The NHL is the best professional hockey league in the world. The facilities, the standard of play, the money is all the best. Every player in the world dreams of stepping foot on an NHL rink even for just one night in their career. That, however, doesn’t make it the pinnacle of the sport. That is reserved for the Winter Olympics
The NHL’s decision Monday (3rd April) to prevent their players participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics has been met with universal derision and that is the correct response.
"The NHL aren't sending their players to the winter olympics" pic.twitter.com/LtlHTndoBH
— Sinéad (@sking_) April 4, 2017
Fan Reation has been scathing
The NHL doesn’t want to send it’s players because of the risk of injury and shutting down their season for a few weeks of prime time hockey because it will lose them money. These reasons seem relatively reasonable until you think about the tremendous potential the Olympics are to grow the sport of hockey. It is an arrogance typified by early British football and predominantly American sports that their domestic league should be seen as the pinnacle of the game.Embed from Getty Images
Ask Sidney Crosby, who famously scored the sudden-death winner in OT in the Vancouver Gold Medal match, what he would consider the pinnacle of his career. I’d suggest scoring the winning goal in the biggest match in his nation’s history would rank up there.Embed from Getty Images
That is an opportunity that has been robbed of not only the North Americans who play in the NHL but also the Europeans. The chance for Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins to add to his medal haul at international level or for the Sedin twins of Sweden to finally win the gold that has eluded them thus far. Think about Christiano Erhoff of Germany, easily their best player. Ultimately, it is the players and the fans who are impacted the most.Embed from Getty Images
It will be interesting to see whether top Europeans will leave the NHL altogether and join the KHL, Swedish or Swiss leagues in the run up to the 2018 Olympic Games, held in Pyeongchang, Korea, as has been muted. Other players will remain in the NHL but still travel and play for their national teams. Players such as Ovechkin (Russia and Washington), one of the greatest players in the last 20 years, who has the backing of a supportive owner.
The NHL, alongside the NFL, is the worst league in North America for shooting itself in the foot and hurting the fans. The 2012-13 lockout was a nightmare for fans and players and turned people off the sport as the greed of the owners was put above the needs and wants of the fans and the players alike. This Olympic Hockey decision is another example of the owners’ greed hurting the fans and the players.
The Winter Olympics could be seen as an opportunity for the NHL. They could keep the league running without much of a problem. Teams have minor league affiliate players and rookies that could fill the void and get a few weeks worth of experience and evaluation time. More eyes are on Ice Hockey during the winter games than at any other time. People could be watching hockey for the first time and want more, directly benefitting the game and the pockets of the NHL owners.
This is yet another short-sighted move by the NHL which does little to lift the mood of an increasingly frustrated fan base or player base. We are set to see a slew of Europeans and maybe some North Americans head to Korea regardless of the NHL’s decision which will bring its own particular brand of chaos.
Yet again the NHL knows what the right thing for the fans is. Yet again the NHL gets it wrong.
I only watch Ice Hockey every 4 years @Olympics but love it. This decision from the @NHL is a travesty. #growthegame https://t.co/xzaY7Wi2E7
— Rob Arnott (@RobArnott99) April 4, 2017