Everyone’s favourite villain, Gary Bettman, has drawn a line in the sand again. The NHL players will not be going to 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. For the last few weeks, this debate has been on the cards. Despite the Olympics being about the world’s elite, it’s best won’t be attending. The NHLPA has condemned the decision stating they “adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision.”
Every four years the Olympic break is one that has caused frustration to team owners. It also causes a disruption to the crowded regular season schedule. The lack of compensation for players is another big concern. The Islanders were vocal about John Tavares’ injury in Sochi 2014. The IOC refused to cover players insurance and travel costs. As a compromise, the IIHF stepped and offered to pay, but to no avail. Part of the issue comes down to the attitude of the IOC. They have refused to grant the NHL any favours and now we are faced with a lack of competition.
In a statement today, IOC commented that they “feel very sorry for the athletes” but also remarked that the federation “obviously cannot treat a national commercial league better than a not-for-profit International Sports Federation which are developing sport globally.”
IOC Statement on NHL decision. pic.twitter.com/Lid5JtD8OB
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) April 4, 2017
One can understand where the league is coming from here. The risk of injury, the increased playing time that season and the travel and time invested. The NHL is right to look out for their players, but was this really the right call? People forget that it wasn’t until Nagano 1998 that NHL players were allowed to play at the Olympics. For years, the Soviets dominated these games as their opponents were mainly college kids.
Many NHL pros have spoken out against Bettman’s decision. Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Karlsson, Carey Price, Jack Eichel- even Brandon Prust – have expressed regret that they won’t be fighting for gold. Some hockey fans dismiss the Olympics as an unwanted distraction. Hockey pro’s live for these kinds of moments and being an Olympian is as special as a cup final. It seems unfair to deny the world’s best a chance to compete again.
This decision comes down to a matter of cold hard cash and the lack of money the Olympics provides has always been a sticking point. So, how convenient that Bettman has agreed to pre-season games in China for a wad of bills. This deal will now see many games played in Asia as China hopes to expand winter sports by 2022. Outside of making more revenue, what is the need for all of this? If anything, all these games will do is disrupt pre-season preparation.
Another outside concern for the NHL could be a possible player revolt. Thus far everything is calm and everyone is swallowing their pride. But what’s to stop Russian players like Ovechkin or Malkin deciding to head home to KHL? How will some players take to a league dictating what games they can or cannot appear in? The Olympics are a source of pride to many countries and saying no to appearing feels like an almighty slap. It appears unlikely to occur, but Bettman should keep this thought in the back of his mind.
Olympic hockey games have brought hockey fans some truly special moments, whether it is Crosby’s OT winner in Vancouver or ‘The Miracle on Ice’. What is special about these games are how they bring a nation together. No matter who you support or where you come from- everyone is together. Some hockey fans will likely see the positives in this result and others will even say this should be a competition for non-pros. In Pyeongchang, where is the entertainment factor going to come from without our greatest talents?
Gary Bettman and IOC together have been very shortsighted on this decision. Now it looks like most of us will bypass hockey in 2018 because for once there will be a regular season to watch.