Getty ImagesAs this is being written, the National Hockey League players who will represent their countries in Sochi are en route to Russia, and by the time you read it, they will have already landed and begun practicing. But the more one thinks about it, the more dread must rise at the prospect of this being the last time the world's greatest players will jet off for the event.
No decision, obviously, has been made about whether the league will participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea four years from now, considering the 2014 men's hockey tournament doesn't even begin for another two days. But you get the sense that the tide is certainly shifting toward a solid “no” vote four years from now.
The simple fact is that the NHL risks a lot for “the good of the sport” by sending these top-flight players off for three weeks every year. For one thing, they shut down the league for three weeks at a time, which is something about which no teams can be particularly happy. For another, they risk seeing, say, Evgeni Malkin blow out a knee late in a meaningless preliminary round game because he catches a rut, and that hurts both the Penguins and the league itself. These players are The Product in the NHL, and as such owners very understandably are reticent to just let them go play for someone else; if you really loved your car, would you want to loan it to someone you don't know to enter it into races for three weeks?
This was recently reflected in an interview with Ed Snider, usually one of the more fan-friendly owners in terms of giving them what they want (provided what they want does not include “sane contracts for largely unproven goaltenders”). For example, he was one of the few owners in the league to be vocally opposed to the most recent lockout through which his more militant, or perhaps you'd say greedy, colleagues dragged the league. But the Olympics? Snider is 100 percent not-down with them.
He said it's not good for the league and the teams, and that's fair enough because really, it isn't. The fact is that this is something the NHL does so its players won't flip out, and you can bet participation came up in the most recent collective bargaining agreement talks. It's very important to the players to be able to compete in the Olympics, so the league allows it. (Snider also said the tournament is bad for the fans, and if we're talking about people who are fans of their teams only, then maybe that's true, but if they're fans of the sport itself, then this is the greatest two weeks in hockey, period.)
Not that there isn't pushback. Pavel Datsyuk, for example, is headed over to Sochi to represent the host country but he's also nursing an injury. Ken Holland says he's pretty worried about it but doesn't feel like it's his place to tell his star center that he can't go. Meanwhile, the Islanders apparently feel no such compunction about their ability to dictate to an employee how he spends his three-week Olympic break; Slovak general manger Otto Sykora seems to think that Lubomir Visnovsky is not quite so injured as the Islanders would have us believe, which is to say that they're holding him out of the Olympics despite the fact that the player “says he's okay.” Then there's John Tortorella, who flat-out said of the injured Henrik Sedin, “I'll tell you right now: Do I want him to go? Absolutely not. I'm thinking about our hockey club.”
This isn't the kind of thing we've seen in the past, with teams expressing misgivings about the quadrennial tradition, but one imagines that even an injury that holds a player out of just a single NHL game when the league comes back is going to be enough to start a firestorm.
Again, it's important to keep in mind that the NHL is a business and one that makes no money from the Olympics, at least not directly. Maybe the games get a few more general sports fans interested overall, but they're not exactly selling out National Ski Jumping League events even if people do pay a hell of a lot of attention to it for three weeks every four years. Just because everyone suddenly becomes an expert in a sport during the Olympics — telling you for sure that so-and-so screwed up her triple axel horribly despite having watched no figure skating since Vancouver — doesn't mean they stick with the sport and the vast majority. The NHL (probably correctly) thinks that it should be in charge of promoting the sport on a global level, and turning it over to the IOC every four years has to chafe them. The reason the NHL is setting revenue records just about every year now is that it's incredibly good at getting people to pay attention to it. The league, frankly, doesn't need the help in making the sport more popular. It's doing a great job in that regard.
There's a reason negotiations dragged on so long about going to Sochi, and there's a reason that all the Olympic orientation camps are basically floor hockey tournaments, and there's a reason there's so much pushback from teams now. It's because while hockey fans and players love the Olympics, the NHL doesn't, and when's the last time the league did something that was in the best interest of fans and players only? Might be wise to start getting yourself ready to looking forward to all amateur players in Pyeongchang.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks headed into the Olympic break by snapping a three-game losing streak on what Hampus Lindholm called “a couple of [crappy] goals.” That works.
