We’re now 363 days until the opening ceremonies of the Pyeongchang Olympics and the National Hockey League and International Olympic Committee are as far apart today as they were a year ago. The writing has been on the wall since Sochi: the NHL doesn’t want to go to the Olympics, much the same way it didn’t want to go to Russia.
If you’ll allow me to put on my speculation hat, the only reason the “negotiations” have lasted this long is because the NHL desperately wants to go to Beijing, a market it covets. The IOC knows this as well as the rest of the world and if the NHL wants to keep its players home next year, the committee is comfortable allowing the league to do it for years to come.
Okay, I’ll take my speculation hat off now. Here’s the deal: the NHL doesn’t want to send its players to the Olympics for one very simple reason ($ $ $ $ $ $ $). Taking weeks off the season hurts the NHL financially, or so they claim, and the owners don’t feel taking the show on the road helps grow the sport.
The league could very well take some blame for the sport not growing further than the Etobicoke city limits, but Gary Bettman isn’t likely to see it that way. Here’s what we do know: the players want to go, the league executives don’t want the players to go and the fans (generally) want the players to go. Sound familiar? It should. This is just about the same position we find ourselves in when rumblings of a work stoppage roll around, albeit with far less serious consequences.
Your personal feelings on the importance of NHL players taking part in the 2018 Olympic games aside, Bettman and the owners are nearly always the enemy of fans and the players. They will speak in grandiose terms about the growth of the game, the league and the respect of hockey on the national stage while caring about one thing only: the expanse of their wallets.
So let’s call this article a preemptive strike on Bettman’s particularly odious brand of rationalism. NHL players going to the Olympics won’t hurt anyone but the NHL, and even then, does anyone believe three weeks off in February every four years actually hurts the on-ice product? Perhaps the better question is: Does anyone else believe the NHL actually gives a shit? The league introduced the World Cup of Hockey this season and as a result introduced the exact same problems while ostensibly pocketing the profits.
It’s all about the money, baby. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If you don’t mind NHL players skipping the Olympics (frankly, I don’t) fair enough. But don’t accept the NHL’s arguments for doing so. The only thing the league cares about is its bottom line — it doesn’t care about the quality of its product, the disruption to the season or the respect it receives on the world stage. Frankly, it should be so lucky to be recognized on any stage at all.