Team-by-team breakdown (Sweden)
The defending IIHF world champions are a popular pick by many to win gold in Sochi, and why not? They're loaded at every position. The last time the Olympics were held overseas, the Swedes took gold in Torino. Will we see a repeat of that in Sochi? Perhaps, but do the injury withdrawals of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen -- plus the fact Henrik Zetterberg doesn't seem to be 100 percent, even though he's going to play -- poke a dent in the Swedes' armor?
Five things to watch
1. Next to Canada, not sure there's a more impressive blue-line corps in the tournament with Erik Karlsson, Niklas Kronwall, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Alexander Edler, Jonathan Ericsson et al. Just wow. Having said that, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the Swedes didn't also take Victor Hedman, who is having a sensational year in Tampa, instead of a guy like Henrik Tallinder. That decision is puzzling to me. But it remains an incredibly skilled and balanced blue-line corps.
2. Lots of offensive talent up front too, led by Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Backstrom, Gabriel Landeskog and Alexander Steen. Scoring should not be an issue, however with the loss of Henrik Sedin, will Daniel Sedin be just as effective? The twins have been split up before by injuries and proved to be just as productive, so perhaps it's a nonissue.
3. But is there enough size? The injury loss of Franzen is significant because he was the kind of power forward the Swedes don't have many of. Lots of skill up front, of course, but not that much brawn. The Mule will be missed in that regard. Patrik Berglund is probably their most physically imposing forward, but otherwise, not a lot of big boys up front.
4. Finland and the U.S. have the deepest goaltending pool, but I would argue that Sweden has the best goalie in the tournament once again in Henrik Lundqvist. Now, I say that with a bit of hesitation, given how Lundqvist looked in the first half of the NHL season. But he's come around in January, just in time for Sochi. This guy is a stud, an Olympic gold medalist from 2006, and he's going to rock the house again this year.
5. The rink in Sochi is not only international size but apparently the corners are almost square, which makes it even bigger. So it's big, big ice. And the Swedes have grown up playing on big ice, very much at home on it in 2006 en route to Olympic gold in Italy. Other powerhouse teams like Canada and the U.S. will need to overcome their lack of experience on big ice, but the Swedes have zero issue with it.
Still under the radar in Phoenix, the talented blueliner will make the Olympic stage his place to shine and show the world what a talent he is.
All season long, I viewed the gold medal as a toss-up between Sweden and Canada, and the Swedes are more at home overseas on big ice than the Canadians are. But I'm less confident of a Swedish gold with the injuries the team has incurred.