It has been widely speculated, now officially reported that the NHL will no longer let players with active NHL or minor league contracts participate in the Olympic Games. I believe that this is once again another example of a poor decision by a League that at times can not get out of it’s own way.
The NHL, is heavily followed and loved by Hockey Fans all of all ages from all reaches of the earth. The problem is, when I say heavily, that is fairly relative. It is heavily followed if you compare it to other fringe sports. But if you compare it to Soccer, Football, Baseball, or Basketball… it’s not even in the same ball park. The Olympics provided the NHL an opportunity to showcase it’s best talent to many that do not watch hockey regularly.
The NHL has always fancied itself as the 4th most popular sport in this country with regards to professional sports. Football, Basketball, and Baseball are far and away more popular and then fourth is a toss up between Nascar, Soccer, and Hockey. For a league that is trying to grow a sport and fanbase, they sure do pick interesting hills to die on. And in my opinion, that is exactly what this is.
This decision does two things. First, this guarantees that your League is discussed during the Olympics in a negative manor. Secondly, they have alienated their own players. Players like Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin take great pride in representing their countries in the Olympics. Now, that opportunity does not exists unless they are not actively participating in the NHL or affiliated Minor League Hockey.
I do see one of the main issues and that is the fact that the League has to essentially eliminate 2 weeks of schedule. Not to mention if players get injured, that hurts the franchise and the league… so I do understand the hurdles involved.
With that said, the NHL as a whole has a much more pressing issue and that is how it is viewed from the outside. Mario Lemieux once joked that the NHL is a “Garage League.” That was in reference to how it is officiated and played. He was in fact not far from the truth. This is a league that proves year in and year out they do not care about player safety, which is evident with their decisions on bad hits.
Couple that with their stance on not letting players play in the Olympics because they don’t want to see them get injured, actually makes it look more like they are okay with injuring their own players on purpose, just not seeing the players get injured In special events by accident.
Take this into consideration. This is the same group of Executives that disbanded their Study on Concussions. They do not believe their are Concussion issues in the League.
TO say this League is out of touch and short sited would be an understatement in titanic proportions. The Decision is just wrong and I believe it is yet one more misstep by the NHL, the commisioner, and their teams.