NHL should sup­port Olympics

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL -

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.

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