Even with the Sochi, Russia, Olympics three years away, the debate is rampant about whether the NHL should continue sending their players to one of the world’s largest sporting events. Commissioner Gary Bettman has even expressed doubt about letting NHLers participate. This week, Carolyn and Patrick debate…
League shouldn’t continue participation
By Carolyn Christians
Put aside all the soupy sentimentalities of gold medal ceremonies out there and let’s look at the realities for the next two Olympic Winter Games.
The NHL already has a grueling regular season schedule of 82 games, each and every one of which generates needed revenues. Olympic hockey crashes smack in the middle of the season, and for the next 2 meetings, those world gatherings will be held on the opposite side of the world: first in Sochi, Russia then on to Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.
It’s all sunshine and roses when you have a U.S. vs Canada Gold Medal game live in a primetime slot, the arena packed with an excited and knowledgeable crowd, bursting with national pride. That, as we all saw, is great television. But Vancouver 2010 these will not be by any stretch. These exotic Asian locales are 10 hours and 13 hours ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone. With the internet and twitter making it impossible to avoid spoilers, how many will watch a mid-week game at 10 a.m. Eastern to see it live from Sochi? And what about South Korea? Even if they wait till 9 p.m. local, that’s 8 a.m. Eastern. Seriously?
Think about the visuals: we can assume Russia will certainly bring the patriotic fervor to the Sochi hockey rink, and it’s near enough that some other Europeans are likely to travel for the games. But what exactly are we going to see every morning in the Pyeongchang ice rink? Excitement and passion are contagious. So is indifference.
More than questionable television appeal, the 2014 and 2018 Games will be a daunting physical and mental burden for the world’s best players as they deal with the exhaustion of a challenging two-week tournament with an absurd time zone adjustment – there and back. I can’t envision how suspending the NHL season for 17 days will grow the hockey’s appeal in the U.S. Also factor in international rules on the larger sheet of ice, further disrupting the players’ instincts, particularly the North American nationals.
Hypothetical: If Canada and the U.S. don’t medal, will the Games be worth what’s been lost by the NHL? Or is this just a big plug for the Russian national hockey program and the KHL’s international respectability – from the NHL’s point of view, a highly debatable cause at best.
The last three hosts of the Olympic Winter Games have been in favorable locales where NHL participation made sense. These next two are not worth bending the NHL into a pretzel to make them work. As Canadian young gun Taylor Hall, who will be in his prime at 26 in 2018, cracked on Twitter last month when the news broke,
Always knew the olympics would end up in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Classic spot.
Hall recognizes this is a stretch of the imagination. Why take the inherent risks and incur the financial losses? Unlike the last three Olympics, the long-term gains to be reaped from a huge infusion of new fans within the United States simply do not exist.
But hey – let’s talk again in 2022.
Let them play!
By Patrick Hoffman
It should be an absolute no-brainer and the NHL should allow their players to play for their respective countries in the games. There are many reasons why it would be smart for the NHL to participate.
First off, the NHL obviously has the best hockey players in the world. When kids who are hockey players are growing up, almost every one of their dreams is to play in the National Hockey League. They dream of being drafted, playing in the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.
The league has had the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Patrick Roy, Pavel Bure, Peter Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Dominik Hasek, etc., all play in the league and have success. The NHL is simply the best kind of hockey and the spectators in Sochi deserve to see hockey played at its best by the best players in the world.
Secondly, the NHL still needs to figure out a way to become more popular. It is the clear-cut fourth major sport in the U.S. and when it comes to other countries, it is either something that people are somewhat interested in or not at all. This could be another big opportunity for the NHL to market themselves and may be even establish themselves in Europe and may be even think about expanding the league one day.
Lastly, and even though it was Canada, the terrific display of hockey alone in the 2010 Games is another reason to want to participate. The 2010 Games provided hockey fans everywhere with terrific action, goals, hits, saves, and even overtimes and with that, gained a lot of viewership. Should this happen in Russia, who knows what it could do for both the sport and the league.
In the end, this is something that NHL simply has to do to continue to grow the game. It should be an easy decision for Mr. Bettman.
Photo credit: Getty Images