With the prospect of a lockout in the NHL looming for next season, the owners and the NHLPA are reeling for a deal by Sept. 15.
However, it looks as though both sides are digging in for a prolonged conflict, which could effect more than just the NHL season.
Future Olympic participation is at stake for NHL players under a new collective bargaining agreement. With the gold medal-winning conclusion of the USA men's basketball team at the Summer Olympics, the marquee event at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, may lose some of its luster without the NHL's best.
But upon the assumption that a deal is reached and the NHL players are allowed to play, Team USA will be looking to build their own "Dream Team," and it may look something like this:
GOALIE: The goalie position is crucial, not just in the NHL playoffs, but maybe even more so in Olympic competition. This was evident in Vancouver, when long-time Canadian starter Martin Brodeur was pulled for the rest of the games after consecutive weak efforts. For the USA, as of now, they should look to Stanley Cup Playoffs MVP and Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick as their rock. The NHL's best have struggled to get the puck past the 26-year-old in his four full seasons with the Kings.
His backup isn't a slouch either, as Ryan Miller should probably be the second-string goalie. Miller has played well, but is on a mediocre team in Buffalo, so unless he wins Goalie of the Year next season, Quick should be the No. 1. Finally, given the unpredictability of Tim Thomas's future in the NHL, one has to think the U.S. is looking for a solid younger goaltender, and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings certainly fits that bill.
DEFENDERS: The starting two lines of defense should essentially be interchangeable at the Olympic level, and the U.S. has some big, tough defensemen with excellent slap shots. The best is probably Ryan Suter, who easily has the best shot and is an all-around solid defender, followed by the 6'4, 230-pound Erik Johnson. These guys are big hitters, have cannons for a slap shot, and can move the puck up the ice with ease and precision. Filling out the "big 4" might be former King Jack Johnson, and Brooks Orpik, who will provide the veteran presence for the youthful line.
FORWARDS: This has traditionally been the strength of Team USA. Although there is no Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, or Datsyuk lacing them up for the red, white and blue, the Yanks may boast one of the deepest groups of forwards in the world. Starting at left wing should be ex-Devils captain Zach Parise, as the 28-year-old will likely be the most well-rounded forward on the squad. At right wing, Dustin Brown, who was the captain of the Stanley Cup-winning Kings, can expect to put another letter on his jersey. At center, 21-year-old Patrick Kane might the best sniper on the American squad.
The second line shouldn't be too shabby either, as David Backes at center, Phil Kessel at right wing, and Joe Pavelski on the left side, are likely to make the squad.
The U.S. will face heavy competition from Canada, Russia, and Sweden, but the Americans can expect to be in the mix for a gold medal.