The Winter Olympics are a special event that only happen every four years and attract the best players from every league across the globe. The NHL began letting players participate in the Olympics back in 1998 but recently it has become a hotly debated topic. The 2018 Winter Olympics are a long way off but the discussion of whether or not the NHL will permit players to play to South Korea will be a hot topic until the league makes a decision.
All About the Money
The Owners and NHL executives are not fond of the lost revenue during the two weeks that the Olympics take place since the season is put on hold. This revenue loss is argued to be even more important because the Winter Olympics occur directly after the Super Bowl and before March Madness making it a perfect time for the NHL to cash in leading up to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the General Managers are not fond of the Olympics because of the risk it has on their teams’ best players putting them at a disadvantage for the rest of the season.
One suggestion to remedy the problem is to bring back the World Cup of Hockey which debuted in 1996 and is played during the summer. The problem is that many hockey personalities believe that it will be no more successful than the current World Championships. The Worlds currently take place during the NHL playoffs and directly after other leagues’ playoffs such as the KHL and Swedish Elite League. Because of this, players from the NHL and other leagues don’t have as much interest in participating in the Worlds. For example, the 2014 Canadian World Championship team featured zero players from their 2014 Olympic team that won Gold. Team Russia only featured nine players on their World Championship roster from their Olympic roster. The World Cup of Hockey would be scheduled to take place after the NHL playoffs but players argue that the summer is meant for resting, especially after an 8 month work regimen or more in some cases.
If the NHL were to ban its players from participating in the Olympics the negative consequences could be far worse than we think. European players may begin to abandon the NHL for other leagues such as the KHL. Also, sponsors from overseas may begin to lose interest in the NHL causing a loss of revenue in those markets. Banning the Olympics for NHL players may in fact hurt the league financially instead of help it both by the loss of players and by the loss of revenue. We have already seen players such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov leave the NHL for more money. If some players are already leaving the NHL for money then leaving to play for their respective countries is not out of the question.
Finally, General Managers believe that teams that send more players to the Olympics are at a disadvantage for the rest of the season. In Sochi, the most notable injury was to New York Islanders center and captain John Tavares which may have cost the team a playoff spot. Still, were the Islanders a Cup contender with Tavares to begin with? The 2014 Stanley Cup Final featured the Los Angeles Kings, who sent (6) players to the Olympics and the New York Rangers, who sent (7) players to the Olympics. The Montreal Canadiens sent (7) of their own while the Chicago Blackhawks were tied for tops in the league with (10) players. The final four teams in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs were all among the top ten in NHL players sent to the Olympics in 2014. In short, teams who send more players to the Olympics are not at any disadvantage to win the Stanley Cup. Also, any type of international tournament will feature a risk of injury regardless of when it is played.
When the NHL is discussing their future plans about the Olympics they need to take all of this under consideration. If the league decides to ban players from participation they may end up losing big. Players, sponsors and the leagues credibility will all be at stake. This is also happening during the launch of the Champions Hockey League which will make leagues in Europe more attractive to players from that area. Currently the KHL has not joined but could do so in the future. Overall, sending players to the Olympics benefits the NHL more than we know and is part of the reason why the league is increasing profits every year.