Jun 30, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
2012 – 2013 NHL season began thanks to the signing of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement there was one question still unanswered; would the NHL schedule around the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi, Russia and allow NHL players to participate?
The International Olympic Committee began allowing professionals to participate in the Games in 1988, yet the NHL, NHL Players Association, International Ice Hockey Federation and IOC did not agree to send NHL players until 1995, allowing them to participate for the first in the 1998 Olympic games (I was eight years old). In 1998 Russia and the Czech Republic faced off in the Gold Medal game and Dominik Hasek would lead the Czechs to their first Gold Medal in Olympic hockey. This would mark the beginning of a new era in international hockey.
The NHL’s participation in the upcoming Sochi Games was up in the air for a long time and would ultimately come down to the wire, even delaying the release of the 2013- 14 NHL schedule. Over the course of the last 16 years and four Olympic Games the NHL has made the necessary accommodations by allowing a long layoff of games so their players would not miss NHL games and would have time to recover from fatigue. The Olympic break takes the place of the NHL’s all-star weekend, meaning this will be the second season in a row without an NHL all-star game.
Finally the NHL decided that it will once again allow their players to participate in the Olympic Games. There are conflicting opinions on whether or not this is the right decision for both the NHL and the IOC.
Nov 6, 2012; Sochi, RUS; Sochi mayor Anatoly Pakhomov addresses the world media at the Sochi 2014 world press briefing at the Grand Hotel Polyana. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports
- The NHL avoids complications and controversy of players who may have chosen to miss their NHL games in favor of representing their country, one such possibility was the Russian-born Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin made it clear he intended on playing in the Olympics regardless of the NHL’s decision and the Capitals were willing to let him.
- More competition and a higher level of hockey being played during the Olympics, this is something that the IOC believes will help increase ratings for the sport.
- Eliminates any ratings competition between the NHL and the Olympics, if the NHL is not playing during the Olympics then the Games cannot impact the NHL’s ratings.
- Maintains a friendly working relationship between the NHL and the IIHF which can become useful with the increasing competition of the KHL (Russia).
- There is a possibility that playing these extra games outside of the normal 82 game NHL schedule may cause fatigue or injury problems to some of the NHL’s best players. Professional athletes should be in tip-top shape however, hockey is a sport that no matter your physical condition their is always the possibility for injury.
Allowing their players to participate in the Olympics is the smartest choice for all parties involved. Obviously there is room for debate here and arguments can be for both sides, but if you look at the whole picture the pros outweigh the cons in this situation. Whether the decision was made to maintain a healthy relationship with the IIHF or to eliminate ratings competition it was the right decision made by the NHL.
*EDITORS NOTE – Team Canada just announced their camp orientation roster and congratulations are in order for John Tavares and Travis Hamonic for earning the chance to make the club and represent their nation in Sochi. Surprisingly absent from the invites was Matt Moulson, as obviously the brain trust does not think 112 goals in 293 games is worthy enough.