To quote Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Finally The NHL is going back to the Olympics.”
The NHL announced last week an agreement with the NHLPA, IIHF, and IOC to send its players back to the Olympics. Now the NHL has the right to back out at any time due to concerns over COVID-19. It is the first time since 2014 the NHL is going to the Olympics. They did not send the players in 2018. And while it is exciting news the NHL is going back to the Olympics, right the timing is not right. And while there is an agreement, there is still some doubt out there that the NHL will actually go through with it.
If you missed the Unnamed Hockey Show from Full Press Hockey on Tuesday from a couple of weeks ago, Mike Straw, Chris Wassel and I discussed this very topic. And we were all in consensus that sending NHL players to the Olympics was a bad idea. And there are others out there that feel this way. Time to look at why sending players to the Olympics is a bad idea.
NHL Sending Players To Olympics Does Not Make Sense
Look from a fan’s perspective it is cool to have a best on best tournament featuring NHL players. It really is cool. But if you take off the fan glasses for a second and look at it from owners and league point of view you will notice that the NHL going to the Olympics does not make sense. First off how does the NHL benefit from when the players going to the Olympics? Do they even see ratings boost for viewers? No, the diehard fans are going to watch hockey no matter what. In addition, when games are played overseas say for instance in China in 2022, the time schedule for when games are live is not ideal. Hard to get the casual fan to watch when games are on at wacky times.
Secondly, the NHL does not get to use any media from the IOC or IIHF from the Olympics on their site. And that is the big thing. They do not get anything in monetary form from this arrangement. They give out their players basically for free. And that does not sit well with the NHL hence why they have been trying to revitalize the World Cup of Hockey.
Thirdly and probably the most important thing for the NHL is that it interrupts the regular-season schedule. Considering the NHL is coming off two seasons that were affected by COVID-19, you would think the NHL does not want to go dark for two weeks for the third season in a row. The 2019-20 season stopped in March of 2020 because of COVID and did not resume until the summer finishing in the Fall. The 2020-21 season did not start until January finishing in the summer. This affected the schedule tremendously.
And usually, when there is an Olympic break there is no All-Star game. But there is an All-Star Game in Vegas the weekend players have to leave to go to the Olympics. So once the NHL goes to All-Star Weekend, the season goes dark for two to three weeks. Having a break pushing the end of the season back again. And the NHL definitely wants to get back to a normal schedule again finishing around mid-June.
And finally, the NHL’s biggest fear is injuries. Having star players going overseas to play in a tournament not playing for an NHL team hurts the NHL’s bottom line if a player gets hurt. That injury can hurt their team’s chances of making the playoffs or going deep in the playoffs. Just look at John Tavares when he was with the New York Islanders. Tavares hurt his knee playing for Canada in 2014. Once that injury happened he was done for the season. The Islanders had a good chance of making the playoffs that year, but without Tavares, their season was over.
Injuries are a part of the game and can happen anytime, and there is a risk during an NHL game too. But going overseas there is a bigger risk.
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When Will The Time Be Right
The time may never be right to go back to the Olympics. However, the best time to go back is in 2026 when the games are in Italy. I know this is a long time for some players to wait, with everything that is going on in the world, now is not the time. Take the political stuff out of everything and just look at the factors involved. With the NHL trying to cram so much into a season, this year isn’t the year to go to the Olympics. But if the Winter Olympics come back to North America that is a better option than playing overseas.
For now, the NHL should just do what they did in 2018. That year they did not send their players to the Olympics. Instead, they played their season at the same time as the Olympics that way they do not go dark. This way there is no break and the schedule can get back on a normal cycle once the Olympics come around again in four years.
We watched professionals play every night of the week. The Olympics are for amateurs and that is what makes it so special to watch. You can watch pros any night of the week. Seeing the kids play their hearts out for their country makes it feel more important. But if the NHL somehow pulls this off good luck to them heading overseas for the Olympics.