good” to be Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, according to a report Sunday citing an unnamed person with “knowledge of the selection process.”

That isn’t concrete at all but must be noted. Howard is thought to be in the running for the spot with the Lightning’s Ben Bishop and the Devils’ Cory Schneider. He was expected to return to game action Monday after not playing since Dec. 10 due to a knee injury.

2010 Olympic goalies Jonathan Quick and Miller are expected to be the top two, in some order. The third goalie from the 2010 Olympic team, Tim Thomas, is considered a longshot at age 39.

Bishop is the hot hand choice. He leads all American NHL goalies in goals-against average and save percentage this season and was the backup to John Gibson on the 2013 World Championships team that won bronze.

Howard started at the 2012 World Championships, where the U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Bishop or Schneider, both 27, would also be preferable to Howard, 29, if age plays a factor. A third goalie usually only sees time in the case of disastrous showings and is a good use of a roster spot for a player to get the “Olympic experience.”

Quick was the third goalie in 2010 at age 24.

2. Do promising teens Seth Jones and Alex Galchenyuk have a shot?

The outlook is not good for either. Jones or Galchenyuk, both 19, would be the youngest U.S. Olympic men’s hockey players since 1992.

Jones, the Predators defenseman and son of retired NBA player Popeye Jones, has seen his ice time dip from 25 minutes per game in October to 22 minutes in November and 15 in December. Keep in mind, though, that Jones plays for U.S. Olympic general manager David Poile in Nashville.

Galchenyuk, the Canadiens forward and son of a 1998 Belarusian Olympic hockey player, scored 10 goals with 12 assists in his first 40 games this season. The 22 points ranked third on the Canadiens despite playing 15 minutes per game.

His statistics give him a better chance than Jones, but the U.S. has plenty of experienced and capable forwards at its disposal. It might simply be a case of not enough room for the young Galchenyuk.

3. Who else is on the roster bubble?

The U.S. is expected to go with 14 forwards and eight defensemen with the former presenting a clearer picture two days before the roster announcement.

It would be surprising to see any of these nine forwards from the 2010 Olympic team not make the cut — David BackesDustin BrownPatrick KaneRyan Kesler, Phil KesselZach PariseJoe PavelskiBobby Ryan and Paul Stastny

Another 2010 Olympian, Ryan Callahan, is a little bit of a question mark with an MCL sprain that’s kept him out since Dec. 10. He’s hopeful of a mid-January return.

T.J. OshieMax Pacioretty and James van Riemsdyk are the leading newcomers. The real questions come from other would-be rookie Olympians, a list that includes but is not limited to Kyle OkposoBrandon SaadDerek Stepan and Blake Wheeler

Questions abound on defense, where perhaps only Ryan McDonaghKevin Shattenkirk and Ryan Suter are safe selections at this point.

How valuable is Dustin Byfuglien‘s versatility? What is the importance of Jack Johnson‘s experience with USA Hockey? What about Paul Martin (out since Nov. 25 with a fractured tibia) and Brooks Orpik (back after missing three weeks with a concussion), who play for U.S. Olympic coach Dan Bylsma on the Penguins?

No matter the roster, perhaps only Canada will have greater overall talent than the U.S. Hockey Canada will announce its team on Jan. 7.

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