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:


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Gary Bettman at it again

Concussions Part II – Hockey & Concussions

Elite hockey players are fast and physical athletes therefore it is one of the sports with an inflated risk of concussion due to collisions and checks, despite players wearing helmets. Whilst the majority of concussions will resolve themselves in 7 – 10 days, some players experience post-concussion syndrome – most notably Sidney Crosby.

During the Winter Classic game in 2011, Crosby took a headshot from David Steckel then five days later, Victor Hedman ran him hard into the boards. After his concussion diagnosis, Crosby missed a staggering 68 games. However, only eight games into his comeback, Crosby collided with liney Chris Kunitz and was out for another 43 games. The player himself admits he questioned whether he would ever recover enough to play professionally again. Since that first bout of head injuries, he has gone on to win an Olympic gold in Sochi, a gold world championship medal, the world cup of hockey, the Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe, and the Hart trophy, as well as various MVP awards. Yet, in 2016 Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion again following an incident in practice.

The cursed jersey

Coach Sullivan said at the time “Injuries are a part of our game. Part of the challenge for us is to try help Sid get healthy as quickly as possible”. It’s understandable that the Penguins wanted their captain and star player back quickly, but hurrying him back from a concussion could do more harm than good – particularly given his prior history. As it happens, Crosby missed six games but that was all.

Whilst Crosby is the most well known NHLer to suffer drastically from the effects of concussion, there are several others. Jeff Skinner, who won the Calder in his rookie year, hasn’t been able to hit the heights expected of him and injuries have likely played a role in this. During his second season, Skinner missed sixteen games following a concussion then suffered another head injury in the lockout-shortened season. A relatively productive season occurred in 2013-14 with Skinner scoring 33 goals, but again last season he suffered his third concussion in four years – and he’s only 24. It’s worrying.

Not every player is the face of the franchise, Sidney Crosby, who perhaps is allowed more time to recover to ensure he’s in pristine condition. For other players, there is an underlying need to get back in the team quickly, especially for a 3rd or 4th liner – professional sports are tough, and you’ve gotta fight for your position to show that you deserve to be on the team. As concussions are diagnosed by a symptom checklist, I question whether some players have omitted details because they’re eager to be back in the line up  – putting themselves at further risk. Likewise, once you’ve received an injury, you don’t want it to happen again and in a physical game like hockey, you can end up playing scared – not making hits, not rushing to the net etc. It’s also interesting to note that video analyses of concussions during a five year period in the NHL showed that at the time of contact the player was often not in possession of the puck and often penalties were not called on the play. Checks to the head are too frequently being dismissed by officials or are being played off as accidental; one of Skinner’s concussions arose from his face hitting Matt Niskanen’s elbow – or so Niskanen said. Whilst many occurrences are clean hits, there are some players who play dirty and go for the head or take cheap shots which is something the NHL needs to tighten up on.

The most frequent cause of concussions were collisions with another player and nearly half occurred in the first period. This could be due to the higher energy/adrenaline levels in the beginning, easing into the game and adjusting spatially, or setting the tone for how physical the game will be.


The Jets’ Patrik Laine – who leads all rookies in scoring – suffered a concussion on the 7th. It was a hard hit, but not a dirty one. He was spotted watching the team train on Sunday (8th) in good spirits, but did not feel 100% to play. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery. That being said, at the beginning of this season, the NHL introduced “spotters” to games. Teams still have a responsibility to identify and report players who ought to be removed from play and evaluated for concussion, but additional support is now provided following an agreement between the NHL/NHLPA. Central league spotters will monitor games from the player safety room in New York where they can authorise a player’s removal from play if they exhibit certain visible signs. Teams who violate this ruling will receive punishments, likewise a player may not be re-admitted to the game until he is cleared to. More can be found here.

Whilst this should be seen as a good move, some players are already mad. McDavid was taken out the line up for a concussion check just as his team was on the verge of a 5-on-3 against the Wild. The captain said of the incident “obviously the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling”. Whilst McDavid’s frustration is understandable, over 100 ex-NHLers are suing the league due to the treatment of their concussions and the concealment of information regarding later issues, including dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And it’s not just in the NHL,  similar law suits have been brought against the NFL.

To sum up, concussions – whilst considered minor – can actually have prolonged and worrying implications that affects players’ careers and later life. The newly implemented spotters will be able to react and remove those players believed to have suffered a concussion, but do nothing to actually reduce a concussion occurring. As a parting note, hockey is a sport where players are expected to drop the gloves and fight; an enforcer can fight once or twice a month, so should fighting – which increases the risk of head injuries – be banned?

