There is a second tier of teams, one that could threaten if enough top squads falter, but it's a not a group of serious contenders. Among them is Germany, a nation that sports a couple NHL players, but doesn't seem to have much of a chance on the big stage.
That hasn't stopped them from thinking outside the box.
Uwe Krupp -- a former NHL defenseman who is now coaching the German team -- is behind a new idea that is making waves in the hockey world.
The six-on-three power play. As noted in the New York Times last month, former U.S. women's national coach Ben Smith saw it in person during a tournament in 2007.
"I don't know why no one has tried it here ... It was amazing to see how well it worked.Krupp told the Times he has never seen it backfire. Of course, this chance exists, because the three penalty killers on the ice would be able to shoot freely at the open net ... if they can get the puck.
... "We never touched the puck," Smith said. "The Germans passed it all around. The crowd was going wild - they loved it. And then they scored."
"Sheer number is what makes it work - you have twice as many skaters as the other team," said Krupp, a former Stanley Cup-winning defenseman who will coach the German Olympic team. "On the face-off you put two men in the middle on their one defenseman and put two more men on the wall to take their other defenseman.Naturally, there is going to be some apprehension, and there are legitimate arguments against the concept. For starters, there is no telling how it will work when elite opponents are prepared for it. If you've watched enough hockey, you've surely seen even good power plays get outworked during a two-man advantage. If three guys can outwork five and create scoring chances, they can do it to six players, too.
"On the draw your center ties up their center, and you've still got another man free to get a loose puck or knock down a clearing pass. Even if their center wins the draw cleanly, their defensemen will not have much chance to do anything with the puck."
Also, the only record of six-on-three power plays in games, outside of Krupp's use of it, is late in close games. A good example of this is the 2004 NCAA final between Denver and Maine. Trailing 1-0, Maine had over a minute of six-on-three time, but the Black Bears hit a post and had a bunch of shots blocked (Denver blocked 27 shots for the game). The game ended 1-0.
When the net is empty, it only takes one mistake, and you will look pretty ridiculous.
Will normally conservative pro coaches try something like this, outside of the most desperate of times? We may never know the success rate of the tactic, because it is likely to be used so rarely. The first time it blew up in the NHL coach's face would likely be the last time we saw it outside of a game's final minutes.
And it would blow up.
NHL players are too good. They're fast, great with the puck, and they read the ice as well as anyone. One lazy pass across the blue line, and even in a three-on-six situation, you have a recipe for disaster.
Krupp's threat to use the six-on-three if he gets a chance during the Olympics is likely not an idle one. What does Germany have to lose? They're a safe bet for the relegation round no matter what they do. It will be interesting to watch, but it doesn't seem to have a terribly bright future at the next level.