Justin Abdelkader’s tournament performance doesn’t justify his roster spot

Justin Abdelkader scored a goal at the World Cup of Hockey yesterday, against teammate Petr Mrazek, no less. Here, let’s watch it:

“Way to go, Mrazek!” – some dude, probably.

As we know, Abdelkader, like a few other players on  wasn’t supported by many people to make Team USA. The argument was pretty common:

What’s the use in taking him when you could’ve taken Phil Kessel, Tyler Johnson, or Kyle Okposo? What did Abdelkader bring that a more talented, consistent scorer couldn’t?

Yesterday, a sizeable contingent of the Red Wings fanbase popped up defending Abdelkader’s performance. 

And, despite Abdelkader scoring one of USA’s five goals over three games in the tournament, the move still doesn’t make any sense, and isn’t justifiable, despite the fact that Abdelkader had a respectable enough tournament, when the majority of the rest of his team, well, didn’t. 

Abdelkader vs. Kunitz

Let’s take a look at another confusing international roster pick who scored a mostly meaningless goal: Chris Kunitz in the 2014 Olympics. 

Kunitz was a fine NHL player, a career top-six forward, but a very clear passenger alongside Sidney Crosby. Had he been on just about any other line in the league, most assumed Kunitz would’ve had no shot in making the team.

Kunitz scored the 3-0 goal in the gold medal game, which would sit as the final score. Of course, it’s not “meaningless” in the same way that his team was competing for the gold medal, and not third place in a round robin group, but his goal came as mostly an extreme insurance marker in case arguably the best defensive group of all time (and Carey Price) suddenly collapsed in the third period.  

Like Abdelkader, the Kunitz move never really made any sense. 

Canada’s 2014 team isn’t USA’s 2016 team, but there is a noticeable comparison.

Hockey is, at its core, a game of hedging your bets to increase your goal differential. 

And in a short international tournament, picking the best, healthy talent available is always the best way to give yourself a competitive advantage. 

There’s a blanket of randomness, luck, and other factors involved into scoring a goal. Justin Abdelkader, much like Chris Kunitz, may have had a moment of brilliance in their tournaments, though the teams had drastically different results. And yet, the thought process behind picking them was still just as flawed.

Both are good hockey players, but neither gave their team the best chance to win going in. There is no reasonable justification to picking a player like Abdelkader who topped out at 44 points in a season over players like Kessel, Okposo, and Johnson who have all put up totals over 60 points within the past two seasons. 

Put quite simply, on any given night, or on any given shift, you’re more likely to get a goal from Kessel, or Okposo, or Johnson, than you would on Abdelkader.

Bet on the best talent available. Justin Abdelkader, despite a goal, wasn’t that talent.