Can I just make a final confession, though? I don’t care what people remember about me as a hockey player, but please remember this one thing: I didn’t love to fight. The actual 30 seconds of fighting was fine. Your adrenaline takes over and the competition of battling at such a high level is actually enjoyable. The problem is all the anticipation of having to drop the gloves with another very skilled individual who can hurt you. The waiting is what drives you crazy. It’s not very easy on your psyche, especially once you have a family. – John Scott for The Players Tribune

Team Canada

Hockey is Canada’s sport – so it should be no surprise this team is the heavy favourite going into the tournament. They’re the tallest team in the competition and second heaviest so that provides advantages for bigger hits and scuffles at the crease. The team’s average age is 28.7 years therefore there’s plenty of experienced players here, many of whom have played alongside each other in previous internationals at Worlds and the Olympics. Most of these players were the core ones from Sochi Olympics therefore team cohesion is likely to be strong, and in addition there are many pairs coming from the same team – Toews & Crawford, Thornton & Burns, Marchand & Bergeron. They share 16 Stanley Cups between them; Jonathan Toews has won three of those as captain of the Blackhawks, and was the youngest member to enter the Triple Gold Club at 22. They’ve lost Duncan Keith and Jamie Benn to injuries – the league’s top 5 D-man and forward – which is a real shame as Benn and Seguin display unbelievable partnership on the ice that could have been an asset for Canada. However, Canada can still boast Norris award winners, Conn Smythe, Rocket Richard, two Vezina winners in Holtby and Price, and the Art Ross. They have a collective 20 Olympic gold medals.Olympicgold.jpg

Oh yeah, and team Canada has this guy as their captain – Sidney Crosby. squidney The Pittsburgh Penguins won the ‘Sidney Crosby Sweepstake’ and he was the draft’s first overall pick then he became the team’s captain aged 19. This past season, he lifted the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career (and he’s still only 29). Even in his worst seasons, he’s still in the top ten. He boasts the Order of Nova Scotia, two Lou Marsh trophies, three Lionel Conacher awards, various sportsman of the year awards, two Art Ross trophies, three Ted Lindsay awards, he’s twice won the Hart Memorial and the Mark Messier Leadership awards, also twice won the Maurice Rocket Richard award for top scorer, two Conn Smythes, he’s been voted MVP six times by his peers, and has two Olympic gold medals under his belt. During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Crosby also scored the golden goal in overtime to win gold over USA – not bad at all.


Hey Now, You’re An All Star

The annual NHL All Star Game (ASG) was held this month and, although many consider the game to be a bit of a farce, this year it was met with uproar. Fans were given the opportunity to vote for the players they wanted to see hit the ice in Nashville. One of those was John Scott. At 33 years old, Scott has netted five times in his NHL career. Regardless of whether the campaign to vote Scott to the ASG was a joke, fans still voted him in as captain of the pacific division and when the league tried to remove him, it wasn’t met kindly. Scott was asked to bow out and when he declined, the league traded him and sent him down to the AHL (his wife was nine months pregnant with twins at the time – she has since given birth, many congratulations!). Incredibly, he was asked whether his daughters would be proud. I’ve studied child psychology and have spent a great deal of time with kids, so I say this with some confidence – those kids look pretty proud of their daddy.


You cannot give fans the power to vote then throw a tantrum when things do not go your way. Joke or not, he was voted in fair and square. No rigging, no technical glitch, fans spent their time voting for him. However, professional sports have become big businesses, and the NHL is no exception. John Scott an All-Star makes a mockery of what it’s about. This game is about money! The game is sponsored by Honda, and the skills competitions are sponsored by Bridgestone, DraftKings, Discover Card, AMP Energy, and Gatorade. We need the big names at this game to reel in the viewers, not some spare part by the name of John Scott.  Scott wrote an incredible piece for the Players Tribune that gives an insight into his life, and the life of an enforcer. The most poignant part of the article was this:

One of the reasons I’ve made it as long as I have in the league is because I specifically know I’m not an All-Star.

To make the NHL, you cannot be average. You may end up being average in the NHL, but to even get a glimpse of that ice, you have to be so much more. From pee-wee hockey and other youth teams, you hear of Player X scoring non-stop, being the best skater, playing against boys so much older and bigger. They were born to be a star. But then you move up a league. You go from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. You’re up against people with similar skill sets to you, forcing you to prove your worth. You might have been a star as a kid, but buddy, when you’re about to face off against Sidney Crosby or Patrick Kane, you’ve really got to be exceptional if you want to shine. And that is hard for players. It’s hard to adjust to being average or worse when you’ve always been the best and likely the reason some players tend to flop, even those with a lot of buzz around them. They’ve shown they can grind, they’ve got the skills, but confronting that issue, well maybe it’s a matter of mind.

It’s easy to disregard the skill, effort, and dedication players have put in to reach NHL standards when they don’t have the name or numbers to back them up. We can’t all be Jagr or Gretzky. You need enforcers, you need d-men who put their bodies on the line every night to stop the goals, not just score them. Whilst the NHL might have been kicking themselves in the furor over Scott, it all worked out in the end. Scott was allowed to play in the ASG; he scored twice and was voted MVP. The Pacific Division won the game. The attention placed on Scott most likely drew more viewers or at least interest into the game, so the NHL could breathe a sigh of relief. Honestly, I can’t wait for the day when Disney makes a movie about John Scott defeating the evil NHL and becoming the people’s champion.


And for the record, John Scott has more all star goals than Sidney Crosby. Who’s the star now?