"There's lots of competition; a lot of good goalies. We'll see. It's one of those things I can't worry about too much. We'll see what's going to happen." -- Miikka Kiprusoff
Now, if I'm the general manager of Finland's bid for gold in Vancouver 2010 -– and I am
-- then I've had a lot to consider over the past few weeks. And not all of it positive.
My top gun, Anaheim Ducks
forward Teemu Selanne
, broke his wrist in a Dec. 4 loss to the Dallas Stars
, and the subsequent surgery will have him healthy in time for the Games. Healthy, but ready?
On the other hand, Mikko Koivu
and Niklas Backstrom
have stepped up for the Minnesota Wild
, who have very quietly put themselves back into the Northwest Division discussion with nine wins in their past 11 games.
But the biggest news by far was a very Ricky Henderson-esque quote by all-world goaltender (and my starter when I picked the team in early November), Miikka Kiprusoff
"If I'm not going to start for sure, I think I'm going to take that time off and rest," Kiprusoff told The Calgary Herald on Nov. 24.
This is no ultimatum, no grandstanding on "Kipper's" part. He simply wanted to let Team Finland GM Jari Kurri
and head coach Jukka Jalonen know where he stands.
"We've been talking," Kiprusoff told The Calgary Herald in the same interview. "I told them that I'm ready to go. But like I said, there're still many games to go (with the Flames). If I'm healthy and I feel it's all right -- I'm not too tired -- then I'm going to go."
Then, he added: "If they pick me."
Let's be honest. If Kiprusoff is healthy and ready, he's the Finnish starter. Or he's my Finnish starter anyway. He is one of the early season Vezina candidates, playing to a 2.14 GAA and a .930 save percentage in starting 30 of his team's 34 games this season. In fact, he's top-10 in every single goaltending category recorded on NHL.com, and the biggest reason as to why the Flames are currently leading the Northwest Division.
The Finnish goaltending ranks are strong. Backstrom has won eight of his past 10 starts. Nashville Predators
goaltender Pekka Rinne
shook off some early rust and has also been spectacular lately. Antero Niittymaki
, while slowed from his early tear, is pushing incumbent starter Mike Smith
for starts in Tampa Bay.
It's safe to say that even if the Finns don't have "Kipper" wearing the blue and white come February, the goaltending will be a strength, not a concern. Heck, just ask Kiprusoff:
"There's lots of competition; a lot of good goalies. We'll see," he said. "It's one of those things I can't worry about too much. We'll see what's going to happen."
With that sort of drama in mind, here is my final take at the 2010 Team Finland Olympic roster.
Miikka Kiprusoff, Calgary Flames --
As good as Kiprusoff has been this season, he's been even better in his past 19 starts, with a 11-5-3 record, a staggering 1.63 GAA over that same stretch, and three shutouts. Just how hard has he been to beat? He's let up one goal or less in over half -- 10 -- of those past 19 starts. Say hello to your starter, Finnish fans.
Niklas Backstrom, Minnesota Wild --
Backstrom has played 17 of his team's past 22 games, winning 11 with a 2.29 GAA and a .914 save percentage along that stretch. Not quite as good as Kipper, but good enough to get him the backup nod, and maybe push Kipper just a little in the meantime.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators --
Last season's rookie darling is picking it up, evidenced by a stretch of 12 games from Oct. 22 to Nov. 25 in which he lost only once. It's not his time yet, but it's getting closer.
Kimmo Timonen, Philadelphia Flyers --
The struggles of the Flyers notwithstanding, Timonen will be the de facto leader for a very underrated Finnish defense.
Joni Pitkanen, Carolina Hurricanes --
See above. He's had a tough start to the season, and his Hurricanes have had it even tougher, but early struggles do little to tarnish the abilities of Pitkanen when push comes to shove.
Pettri Nummelin, HC Lugano (Switzerland) --
As I said in my first attempt at picking the Finns' roster, 29 of Nummelin's 45 career NHL points came with the man advantage, so Nummelin could be a secret weapon of sorts for the Finns. Also, his career 8-for-10 shootout record means he knows how to deke. Those two tidbits should be more than enough to put him in an Olympic jersey.
Ossi Vaananen, Dynamo Minsk (KHL) --
A heady veteran with almost 500 games of NHL experience, Vaananen will be a big piece of the puzzle.
