NHL Olympic Watch: The NHL Must Make Plans to Attend the 2018 Olympics

The NHL Houses Some of the World’s Greatest Hockey Talents Which Means Most of These Talented Hockey Players Would be Invited to Represent Their Home Nations in the Olympics, But That’s Only if the NHL Were Participating in the World’s Biggest Sporting Event.

The NHL has announced that they’re not going to the Olympic Games in 2018. It will be the first time in 20 years that the NHL will not be in attendance. But here’s the thing: the NHL needs to go. The Olympics are too important to miss, and certainly to just skip. There are currently no better alternatives.

There is no better venue for growing the game or making the fan base larger, therefore, there is no replacement to the Olympics. But the NHL is facing obstacles on their road to Pyeongchang.

The NHL’s Side

Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL, has announced, “unless something changes we’re not going” (via NBC Sports). Daly continued, “we’ve said that consistently for three months, so there’s nothing new about that”.

January 28, 2017; commissioner Gary Bettman (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Except, in this case, there is something new. Previously, the NHL had not been so openly against going to the Games. They were still weighing the options. Therefore, the League was attempting to wait out the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Foundation) and the IOC (International Olympics Committee).

Now, they’ve reportedly made up their minds, and it’s not for the best. It seems that the Olympics Committee and the IIHF are determined not to give in to the will of the NHL. The NHL, wanting to not appear as the weaker of the organizations, does not want to give into the IIHF or the IOC either.

What the NHL wants from the Olympics are simple: they want insurance on their players, in case any of them get hurt in their competition. They also want transportation for their players, and a few other needed benefits of providing players to Pyeongchang.

These demands make sense. The NHL will be basically shutting itself down for a month so that players may go to the Olympics, taking away money from the owners and the league. Any injuries to the star players of the NHL that will be attending the Games will also cost the League.

Bettman and the NHL are just trying to provide for themselves, therefore getting themselves insurance and assurance that they won’t be liable for anything in the process. It’s a perfectly reasonable expectation, and the IIHF and the IOC should have met these demands.

Benefits to the Olympics

The Olympics provide a few things to the NHL. These things are important to the growth of the sport and the league, and to fans.

Sep 22, 2016; Zach Parise (9) and Kyle Palmieri (23) (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

One, the Olympics provide publicity to the NHL. The biggest draw in the winter Games is hockey. The greatest hockey in the world, as all-stars, from every country in the world, compete against each other.

It’s like the World Cup of hockey, except even better. Because there are players that chose to skip the World Cup. If a player gets to be on the Olympics team, they don’t skip.

Two, the Olympics help to grow the sport of hockey across the world. For many, this is an opportunity to watch the sport for the first time. That’s not just in the United States, but across the globe. A lot of people in South Korea will be watching hockey for the first time. This is a chance for hockey to grow as a sport, and it needs to be taken advantage of.

Sep 22, 2016; Alex Ovechkin (8) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Grow the Game

If the NHL provides star players, that means that South Koreans will be watching the best hockey. Therefore, it also means there’s an opportunity for the NHL to start getting money from South Korea. To grow the market to include a larger Asian market. And that’s a seizable opportunity.

Three, the NHL could lose players if they don’t go to the Olympics. Players like Alexander Ovechkin are extremely loyal to their country (via CSN) and might leave for a year to make sure they play in the Games. That’s not great news for the NHL, as they could lose players for an extended period. Too many, and the NHL might as well take a break.

Alternatives to the Olympics

The NHL’s attempted to set up numerous alternatives to the Olympics. These alternatives have failed to accomplish the same things as the Games, though. They simply don’t provide the same benefits that going to Pyeongchang would.

The World Cup

One of the alternatives is the World Cup. It allows the countries that are strong in the Olympics to compete against each other. It also created fan favorites Team North America and Team Europe, which made the Finals.

Unfortunately, again, players skipped the World Cup and did not take it as seriously. It is unlikely that the World Cup will ever have the same worldwide appeal as the Games.

All-Star Status

The other alternative, and the one the NHL would be putting on at the same time as the Olympics in all expectation, is the All-Star Game. Now, if the players are denied the Olympics, are they really going to be open to the All-Star Game next year? If the players leave for the Olympics, and a few owners like Ted Leonsis, who has been open about letting the Capitals compete, allow them to leave, what happens?

It’s probably best that the Olympics take precedence over these alternatives. The All-Star Game still needs work. The World Cup is unpopular. Therefore, the Games remain the best possibility for the NHL to spread the game of hockey and their own fanbase.

Conclusion

The NHL needs to go to the Olympic Games for a few reasons. First, they’re able to grow the game at home, by getting the largest stage currently possible for hockey. Second, they need to expand the fanbase, and going to the Olympics is a good way of getting worldwide attention.

But the NHL needs insurance that they’ll get their players to and from the Olympics easily and that if they’re injured the owners will be compensated. I’m not saying the NHL should give in. But if it gets to be time for players to leave and we lose players like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, and Connor McDavid, there’s not a lot of draw for that month of hockey.

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