Boston Bruins: Yes Patrice Bergeron we get it. You're really good.
Buffalo Sabres: Loved this feature on Ryan Miller going to Sochi out for blood.
Calgary Flames: The Flames are feeling good about losing to the Flyers because at least they put 32 on net apparently.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes entered the break by getting clobbered. They are not happy about it.
Chicago Blackhawks: Joel Quenneville is a good coach. This has been a very important update on why the Blackhawks are good, I guess.
Colorado Avalanche: The entire city of Haliburton is hoping Canada wins because of native son Matt Duchene. Otherwise, they would never have rooted for Canada ever.
Columbus Blue Jackets: “Olympic break a non-issue as Blue Jackets stay focused on winning.” Too bad. I bet they don't win a game for at least the next three weeks.
Dallas Stars: Thank you Valeri Nichushkin for once again reminding everyone that any goal scored against crybaby Mike Smith is never his fault ever.
Detroit Red Wings: Stephen Weiss will be back from injury following the Olympic break but have the Red Wings really missed his contributions this season?
Edmonton Oilers: Well: “In order to become a playoff contender, the Oilers need to become a lot better and have to learn to play a lot harder.” And also go back in time to win about 10 more games than they have already.
Florida Panthers: Anyone who gets Tom Gilbert in a trade with the Panthers is probably going to get a steal. He's been one of the better possession defensemen in the league this season (34th in the league in relative corsi, despite playing on the Panthers), playing on a dirt-cheap contract, and then whoever trades for him gets first crack at re-signing him. This is awful asset management by Dale Tallon.
Los Angeles Kings: That things about good young players getting sent to the AHL? How about Tyler Toffoli and Martin Jones? Woe be unto opponents of the Manchester Monarchs the next few weeks.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild might just kick the tires on finding some goaltending depth for the stretch run. Say, are there any guys who might help? Maybe like ones that might be a teammate with your two best players in Sochi? I don't know I'm just spitballing here.
Montreal Canadiens: Max don't you ever scare me like that again.
Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The only way the Swiss surprise anyone in Sochi is if all the better teams literally don't even show up. Roman Josi is really rooting for a Bermuda Triangle-type situation here.
New Jersey Devils: Devils' splits on the power play with and without Eric Gelinas running it? Without: 5 for 49 (10.2 percent). With: 28 for 125 (22.4 percent). That's literally double. Just recall him, Lou. Jesus.
New York Islanders: This is pretty good advice for anyone, really.
New York Rangers: Really interesting comments from Alain Vigneault if only because he's very candid about the team's position, and you don't often hear coaches say stuff like this in-season.
Ottawa Senators: Paul MacLean on his team dropping a 7-2 road decision to the Bruins: “We probably owe them a couple of bucks for the clinic they put on today.”
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are divided on whether getting three weeks off when they've won five of their last six. Having their first game back be against the Sharks probably doesn't help.
Phoenix Coyotes: “Phoenix Coyotes players wait for Olympics fever.” Another weird disease for Shane Doan, I guess.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Well, Kris Letang's stroke certainly makes Ray Shero's job a lot more interesting after the Olympic break.
San Jose Sharks: Todd McLellan on Patrick Marleau: “He's a streaky player.” The fact that he's got two points in his last seven games bodes well for Canada.
St. Louis Blues: This is a hell of a strange bounce to get a goal for Derek Roy.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Valtteri Filppula's fractured ankle will keep him out of the Olympics and then more time after that. Tough for the Bolts, but it looks like they're probably going to get some kid named Stamkos back, so that might cushion the blow a little bit.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Phil Kessel yeahhhhhh. Most points in the NHL since the new year. America!
Vancouver Canucks: Pretty great headline here.
Washington Capitals: Martin Erat finally frickin scored. Wow.
Winnipeg Jets: Amazing how the narrative changes when the coach does.
Play of the Weekend
Patrice I just said we got it.
Gold Star Award
Notre DameNotre Dame's Bryan Rust scored two goals in 24 seconds to help his team beat Maine on Saturday. It was mighty impressive.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Nuke” wants to watch Denver burn.
- 2015 1st
- NY Islanders 2014 or 2015 first.
Anthrax? Ahhhhhh, anthrax smells like babies!