Sami Salo, Vancouver Canucks --
A cannon of a shot and a host of NHL experience makes Salo not only one of the most valuable Finnish defenders, but likely the most underrated as well.
Ville Koistinen, Florida Panthers --
Koistinen may not have the name recognition of some of his countrymen, but he's talented and dangerous and will make for a nice complimentary piece in the Finnish team's third pair.
Sami Kapanen, KalPa Kuopio (SM-Liiga) --
The seventh D is a longtime Finnish national team mainstay who can play forward and defense and uses his skills and speed more than adequately in either role.
Teemu Selanne, Anaheim Ducks --
A national hero with cult-level status in Finland, Teemu should be back shortly after the new year and will need to make every shift count in order to be ready for Vancouver, but come on: does anyone still doubt the Teemu?
Olli Jokinen, Calgary Flames --
Jokinen is still adjusting to the Western Conference and head coach Brent Sutter
, but his struggles will only make him a better player in the long run.
Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild --
If it weren't for Teemu, brothers Mikko and Saku could have been fighting for the captaincy. As it stands, however, at least one of the Koivu clan will be wearing an "A" in Vancouver -- and possibly both.
Saku Koivu, Anaheim Ducks --
Take a look at Koivu's past 10 games and you'll understand how the Anaheim Ducks
have been able to begin their climb out of the Western Conference basement. Koivu has been good, has been clutch, and is only getting better.
Tuomo Ruutu, Carolina Hurricanes --
The youngest Ruutu has all of the rough and tumble edges of brother Jarkko's game, but he also has a vast skill set, evidenced by his hat trick last week. Ruutu will make his impact on both the scoresheet, and opposing players, in Vancouver
Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings --
A wrist injury derailed what appeared to be a breakout year for Filppula, but his size, strength, control and hockey sense, combined with the tutelage the veteran leadership in Detroit, make him a potent addition to the 2010 team.
Niklas Hagman, Toronto Maple Leafs --
After averaging 22 goals in his past three NHL seasons, Hagman is well on his way to yet another "surprising" season; surprising only to those who don't yet recognize the flashy Finn's skill level.
Jarkko Ruutu, Ottawa Senators --
Fourth-line minutes suit this Ruutu just fine, as he makes the most of every second on every shift. A career PIM-a-game player, his role will be to clear space for his teammates, and maybe lure a few talented opponents into the sin bin alongside him, on occasion.
Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes --
Jokinen took the next step in his career during last season's postseason run in Carolina, and that sort of production in big-time games will bode well for his 2010 chances.
Sean Bergenheim, New York Islanders --
Still a young man by NHL standards (he'll turn 26 shortly before the tournament begins), he is finally beginning to play with the edge and confidence the Islanders predicted out of him when they selected him No. 22 in 2002.
Ville Leino, Detroit Red Wings --
He started slowly enough for me to hold him off the team in November, and even though the points still aren't coming as they did last season (5 goals, 9 points in 13 games), he is learning daily that he needs to move his feet at the same level of his hands to be an effective NHLer, which could make him a very dangerous player by February.
Niko Kapanen, Ak Bars Kazan (KHL) --
With 7 goals and 10 points in only seven games at the 2009 World Championship this past summer, Kapanen showed the Finnish hockey world he is still a dangerous offensive player, and kept his name in the mix for 2010.
Antti Miettinen, Minnesota Wild --
Last year's breakout season continued into the summer for Miettinen, who was selected to Finland's 2009 World Championship team, where he scored 3 goals and 8 points in seven games. A tireless checker with the ability to put the puck in the net, he should find a home on one of the Finns' checking lines, and as a key component in their penalty killing.
Oskar Osala, Hershey (AHL) --
Osala could one day be a household name in the NHL, but right now the 6-4, 217-pound Capitals prospect is content to refine his game in the AHL. The youngest member of my hypothetical Team Finland likely wouldn't see much ice, but simply being on the team would do wonders for his career development as a Finnish national team member, something that could eke him into a roster spot in Vancouver.
And that's that. In, are goaltender Pekka Rinne
(Nashville) and forward Ville Leino
(Detroit Red Wings
), and out are goaltender Antero Niittymaki
(Tampa Bay), and Jarkko Immonen (KHL), leaving a core of players that I think can skate and compete with the best of any country in the tournament.
Brad Holland is the video guru at NHL.com and it's a safe bet he has seen virtually every big goal scored by a Finnish NHLer this season.