Winter Olympics: NHL Players Need to Continue Participating

It was announced yesterday that the city of Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. With the news comes the question: will NHL players be participating in the upcoming Olympic Games?

This has been an issue for quite some time. The League’s top brass aren’t too fond of the players participating because it means they have to shut down operations for a two-week period. It isn’t just that, but also the fact that players may be hurt during the tournament meaning they will miss time back in the NHL—where it really matters (John Tavares and Henrik Zetterberg are just two of the players that were injured during the 2014 Olympics and missed time back when NHL games resumed).

The players seem to be on the other side of the spectrum and most are jumping at the chance to represent their countries in one of the most coveted sporting events (who wouldn’t be). So, when the Olympics come around, the NHLPA and NHL struggle to come up with an agreement. The players have won out and continue to travel halfway across the world to play in the games. But will that trend continue?

You might be thinking, “Well, of course why wouldn’t it?” But the truth is there is a possibility that the League will come up with a way to prevent players from going. The next two Olympics are in South Korea and China, respectively. The time difference alone will be problematic (at least for many in North America), just like it was in Sochi. Viewership in North America (which is the target audience for the NHL) will probably not even be able to watch half the games. So, really what’s the point?

And then there is the World Cup of Hockey, which is put together by the NHL and will start in 2016.

If that tournament proves successful, the NHL may view the Olympics less of an attraction when they can control their own international tournament (and the money) with their star players. Nothing is set in stone, though. [CBS Sports]

I am sure that the World Cup of Hockey will be great, but is doesn’t even compare to the Olympics. I don’t think it will bring as much viewership. And of course winning the World Cup of Hockey is not like winning FIFA’s World Cup (because soccer is the world’s favorite sport) and it won’t even come close to having a gold, silver or bronze Olympic medal being placed around your neck. The Olympics are the world’s greatest sporting competition.

I understand why the League may not want players to go. Hey, the NBA didn’t want to shut down their operations, so they had basketball moved to a summer sport. Hockey doesn’t have that luxury. But the Olympics just won’t be the same without NHL players, especially since I don’t believe Team USA could pull off anything better than what happened in 1980.

If the NHL players didn’t go what type of talent would we see in the games? Maybe it would give us a chance to watch OHL, CHL, ECHL and AHL, and other minor hockey league players—players we have rarely watched or heard of—pull of amazing feats. I don’t know. But what I do know is it would not be the same. 

What makes Olympic hockey so great is that you know most, if not all, the players on the ice. You are used to seeing them play for your teams. Your favorite player now becomes your mortal enemy or you enemy becomes your savior. How fun is that!

It’s not just that, but look at what type of power and exposure the Olympics yield. T.J. Oshie is a great example. After his heroics against Russia, he became a household name. How many people (who didn’t watch hockey regularly) know who he was before Sochi 2014? The Olympics expose people to the game of hockey and the NHL’s top talent. You don’t get much better publicity than that!

I know the logistics of getting the players to the Olympics, shutting down the League and all that can be problematic. But, hey, the NHL has shut down for complete seasons—so I really don’t think they should be complaining that much about two weeks.

We won’t know until the 2018 Olympics get closer if we will in fact see the NHL players head over to South Korea to duke it out for a medal. But, man, do I hope that they will be going.