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If NHLers want ongoing Olympic participation, they need to speak up

Feb 12, 2014, 2:37 AM EDT

Figure Skating - Winter Olympics Day 4 Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia — Tuesday at a mass press conference for the Russian men’s national hockey team, the man who vowed to participate in the Sochi Games no matter what the NHL said was given a prime opportunity to voice his support for ongoing Olympic participation. Instead, Alex Ovechkin sidestepped the question, saying his focus was on the current Games, not the next ones four years later in South Korea, or beyond.

Evgeni Malkin spoke next and backed ongoing participation — “I wish that every four years the NHL lets the players go to the Olympic Games” — and drew some applause for his comments.

But the moment was sort of lost by then.

Perhaps the most fervent argument for keeping NHLers in the Olympics we’ve heard here in Sochi has come from Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman.

“I think this is fantastic for our league,” he said. “We go back to the last year, and even beyond that, look how much attention this draws, how much conversation this draws, not only in Canada, but around the world. It promotes our league, it promotes our players. I believe it’s good for our game, I believe it’s good for the NHL.”

“It’s once every four years, I’m hopeful that we can continue. I understand there are challenges for our league, and things that we’d like to improve upon with the NHL’s relationship with the IIHF, the IOC, but I think it’s good for our league, and I’m hopeful that we’ll stay.”

The same question has been asked of numerous players here. Some have sidestepped it, a la Ovechkin. Others have said they’d like to keep coming. None have pulled an Ed Snider and said, “I hate ‘em.” Big surprise there, right?

If the NHL had its way, unless commissioner Gary Bettman is trying to bluff his way to a better agreement with the IOC, these Sochi Games would probably be the last for the league.

Yesterday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly downplayed the allure of the Games.

“We certainly think the key element that makes the Olympics successful is best-on-best competition,” said Daly.

Translation: it’s not the magic of the Games that makes the hockey special. It’s the hockey. And we can hold our own best-on-best competition with the World Cup.

Daly did, however, allow that the Games were “special” for the players.

“I have heard the players feel the Olympics is something special and it is something different than best-on-best, it is the Olympics,” he said. “So there is an added element that the Olympics bring that is impossible for us to recreate.”

Translation: if the players want to be in South Korea four years later, they’d better speak up.

Related: Daly expects 2018 Olympic decision in six months

  1. nhstateline - Feb 12, 2014 at 7:34 AM

    Speaking as the ticket buying NHL customer, I don’t like what it does to the schedule. Many nights during the Olympic years, the product on the ice is not good. Too many games in too short a timeframe meaning there are nights on every team’s schedule where you know they have just about no shot at winning. This can happen during a normal year too but not nearly to the extent that it does in an olympic year. My favorite example was St. Louis playing a Saturday night home game then having to jet to DC the next day for a 5 PM start. All one had to do was look at the schedule and it was obvious which game the Blues wouldn’t be winning (and they didn’t). The entire year’s schedule is messed up for a two week tournament that I enjoy watching but could also live without. And from the NHL perspective, they probably think they can make more dough by re-launching the World Cup of Hockey than they can from continuing to participate in the Olympics. Plus someone would be wise to look at the number and types of injuries in olympic years versus normal NHL seasons. One could argue that there are so many injuries this year because of what the schedule has been for the last year and a half. At some point, the body finds ways to say “enough”. If the league and the players want to keep doing this, that’s ok but I’d rather they didn’t.

  2. reeggss - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:37 AM

    No comparison between an Olympic gold medal and whatever they win at the world championship.
    Completely agree with Stevie Y.

  3. jweipp17 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:50 AM

    The NHL has no problem locking out its players and then having a shortened/compressed schedule with a lot of games. I don’t see how they can really complain about going to the Olympics. Stopping for 3 weeks is better for league and its fans than stopping for 6 months or an entire season.

  4. nhstateline - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:07 AM

    The other thing they could do is start the season in September in Olympic years. The KHL regularly starts that early. I also thought the way they put together the post-lockout schedule was very similar in insuring an inferior product. The result was obvious in the playoffs. All of a sudden, a Bruins team that had sucked wind for two months became very tough to beat and got the finals. We said all spring they weren’t trying that hard and come the playoffs they proved us right. Again, this is all my perspective as the paying customer, yours probably is different.

  5. penvik - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    Yeah, the Olympics are the only option. This is how the NHL will fail, if they start to think they are bigger than the game itself. The Olympics are like the Stanley cup of Stanley cups. Also why play hockey during the Olympics when the world is watching the Olympics and that’s it. I would have no interest in the NHL while the Olympics are on. Other TV doesn’t exist in my house while the games are on. Best athletes on the planet, don’t know how the NBA survives to be honest.

  6. penvik - Feb 12, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    Bill Daly again showing the world the stupidity of the NHL brass. A World Cup of hockey medal is worthless compared to an Olympic Games medal. Doesn’t matter if the players are the same. It matter what the venue is. Otherwise why doesn’t Toronto and Montreal just setup there own Stanley cup final between each other, than one of them could win something. It REALLY matter what the venue is not just who’s playing in the game

    • jpelle82 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      kinda like the world cup of soccer? the alternative to the olympics for soccer is actual way better. the venue stands alone. its not garnering viewership by default like the olympics do. hockey is international enough to do what soccer does and its not like the nhl has been participating since the dawn of time, it hasnt even been 20 years. you guys act like the olympics are the greatest thing ever to happen to hockey.

      • dadawg77 - Feb 12, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        The Soccer’s World Cup allowed the best players in thus became the international tournament of choice.

        While allowing the best players to play, Hockey’s World Cup was a program of the NHL and not truly international. Also it has no history behind it. Hence why after professionals could participate in the Olympics, the Olympics became the tournament of choice. While this can change, if NHL continues to control the World Cup it won’t.

