Opinion : No More NHL Players In The Olympics!

We were all excited about the Olympics. It was a chance for everyone to see the game we love so much. Plus, our guy, John Tavares, was going to be there representing one of the teams that would likely be in the medal round. Forget about the terrible overlooking of Kyle Okposo. All that excitement came to a screeching halt yesterday as Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury in Canada’s Quarterfinals game against Latvia.

We know the team was probably not making the playoffs. But, now they have no shot at all. How much torture can Islander fans take? Is this even humane anymore? In the last decade alone we have had to deal with the following:

  • 5 Head Coaches
  • Mike Milbury
  • Rick DiPietro
  • Alexei Yashin
  • The brief tenure of Neil Smith
  • The brief re-appearance of Pat LaFontaine
  • The trading of many stars to other teams
  • Draft picks that never seem to work out
  • Getting hosed by the referees on and off the ice game after game
  • Islanders players not being selected for major awards or the Olympics when they clearly deserved it
  • The league giving the Rangers 3 home games in the series this season to the Islanders 1
  • That little matter of the Islanders no longer being the ISLANDers after next season (you can argue all you want-Brooklyn is not and never will be Long Island)
  • A county government that seems more hellbent on playing politics and not keeping the biggest money making thing in the county.
  • Then we finally have one of the top 2 or 3 players in the league and he goes to the Olympics only to tear up his knee?

Boy are we paying for rooting for a team that had so much success so soon. The Islanders were the feel good story of the 1980’s. They were the little team that could. They played their games in the suburbs of Long Island. Despite Long Island being more populous than 75% of US states, they were an after thought. That is until they reeled off 4 championships in a row; a feat that has not been repeated by any American sports franchise since. They even made the finals again in year 5 but fell just short.

There have been fleeting glimpses of success since. 1987’s Easter Epic, 1993’s miracle run to the Conference Finals, and even last year’s hard-fought battle against Pittsburgh. But then this happens. John Tavares is out for the season with a knee injury. Will he be ok? Yeah, probably. He should be ready for training camp in September. But, that’s not the point. The whole thing is ridiculous. How much do we as fans have to suffer? It really brings into question this whole process.

When I was 16, I remember specifically rooting for the 1992 team. I recall being excited to watch kids like Scott Lachance because he was an Islanders prospect. Once they started this whole NHL players in the Olympics thing, it ruined that for everyone. The Olympics were designed for amateurs, not professionals. The Miracle on Ice would not have happened with professional players. Things are very different now than they were back then. Sure, the KHL can send their own stars to play in the Olympics if they so choose.  But, the KHL players for the most part are not NHL caliber save for the Ilya Kovalchuk‘s of the world.

The Olympic hockey tournament brings mega ratings to the networks. The excitement it brings to see the countries battle it out on the bigger ice and playing for their country has brought NBC Sports Network its greatest ratings ever. Would ratings suffer if they want back to amateurs? Perhaps. It’s all in how you market it. They are still playing for their country, and it’s still exciting. If they promote it properly, and play on the 1980 angle, it could be exciting. There is just too much risk of injury and it’s just not as fun watching professionals play a glorified all-star game.

Has anyone noticed how exciting it is to watch the US Women’s team? Why? They are amateurs. They are playing for the love of the game, but also to get a possible contract with an overseas league. There are no million dollar players here. These ladies are playing for their country and for the love of the game. Why not let the college guys and junior guys have the same chance?Yes, some of the NHL guys won’t get the chance to represent their county. It happens. Remember the Canada Cup? How about the North America vs the World All-Star game? There are plenty of opportunities for the NHL players to have international exposure. Let’s let the younger guys have a chance.

Not all of us get to watch the World Junior Championships every year. But, during the lockout I did, and I loved it. It reminded me of what the Olympics should be; a tournament full of young guys who have yet to hit the big time.

This reminds me very much of the Mark Teixeira and the World Baseball Classic. When he was hurt swinging last year at the pre-season tournament, everyone was furious. How could you let your star 1st baseman play in a meaningless tournament? The biggest difference is that his was such a freak injury, that it could have and probably would have happened regardless of whether he played in that tourney. In the case of John Tavares, he was playing in the Olympics, a specific hit took him out.

Mark Teixeira is coming back and so will Tavares. In the meantime, it will be difficult to watch the Islanders without their leader. I hope that in 4 years the NHL comes to their senses.