For the first time in twenty years, the National Hockey League will not be sending players to the Winter Olympics. As the ceremonies begin in PyeongChang, NHL players will remain playing for their teams, rather than their countries. The move was made after careful deliberation of the Olympics’ impact on the league. According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, supporting the Olympics is not in the NHL’s favor. This may mean that the Olympic Games in 2018 will not feature hockey at the highest level, but the NHL will undoubtedly be better off, and most likely more entertaining for fans of the NHL.
The main conflict between the NHL and the Olympics is one of scheduling. If the NHL wishes to accommodate the Olympic schedule, as it has done in the past, it would essentially need to take a 17 day break from standard competition. The alternative would be to send out NHL teams that do not feature the best players, who are often the ones fans want to see the most. Neither of these options are ideal. By taking a break, the NHL actually stands to lose money, both from advertisers who normally would place ads on televised NHL games, and also from lost ticket and concession sales. If the NHL continues its schedule while half of the league is playing in the Olympics, then it would be offering a substandard product for its fans.
However, the second problem created when NHL players compete in the Olympics is the very real chance of injury. During the 2014 Sochi Olympics, several notable players from playoff-contending teams suffered season ending injuries, including Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, John Tavares of the New York Islanders, and Tomas Kopecky of the Florida Panthers. Many other players suffered minor injuries that very well may have cost their team a chance at even making the playoffs. The Winter Olympics therefore present a very real chance of injury for NHL players, and the NHL has nothing to gain in return. By playing in the Olympic tournament, players who do not suffer injuries will still more likely be overextended from having to play extra games, and the players who guide their national teams the furthest in the tournament will be the ones most affected by the extra-long schedule. However, because the Winter Olympics take place in February, this is the time of year when NHL teams begin jockeying for playoff seeding.
As a result of all the challenges created in accommodating the Olympic schedule, the NHL has decided to say no to the Olympics, and that is a good thing if one is a fan of NHL hockey. Players will not be exhausted, matches will be more exciting, and every fan can count on his or her favorite team making its best possible effort in winning the Stanley Cup. Although some may lament not seeing their favorite players playing for a national team, there simply isn’t enough benefit for the NHL in allowing its players to leave mid-season. The Olympics may have given us some exciting moments in the past, but perhaps the most famous Olympic hockey team of all time, the 1980 team, was also comprised of amateurs. No one was complaining when non-professional hockey players took home the gold; their non-professional status was what contributed to their place in history as one of sport’s most inspirational teams ever assembled. And as for those who might complain that the Olympics will not feature the best hockey imaginable, they can still catch the greatest level of competition being played in the NHL.