      • jpelle82 - Feb 12, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        the iihf keeps holding the championships during the nhl season thats the real issue. its olympics or bust for international play now because the iihf wont accomodate the nhl players. the nhl sponsors an alternative in the world cup, not any less international except in name…but far more accomodating to the players. makes more sense to me to make a platform that lets the players play in the summer than intentionally run in conflict with the nhl. the world cup runs in the tradition of the canada cup which has plenty of history behind it…they just changed the name.

    • jimw81 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:11 PM

      daily is telling the truth. going to olympics is costly to the game.owners having serious trouble arena booking while this goes on. plus health insurance is too expensive. IIHF nor IOC is willing to take the tab then question is if it’s costly to league why go?

      • jimw81 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:13 PM

        people are forgetting nba stop going to olympics because it became too costly and IOC wont hand out a dime to bring them.

  7. hennessey1200hp - Feb 12, 2014 at 10:07 AM

    Olympic Hockey are the best games you will ever see and as an NHL Player you want to represent your country. Cannot wait till tomorrow

  8. jpelle82 - Feb 12, 2014 at 11:50 AM

    i would rather have nhl hockey during this time of year and then a world cup in the summer every four years instead. the iihf world championships is often missing nhl players because of the overlap in the nhl schedule and the olympics cramp the nhl schedule into conflict and to the point where the nhl might just stop allowing participation…at that point we lose as fans anyway so why not market a better tournament (world cup) where nhl players can compete and we as hockey fans can enjoy at a time of year when there’s nothing else to watch. if the nhl players arent playing the olympics in 2018 then we are left with the same alternative (iihf) and the olympics would still go on just like it did before they allowed nhl players. we lose either way and all of you who are so fixed on the olympics as the greatest thing since sliced bread will have no other international alternative than the iihf which is not that great. embrace the world cup, make it a better tournament…get rid of scrubs like slovenia, latvia, norway every four years – condense it to 8 teams, raise the competition level and market the crap out of it. win win.

  9. lonespeed - Feb 12, 2014 at 12:34 PM

    I don’t really see this as much of a discussion. Let’s be honest, the NHL is going to participate in the Olympics whether they want to or not, and they clearly do not.

    The Olympics is NBC’s gig and they are also the primary sponsor of NHL games. Take the NHL out of the winter Olympics and it would harpoon viewership for one of the events primary competitions.

    Secondly, some players are going to compete in the Olympics whether the NHL says they can or not. Specifically the Russians who have been quite vocal about competing with or without NHL permission.

    Can you imagine if that happened and the rest of the NHL wasn’t allowed to go? The Russian team would be dominant, and the political pressure from the government would be immense. Cold war or no cold war, the American government isn’t going to allow that to happen.

    The NHL is not going to get out of the games.

    • jpelle82 - Feb 12, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      what would happen to the contract of such a player that leaves to go play in the olympics without permission? i believe there would be some serious insurance issues there, that was one of the major considerations when they allowed them to go this time. if someone gets seriously hurt, you can bet there will be gm’s and owners in the league that will make it hell for the players to go again in 2018. would a guy like ovechkin really put his money where his mouth is? highly doubt it…the olympics dont pay him 10 million a year.

      • lonespeed - Feb 12, 2014 at 4:01 PM

        First, you’re assuming athletes make the best decisions and you can look over the majority of sports to see the fallacy in that thought.

        Second, what would an NHL team really be able to do? Players hold out in sports all the time. We like to think these contracts are written in blood, but they really are not.

        For example, let’s say Alexander Ovechkin says to the Washington Capitals that he’s going to the Olympics regardless of whether they say he can or not. Sure, there would be tons of posturing and threats, but in the end they really wouldn’t have a lot of power to stop him. What are they going to do, prevent the plane from taking off?

        So he goes. Injury or not, the likelihood that he sustains a career injury is remote, so he comes back one way or another. Maybe he’s a little banged up. Maybe he’s fine. Hopefully nothing serious occurred.

        What’s Washington to do then? Continue to piss off their star by saying they’re going to dock his pay or fine him? Tell him they’re going to void his contract because he slighted them? The reality is, they probably wouldn’t be able to do a thing that wouldn’t hurt them more than it would hurt the player. How much would they suffer financially if he didn’t suit up for the rest of the year? So they take him back and life goes on.

        But I don’t think it would even get to that point. I think you underestimate the pressure the NHL would be under politically and from NBC. The players want to play. The countries want to play. The fans want to play. It’s only the NHL that doesn’t want to play and the NHL doesn’t really have a leg to stand on.

        You really think the U.S. president (regardless of who he is) is going to stand-by and watch an American amateur team get it handed to them over-and-over by several KHL / NHL led eastern European teams? Not going to happen. Too much stupid pride. Sports make people dumb in general. The president would be on the phone in a second telling Gary Betteman that if he ever wanted to see a tax break for a new arena ever again, he better get with the program. The Canadian government would follow suit.

  10. jimw81 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:01 PM

    Owners like Ed Snider, Owners of the Coyotes have already spoken out on how hard this is on them on arena booking while they take a month off.owners like snider have clout in nhl front office and sway bettman.this what it will come down to. the only way they go south korea if comcast tells snider otherwise. the ratings are suffering because everyone is watching the live stream or on twitter and the rise of health insurance plays a factor in this decision. plus i feel it’s bad pr for the league. it’s embarrassing is it that nhl is the only league stops in the middle of season to take a month off to play in all star in a different country.

    • jimw81 - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:06 PM

      sorry people this is the last Olympics for nhl.

  11. pr0jecktpat - Feb 12, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Honestly Ovie is one of the few players I always hear about when it comes to players wanting to play in the Olympics, so I wouldn’t read too much in to that sidestep on his question.

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