Since 1998, the NHL has taken about two weeks off every four years to send the best players in the world to compete in the Winter Olympics. That streak comes to an end this coming Olympics, to the detriment of Boston Bruins and NHL fans everywhere.
On April 3, 2017, the NHL announced that no agreement had been reached between the powers that be, and that NHL players would not be competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. It is believed that not participating in the 2018 Olympics also means that NHL players will not be competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. Boston Bruins fans therefore won’t be able to see Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, David Backes, Zdeno Chara, and Tuukka Rask skate for their respective countries.
The NHLPA released the following statement shortly after the decision was announced:
“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics.
Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
A unique opportunity lies ahead with the 2018 and 2022 Olympics in Asia. The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.
Moreover, it is doing so after the financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF. The League’s efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”
On one hand, it makes sense.
Taking into account the NHL owners position, and from a financial perspective, it is completely understandable as to why they do not want their players competing in the Olympics. It may sound disingenuous, but the players are a commodity, and they are the main commodity that generates revenue for the owners. The players ARE the game, and the game is what brings in the dough that pays the salaries.
In the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, NHL stars John Tavares and Henrik Zetterberg suffered injuries that cost them the remainder of their seasons, and likely negatively impacted their respective franchises. Those are two cornerstone players who were lost competing for their countries, rather than competing for the team that pays them millions of dollars per season. I’m sure the fans of those teams certainly were upset about the injury being suffered during the Olympics.
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Imagine if the players injured were players even more prominent than those two, like Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin? What if a team that was firmly entrenched in the playoffs lost a star player, and then based upon March and April, missed the postseason? That would be millions in revenue lost to the team and the league. Plus, the IOC indicated it was not going to pay for a lot of the expenses involved (travel, insurance, etc.), so that is an out-of-pocket expense for the owners right there.
So, I get it, it makes sense. NHL players playing the Olympics will cost them money, and could harm their teams if an important player were to be injured.
On the other hand, it’s a terrible decision.
The NHL is without a doubt the least popular of the 4 major sporting leagues in North America. Hockey players are typically not household names, which is a testament to how poorly the NHL does at making their star players a part of the brand. The NHL is attempting to make a concerted effort to grow the game and the league internationally, namely, in China.
What better way to grow the league than by sending your star players to the region you are targeting for growth for a two-week hockey extravaganza? And to cite to the NHLPA’s statement, the decision to not participate in 2018 in South Korea is INCREDIBLY shortsighted, considering it could prevent NHLers from playing in 2022…in China no less. The exact country where your sending players for preseason games this season.
How the Boston Bruins were involved
The Boston Bruins sent a contingent of players to Beijing for a ten-day goodwill trip to expand the brand this summer. Other teams have done the same. It could be all for naught because of the NHL owners decision to not send their players to the 2018 games. The amount of money the NHL could rake in if the game and the league took off in China, a country of over 1.3 billion people, would likely dwarf what they would lose by sending their players to South Korea in 2018 and China in 2022.
But it goes further than just affected those in South Korea and China. NHL fans are going to suffer as well. Every four years since 1998, we as fans have been treated to seeing the best players wear the colors of their nation and put it all on the line in the interests of representing their country. It is basically two-weeks of all-star games, but with actual stakes. Picture Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby playing together; Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews; the list goes on-and-on.
NHL fans were robbed of this opportunity because NHL owners chose to care more about their bottom lines than the fans who buy the tickets, jerseys, and concessions. It is a true shame that the NHL is, and always will be the least popular major sports league, because the NHL has no clue how to properly brand the league and its players.
Skipping the 2018 and 2022 Olympics is only the last in a line of poor management when it comes to NHL hockey being a global product.