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.
- 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.