NHL should support Olympics
In just over a year, the Olympic flame will burn brightly in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
And in just over a year, Canadians will expect to see their best hockey players going for gold at the 2018 Winter Games.
As of today, however, there’s a strong possibility this won’t happen, at least when it comes to the men’s team. And if it doesn’t – if players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid remain at home – the National Hockey League will not only bear the blame, it will have earned this nation’s wrath.
The league’s top brass should be embarrassed and ashamed that with barely 12 months left until these games begin, they have still not agreed to let their players join the world’s premier ice hockey competition.
Officials from the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL Players’ Association all tried to make NHL commissioner Gary Bettman relent at a meeting in New York last Friday. They failed. And they’re running out of time. On one level – the level of narrow, self-interest – Bettman’s reluctance to approve a three-week break in the middle of the NHL’s 2017-18 schedule is not entirely unreasonable. Not only would such a hiatus interrupt the season, it could disrupt it in highly unpleasant ways.
Star players could be injured and lost for months. Travel and tournament fatigue could make players less competitive when NHL play resumes. In addition, the 13-16 hour time difference with South Korea will discourage many North Americans from watching all but the biggest games.
The league, of course, is a money-making business. And in some ways, the 2018 Winter Games might be bad for that business.
Yet if Bettman would only focus on the big picture, he’d see the NHL’s finest should be going to Pyeongchang. The players want it. They’re true competitors. Hockey fans around the world want it, too – Canadians most of all. We invented the sport. We call it “our game.” We’re proud of the glorious record of both our women’s and men’s teams. We want to see Canadian hockey players prove their mettle against any team any other country can put on ice. And the best venue for this to happen is at the Olympics.
Sorry, Mr. Bettman, the so-called “World Cup of Hockey” staged by the NHL in Toronto last year doesn’t cut it. Fans eager for a truly international tournament pitting our best against their best were disappointed.
Why can’t the NHL realize that having its players in South Korea next February serves its own interests, too? In five years, moreover, it will whistle a different tune. The 2022 Winter Games will be in China, the world’s most populous nation. It’s almost certain the NHL will want its players at those games, establishing an NHL beachhead in an untapped, increasingly rich market.
But if Bettman and the NHL stay home in 2018, the International Olympic Committee should insist they do the same in 2022.