The NHLPA had to do a lot of digging in for the NHL to shut down operations and allow its players to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi this month. The NHL and its owners fail to see the benefits of shutting down for 3 weeks and have their arenas dark, and subjecting their players to travel, potentially losing them to injury, and not getting much in return.
The exposure of the game on the World’s biggest stage is little compensation, since the NHL is such a largely North American game. Luge’s biggest stars are also on display at the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean Luge is going to be the primary focus of Americans or Canadians, and probably never will be.
Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner stated that the NHL might have a decision on NHL participation in 2018 in South Korea within the next 6 months or so.
Obviously, the players want to go and have the opportunity to play in as close to a “best on best” tournament as there currently can be.
So, what would keep the NHL involved in the quadrennial event that has a lot of press in the countries involved, but that would be there regardless?
Could the IIHF, the IOC, the NHLPA and the NHL broker some type of agreement like FIFA where they send under 23 teams to the Olympics? That would be the compromise between all the groups, but not something the NHLPA is likely to get behind, even if they made it under 25. That would mean players would only likely get one opportunity, and the stronger countries like Canada and the US might be able to field solid teams, but what about countries like Finland, Slovakia and others, who rely on their complete depth to be competitive and wouldn’t likely be able to field a strong team with such an age limit. And would that stop non-NHLers who are over 25 and playing in Europe from going, just because the NHL won’t send all players?
Another question that needs to be asked is what compensation the IOC and the IIHF are willing to concede to the NHL. Because, the NHL has the World Cup in its back pocket and doesn’t need the IOC to sign off on it, and all the revenues for that tournament would be kept in the coffers of the NHL, NHLPA and the individual National governing bodies.
Those are all logistics that would need to be solved, and I am not sure what exposure sending star-studded teams to South Korea would get the NHL.
What I do know is that once they stop going, they will not be invited back to the table even when the Olympics would eventually return to North America. You are either in or you are out, there is no pick and choose.
Personally, as a hockey fan, I hope they continue to go. I hope the NHL sees the benefits and finds a way to see the potential to grow the game and keeps it a best on best tournament.
In the grand scheme of things, we should know fairly soon, and the fact that they will make the decision so soon after the euphoria that these games are sure to create will only help them see the light.