Back in September, hockey fans received great news when it was confirmed that the NHL would be attending the 2022 Winter Olympics that are set to take place in Beijing, China. This was extremely exciting for many, as the league chose to not send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
For many hockey fans around the world, some of their favorite moments come from Olympic events. For Canadians, everyone can recall exactly where they were when Sidney Crosby scored ‘The Golden Goal’. For Swedes, it is impossible to forget the fantastic play of Henrik Lundqvist during their Gold Medal victory back in 2006.
There have been several other massive Olympic moments for many countries that we could go on and on about. The bottom line is, these games mean a lot to hockey fans, as it is the best on best competing for their respective countries, something that is very prideful. This goes for the players as well, who often speak about just how much it means to them to play against the worlds best in hopes of a Gold Medal.
Olympic Status Now in Doubt
Unfortunately, what seemed like a guarantee just a few short months ago is now a major question mark. Due to the still very high number of COVID-19 cases throughout the world, there is a chance the NHL may back out of the event. One of the biggest reasons is due to the fact the league is being forced to reschedule some games after both the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders were forced to postgame multiple contests due to a number of their players testing positive for the virus.
On top of that, there is also worries about what would happen if a player tested positive for COVID while in China. Not only would that player be forced to quarantine for two weeks, but if it happened near the end of the tournament they would be forced to stay on their own. It certainly wouldn’t be an ideal situation, though Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting that players still want to go. Quite frankly, despite the difficulties the pandemic could bring, the league would be making a mistake not sending them.
Olympic Exposure Helps Grow the Game
Out of the four major sports in the United States of the NHL, MLB, NBA and the NFL, there is no denying that hockey is the least popular. A big part of that is the lack of exposure the sport gets outside of Canada and some European countries. It is growing, but not nearly at the same rate as a league such as the NBA.
There is a huge untapped market for the NHL in Asia. What better to help reach that audience than having the best players in the world competing against each other in Beijing to help draw their attention to the sport? The NBA is huge in many Asian countries, and a big reason why is because of how well they market themselves. Attending these games would be a huge opportunity for the NHL to market their product.
Having NHL players compete in the Olympics wouldn’t only increase the sports popularity in Asia, either. As mentioned previously, there is a sense of pride when your respective country is competing in the Olympics. Many Americans who aren’t overly familiar with the game would be far more likely to watch Team U.S.A. compete for a Gold Medal than watch an American team play for the Stanley Cup. Once they are exposed to the game, especially given the extremely high talent involved, they have a much better chance of gaining interest in it.
Legendary Lineups for Many Countries
Another reason the NHL needs to go to this tournament is because of all the great players they currently have in their league. For aging players like Slovakia’s Zdeno Chara, or even Canada’s Patrice Bergeron, this tournament would very well likely be the last chance they would get to play in the Olympics, and they are far from the only players who fall into that category.
Another player who is slowly creeping up in age is Crosby, who, as mentioned before, scored one of the most famous goals in Olympic history. In recent years, fans have been comparing his career to that of Connor McDavid’s of the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers superstar forward has said he was a huge Crosby fan growing up, and all sorts of NHL fans have been eager of the possibility of the two playing together on the same team at the Olympics.
Positives for Attending Outweigh Negatives
From both a business and player safety perspective, it is completely understandable why commissioner Gary Bettman and the rest of his staff are very hesitant in regards to the 2022 Winter Olympics. There are a ton of headaches that come with it in a normal year for the league, let alone in these current times we are living in with the pandemic.
With that being said, the exposure the game would get would have so many benefits, particularly in terms of both the revenue the NHL would make in future years, along with the popularity of both the league and the sport of hockey itself. The NHL has until Jan. 10 to back out of the event without a penalty, meaning they still have a bit of time to make a final decision. Let’s hope they make the right one.