The Winter Olympics & the NHL

We’re nearing the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the hockey has not had the same shine. Despite attending since 1998, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, put a blanket ban on NHL players attending the 2018 Olympics. They argued that the league has no evidence that the Olympics have a positive impact on the business or the sport itself. They listed several, half-hearted reasons:

Money:

  • It’s not cost-effective to send players to the Winter Games
  • Star players are selected for the national team and if they get injured on international duty then it impacts their NHL team: Tavares, Zetterberg, Barkov, and Kopecky all suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi.
  • There’s a lukewarm reception for the NHL in Asia.
  • Player salaries are so good they are able to play for free at Olympics; there is an argument that this is a luxury they can only afford due to the league’s generosity.

Time: 

  • Bye-weeks have been introduced in the last couple of seasons to provide a mid-season break
  • Halting the season for almost a month for the Olympics, disrupts a season; the summer break for the Stanley Cup Final teams then becomes very short.
  • There’s no football or baseball on to compete with at this time of year and voluntarily making the league redundant during this time is a bad business move.

Rights: 

  • NHL doesn’t receive the rights to photos or videos from Olympic competitions therefore Crosby’s Vancouver golden goal and Oshie’s shootout heroics were unable  to be shown.

Already International:

  • The NHL had it’s own World Cup a couple of years ago
  • They’ve hosted “China Games” this season in Shanghai and Beijing
  • They’ve also announced European games in Sweden, Finland, and Germany

On the surface, the majority of these reasons are plausible ones to not attend the Olympics, but when you break it down, it is all about the money. Maybe that’s the way of professional sports, but it’s greedy and dispirited.

In previous years, the International Olympic Committee has paid for the travel expenses, insurance, and accommodation, but refused in 2018. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered $20 million in support, but this was refused then the NHL decided the Olympics isn’t profitable to the league.

Injuries do happen – even to star players – but they happen in league games, they happen in World Cup of Hockey games, they happen in China Games, and they happen in European Games. How many players, at the end of a season, come forward with a list of body parts that need repairs? Imagine if soccer teams denied their players the chance to play in the World Cup because they might get injured. The soccer season is littered with international games; players being injured in a friendly international game is frustrating but representing your country is an athlete’s highest honour.

If there’s no football or baseball to watch, would you switch to hockey? Or would you switch to the Winter Olympics that happens once every four years? Commentary on the Winter Games is meant for people who do not know the sport so can provide an easy introduction to it. What better place to showcase star players who are the big draws to the game!

The season is lengthened when the Winter Games are included, but a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has entered the league which has also lengthened the season; Seattle have proposed a team for the league too and that will likely come into effect in the next few years. For the players who are not selected to play for their country, the Olympics provides the opportunity to rest up and have injuries seen to, putting them in better stead for the run up to the play offs. The majority of league players will not attend the Olympics and the majority will not make it to the Stanley Cup final.

Pre-season has been brought forwards, with the inclusion of the China Games and the World Cup of Hockey; these are unnecessary NHL money-spinners that lengthen the season too. They’ve also decided to include the European games as part of the regular league; why not make these players have a 10 hour flight to Europe, play a single game, and fly back to North America! That makes a world of sense… Furthermore, although they have argued that the Olympics isn’t growing the game, it’s more likely that they do not directly receive the profits of these games hence why they’re “growing it on their own term$”.

The Winter Olympics is once every four years!!! FOUR YEARS!! The arguments about costs/season disruption/injuries are ones that are faced once every four years.

Finally, professional athletes are being denied the right to live out a dream of competing at the Olympics. However, this has provided lower league players the opportunity to live that dream. With the absence of power-house NHL roster Canadian and American teams, could it be that there is a more level playing field (or hockey rink)? Certainly, the Germans will be happy with their semi-final win over Canada, but the 36 million Canadians might not be.

Without a doubt, the hockey has been great – but it could have been outstanding with NHL players. That’s not meant to discredit the athletes in South Korea as many college players will go onto professional leagues, lots of ex-NHLers are in the rosters, and numerous other players are in professional leagues around Europe: the bulk of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team is made up of SKA St Petersburg players from the Kontinental Hockey League. But it’s so exciting to watch the faces of each franchise line up together as one team.

The take home message: if Gary Bettman isn’t lining his pockets then he ain’t interested.

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Gary Bettman at it again
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LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, YOUR WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS THE NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Huge congratulations to the Nashville Predators who are living the fairy tale! The team won the series against the Anaheim Ducks and have been crowned the Western Conference Champions. They will play the winner of the Penguins/Senators series for the coveted Stanley Cup.

The Predators are the first team to reach the final after being a 16th seed – impressive. Colton Sissons scored a natural hat-trick to give the Preds a healthy 6-3 series clinching win over the  Ducks. The team was without Ryan Johansen who underwent emergency surgery – but that didn’t stop him from watching the game with Kevin Fiala and captain, Mike Fisher, in the arena.

I told him I love him. We miss him. He’s a huge part of our team. He played a great playoffs and we miss him. I just told him we miss him, but he’s still a huge part of us – Roman Josi on Johansen

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The music city has lived up to its name during the playoffs with the national anthem being sung by Mike Fisher’s wife, Carrie Underwood, as well as Kerry Clarkson, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, and Lady Antebellum.

PK Subban who was traded by the historic Montreal Canadiens in return for Nashville captain, Shea Weber, is now set to play in his first Stanley Cup Final and had this to say:

I’ve never been on a team that works as hard for each other as these guys do.

