Winter Olympics 2018: Why the NHL must send its players to South Korea
The NHL is making a huge mistake if they don’t support their players going to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Hockey fans live for the best players in the world taking on each other. It’s not a secret players live for it too. They also love representing their countries, as for some players, their duty to their country is very important. The NHL, however, doesn’t feel the same way.
“If the status quo remains, I don’t expect us to be in the Olympics,” said deputy commissioner bill Daly, via Yahoo Sports. “As of right now, there’s not a will [to participate].”
If there’s not a will to participate, it sure isn’t from the players. The NHLPA has been standing by its players as some of the biggest stars desire to play in the 2018 Olympics.
What Do The Players Want?
“My decision is the same,” Ovechkin said, via ESPN. “So, I don’t know what’s going to happen right now, but we just have to wait what they say and we’ll see. It’s a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen. But obviously I said I’m going to play.”
The Washington Capitals captain takes a lot of pride in playing for his country. His lack of Stanley Cups has given him the opportunity to represent Russia internationally. It’s an opportunity he rarely turns down. Say what you want about Ovechkin’s zero Stanley Cups, his devotion and commitment to his country is inspiring.
His case is quite fascinating because he has the support of the Capitals owner. Many owners haven’t come out supporting the Winter Olympics, but Ted Leonsis is a rarity. An owner relentlessly defending his star player’s right to do as he pleases. Even if what he pleases likely won’t bring Leonsis anything good.
But it’s not just The Great Eight who wants to go. Arguably the biggest star in the NHL does too.
“Players should be there and I certainly hope they are there,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said, via CTV News. “There’s a lot of people higher up than me that are going to be figuring that one out, but 100 per cent they should go. I can’t picture an Olympics without (NHL players) to be honest.”
When someone like McDavid speaks, the league has to listen. He’s an extremely important part of their future. With the proper marketing, McDavid has the potential to be as popular and significant as Wayne Gretzky. Even Jonathan Toews, who has represented Canada in three Olympics, realizes how important representing your country is.
“Quite frankly, I think to turn on the Olympics next year and watch hockey teams or the players representing their countries, if it’s not the best in the world, I don’t know,” said Toews, via Sportsnet. “I just feel like we’re misrepresenting our sport on a pretty huge scale and a pretty huge level. I think the players do want to go, but I think it should be of interest to the players and the league… the NHL should be in the Olympics.”
If the league doubts how important the Winter Olympics are, they should look no further than the NBA. When David Stern took over as its commissioner, basketball was going through a stale era. Sure, it was popular, but it wasn’t growing. Stern aggressively expanded the league, using anything he could to do so.
While having Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton on his side helped, the NBA saw a lot of growth under him. It became a global phenomenon. Stern’s influence on the NBA can be seen in today’s game, which features over 100 international players from 41 countries.
Currently, the NHL is going through a period of expansion. Traditionally dominated by Canadians, the 2015-16 season saw the first time in league history Canadians didn’t form the majority. However, it can’t be content with where it is. There are markets untapped around the world. So why isn’t the NHL beating down the door trying to get their players to go?
What The Owners Want
It all started back at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. T.J. Oshie was an American hero and United States patriotism was at an all time high (until the semifinal against Canada). However, New York Islanders center John Tavares got significantly injured at the Olympics. He missed the rest of the regular season.
Obviously, Islanders general manager Garth Snow wasn’t too happy.
“This is probably the biggest reason why NHL players shouldn’t be in the Olympics, it should just be amateurs, said Snow, via CBS New York. “And it could have happened to anyone; it just happened to be us that lost our best player. A lot of people pay to see John play. It wouldn’t matter if we were 10 points clear of a playoff spot or 10 points out. We lost our best player and he wasn’t even (injured while) playing for us.”
To be fair, Snow raises an excellent point. Owners have little reason to send their players who they are paying lots of money overseas. Why? Because they make very little money out of it. At the end of the day, the NHL’s decision about the 2018 Winter Olympics will come down to money.
It’s not about the schedule. Though the league should have planned better, the 2016-17 season’s schedule is fine even with the World Cup of Hockey. Players would be more than happy to start the season a week or two early if they get a nice break during the Olympics.
Nor is it about the costs involved in traveling. It has never been an issue in the past and the International Ice Hockey Federation is covering the costs. Even if they weren’t paying for it, opposing players from going to the Olympics because of a fear of injury is short-sighted.
The NHL Needs The 2018 Olympics
The 2018 Olympics would be a great opportunity for the NHL to showcase their new talent. Specifically, McDavid and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The league has been captivated by the last two number one overall picks. Both are generational talents who can help take the NHL to the next level.
Globally, hockey is steadily becoming a popular sport. Look at how the power has shifted since the 1970’s. The USSR dominated until its fall out. Canada and America have largely dominated for the past 25 years, but Sweden and Finland are quickly closing the gap. So are other countries. Imagine all the kids in different countries falling in love with hockey because of watching players like Ovechkin, McDavid, and Matthews. The long-term benefits of sending the players to Korea far outweigh the risks. Sure, it’s risky, but very few rewards in life can be had without assuming risk.
The Olympics need the NHL as well. A primary selling point of it is seeing the best in the world square off against each other. Nobody wants to see second rate players compete on the highest stage. Fans want to see the best or they won’t tune in. This is true of any sport. The IIHF is begging Gary Bettman to send his top players, but there hasn’t been much action from the commissioner.
For its own sake, hopefully the NHL wises up and sends its players to the 2018 Olympics. Because otherwise their short-sighted thinking could hurt the league long-term.
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