The so-called “Big Six” will once again be fighting for gold in men’s hockey at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. But the Russian Olympic Committee enjoys a clear leg up in the competition, as all the top teams will be without their biggest stars for the tournament.
The NHL pulled its support for the Olympic Games after COVID-19 disrupted its season, denying all of the top nations the opportunity to field their best professional players.
KHL talent bolsters Russian roster
Without a doubt, that weakens nearly every team in the field. But the ROC has one big advantage: the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The largely Russian professional league ranks as the second-highest level of competition in the world behind only the NHL. And while many top Russians do play in North America, there are plenty more who stay at home to play hockey, making them available for the Olympic Games.
As a result, the ROC comes in as the clear favorite to win gold in Beijing. DraftKings Sportsbook lists the Russians at +150, far ahead of the field – though certainly far from a sure thing.
“I think we’re probably one of the favorites,” Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of guys who played in the NHL and played at the national team level.”
Finland (+450) also keeps much of its talent, as many Finnish players participate in the KHL. While Finland may not have the level of talent the ROC can boast, they have a strong history as a national team which has built long-term chemistry. While other teams are working out the kinks of playing together, Finland should immediately jump out as a gold medal contender.
“It is a level playing field,” Finnish forward Valtteri Filppula said. “If a team gets hot, a goalie gets hot, any team has a chance.”
USA goes with youth movement for men’s hockey
Other top hockey nations such as Sweden (+550), Canada (+700), and the Czech Republic (+900) have gone with a mix of veterans with NHL or other professional experience and young players. The United States, on the other hand, has gone with a clear youth movement. While there are a handful of experienced hands on Team USA, the Americans will suit up 15 current NCAA hockey players as part of the youngest US team since 1994.
|Olympic Men’s Hockey Odds (via DraftKings Sportsbook)|
|ROC: +150||Finland: +450|
|Sweden: +550||Canada: +700|
|Czech Republic: +900||Switzerland: +1400|
|USA: +1600||Germany: +2000|
|Slovakia: +5000||Latvia: +10000|
|Denmark: +10000||China: +70000|
As a result, the United States comes in as a relative longshot to win men’s hockey gold at +1600. That places Team USA outside the top six on the odds board, with even Switzerland (+1400) rating above them.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Germany (+2000). The Germans nearly won gold in 2018, coming up just short in overtime against the Russian team in the gold medal game. They backed that up with a fourth-place finish at the 2021 World Championships, and could once again make a surprise run as a solid squad with few obvious weaknesses.