All’s well in Smashville!

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Getzlaf’s Apology

Transcript of Getzlaf’s ‘apology’ after Game 5 of the Western Conference Final: (Thanks to Queeraspuck)

Getzlaf: You know, obviously, a situation like that where I’m on the bench by myself, frustration set in there was obviously some words said, not necessarily directed at anyone in particular, but just kind of a comment. I gotta be a little bit more responsible with the words I choose. Definitely as a father, as somebody that takes a lot of pride in this game and the respect for it, um it’s tough to see somebody refer to it as what TSN did. I didn’t mean it in that manner in any way and, you know, for that to got that route was very disappointing for me.

I did accept responsibility and I accepted the fine. We talked to the league – I understand that it’s my responsibility not to use vulgar language period. Whether it’s a swear word or whatever it is, we gotta be a little bit more respectful of the game and that’s up to me. I expect- accept that responsibility and we’ll move forward.

Reporter: Is that something you regret, looking back? I understand your meaning and what you meant by it, but is it something you regret though?

Getzlaf: Well again, of course, that’s my responsibility is to understand that there’s eyes and ears on us all the time. Um, fortunately enough no one heard it, if you can read lips it’s a little bit harder and I apologize for that. That’s a thing that you know, you won’t hear from me again. I hope I didn’t offend anybody outside the circle that we trust, so.

To translate for y’all: I said something homophobic and can’t believe it’s being called homophobic. I’ll continue to say this crap away from cameras so nobody can call me out on it. I’m not apologizing to the LGBT community, but rather to the league. 

Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Or is it?) (Are we seeing a pattern here yet?)

The battle for the Western Conference Championship is in full swing and things are getting nasty – of course they are, the Ducks are playing. Nashville’s Ryan Johansen has had a pop at Ryan Kesler saying “his family and friends watching him play, I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that“. Beats me! What’s more, in game four, captain Ryan Getzlaf shouted a homophobic slur at the referee “f*cking c*ck s*cker”.

Maybe it’s not as bad as what Andrew Shaw said, maybe it’s not as bad as other things that have been tossed around the league that haven’t been captured on camera, but it’s not a sliding scale. None of these are acceptable. Getzlaf was fined the maximum $10,000 – but that’s pocket change when you’re on a $9.25million salary per year. The money will go to the NHL Player’s Emergency Assistance Fund which supports players and their families who are facing financial hardship as a result of various reasons such as failing health or salary mismanagement.

For a league that puts a lot of emphasis on hockey being for everyone, they are not doing enough to drive homophobia out of the league. Rainbow tape on a stick one month out of the year is not enough. Let’s be honest, it doesn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. Getzlaf isn’t going to be ostracized by his team or the league for his comments; he’ll continue playing and continue receiving sponsorship deals because he’s a good player, a captain, and a gold medalist. He gets a free pass.

Know how to stop players from saying offensive remarks? Fine them. Ban them from games. Ban them from playoff games. Then they’ll learn. And for all the arguments that he didn’t mean anything by it, he was in the heat of the moment, it’s an emotional game – that vocabulary exists in his vernacular. Receiving a fine is not enough to stop that behaviour. The league needs to drive home the lesson that winning is less important than being a decent human and not treating others like crap.

Maybe Getzlaf wasn’t targeting the LGBT community – he just said something that happened to be homophobic because he was pissed off. And that’s fair enough. The words slipped out with no particularly malicious intentions behind it. But the fact remains that these slurs are heard day-in-day-out by non-heterosexual people who face  being bullied, beaten up, or murdered just for who they love. Right now in Chechnya, Russia, gay people are fleeing the area in case they are detained and tortured. But hey, it’s just words and hockey is for everyone!

Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Mostly Everyone)

During February, the NHL hosted a “you can play” month whereby they declared that hockey was for everyone. One of the prospects in this year’s draft is Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was raised by two mothers. Nancy and Fran met whilst playing hockey, and had Jaret skating at 18 months old.

Anderson-Dolan is expected to be picked by the second round. He had a 70 point season with the Spokane Chiefs. Whilst at pre-season camp, he was invited to participate in VO2 testing – to measure the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles. This is usually reserved for veterans, but Jaret, at 16 years old, had a test number in the mid 60s and not a single other player reached 60 – then in his second season with the Chiefs, he hit high 60s which is generally the highest score in the NHL combine.

The player is hard working, eats organically, and studies sport psychology (good lad), and during “hockey is for everyone” ensured his stick was taped with the rainbow pride tape. The entire team followed suit despite issues with the tape being poor quality and breaking some players’ superstitions about their equipment.

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In a sport where trashtalking is the norm, he has faced backlash over his two mothers in the past. Whilst going through the WHL bantam draft, he was told by some teams that they would not take him because of his two mothers. But sure, hockey is for everyone, right?

“I can’t change people’s opinions. If that’s how they feel about it, I’d honestly rather not be in that organization if they’re going to be like that. I’d rather be in an organization with the Chiefs where they support it completely. Maybe that ended up with me falling in the draft a little bit, but I don’t really care, honestly. I’m proud of my moms. I’m proud of my uncles, my aunties, everyone I know that is openly gay. I have no shame about it, and neither do they.”

Good luck to Jaret in the lead up to the draft and beyond. He’s sure to be a great representative of the sport!