The age old debate has been, should the NHL allow its players to compete in the olympics. We all love to see our stars put on the country’s colors and play their heart out. If there’s three things we can count on in life; we will be taxed, we will die, and Canada will win the gold medal 9 times out of ten. Having said that, waking up on a cold Sunday morning to watch your country battle it out with the lesser nation of Latvia never felt so good. Spoiler alert, everyone beats Latvia, sorry Zemgus Girgensons.
Aside from the joy it brings us watching Canada battle the USA in an age old feud, we have to see sports as a business. Back before the NHL ever became involved in the olympics, our great nations youth earned the right to wear our Stars and Stripes in 1920, but failing to win gold until 1960. In 1980 our very own band of younglings defeated the daunting USSR veterans. Just six years later the IIHF declared a rule change allowing all athletes to participate in Olympic Games. In 1988 the NHL reluctantly decided to allow its players to join their countries.
Now, because the olympics occur during the duration of the NHL season, teams are put on hold for two weeks. Looking at the national hockey league from a business standpoint we could all agree that a two week break with no ticket or merchandise sales isn’t a good idea. With the NHL at the back of our minds, players who don’t make the cut for their country sit home and wait for the return of the season. Two weeks seems little to us but a life time to them. We have all seen momentum get crushed with a simple 3 day break, aka the playoffs every year. It never fails the team who sweeps the first round simply doesn’t come out in the second round the same. So it’s no surprise what two weeks can do, especially if you’re team took a winning streak into the break. The olympics has a habit of causing injuries as well as giving those who have been hurt time to recover. So the double edged sword continues.
Fast forward to now, Commissioner Gary Betman has informed us the NHL and the NHLPA have opted to end contract negotiations with the IIHF and olympic committee. Therefore ending the NHLs involvement in Olympic Games. At least for the time being that’s where we stand. However, we all have seen decision changes come late, for example the previous decision to participate wasn’t made until July of that year. So we can all rest on a glimpse of hope, as little as that may be.
We can all also agree that the huge success that came from the newest, revival phenomenon, World Cup was that of the young stars team. So we could also argue that a change to the usual Canada domination cycle might be a good idea. Although most young talent comes from Canada. Witnessing the most recent U18 world champion USA team run through their entire tournament undefeated gives promise to American youth. A change to seeing our most loved veteran players back in their home country’s uniform may not be accepted at first, but it will introduce the world into the potential talents that are in the shadows of the worlds best players. For example, Peter Forsberg rose from the shadows for Sweden before arriving in the NHL. The opportunity for scouts to find young players would amplify in the wake of years of declining draft classes. Excluding the top 3 players who are drafted every year, we can all agree even remembering the name of a player drafted after the third pick is difficult.
With the NHL opting out of the Olympics that would also mean a two week break would no longer exist. Players in the like of Ovechkin could decide to leave for his country but would miss 2 weeks of games. The penalty for leaving the NHL for Olympic Games was not specified. However I don’t feel the NHL has any reach other than a fine to the player and the players organization. So we could still see NHL players jump ship for a couple weeks to show their country they are proud to be part of it.
Every argument has two sides whether we like it or not. The NHL is still a business and the players are still employees. But can you take the home town pride out of a player over money? The olympics are an international powerhouse of advertising and sales, would the NHL be foolish to not capitalize on it?