I know that the Sochi games have just begun, and that the NHL players are only now settling down in their “accommodations”, but this has been a big issue since even before this year’s games began.
The NHL was allowed to play in the Olympics starting in Nagano, Japan in 1998. Since then, the NHL takes a 3 week break during the season, and sends their players off to wherever the games have been, and halted almost all league operations until their return. This year seemed like it was in question due to security issues in Russia.
However, there are many more issues besides security for the players.
The players who fly over to represent their country deal with a very demanding schedule, adapting to a new time zone, playing a bunch of games in a short period of time, then flying back home to readjust before continuing the season. This kind of strain that these players put on themselves can easily cause injury and fatigue. Those ill-effects can carry over into their NHL season, especially in the home-stretch and playoffs. Also, with games in the Eurasian continent, the playing rink is different sized than the standard NHL rink, thus the players have to adjust to a new rink for a handful of games.
Besides the obvious risk for the players, there is a financial gap for the NHL. In years where the Olympics are played, they don’t have an All Star game. The 2010 season, and also the 2014 season does not have an All Star event scheduled. The game, plus all the festivities that go around it, are a huge financial boost to the NHL, that they are missing out during the Olympic years. Also, teams separate and go stagnant for 3 weeks, making things more frantic when all the players return to the States for the remainder of the season. These players are also under contract for their teams, and their top priority should be to their respective team, and to do what’s best for them and their team.
There are positives to sending the players, though. The FIFA World Cup is one of the most anticipated events in the sports universe, and professional players are everywhere, playing for their respective nations. Everyone watches it, and doesn’t bat an eyelash on the ill-effects it could have on the players. With the Winter Games, it’s similar in terms of camaraderie. The games are talked about for months in advance, and are watched by entire nations when the games get really important. According to stats, 80% of Canada tuned in for the 2010 gold medal game. While the players are playing, no one seems to mind the hardships the players go through, and everyone enjoys the games and talks about it at the water coolers the next day at work.
But recent news, concerning security risks and lack of proper accommodations for the players, brought forward the question on whether the players should have been sent to Sochi. The NHL was juggling the question until the very end. Now, the question that will be asked from here until the next Olympiad, is whether the NHL would be participating in South Korea in 2018.
Considering that Korea is at the opposite side of the world, and have been in constant struggle with their Northern counterpart for years on end, both reasons for the NHL to sit the 2018 games out. Also, with recent financial issues the NHL has experienced, namely the lockout of 2012, the NHL wouldn’t be so keen as to miss another 3 weeks of revenue, as well as the 2018 All Star game in a yet-to-be-determined location.
It’s tough to compare the World Cup to the Olympics, with many differences throughout the comparison. The advantages of sending the best in the world are present. But with players under contract with an organization, and under enough physical stress as is, it’s tough for me to say yes to Pyeongchang, if it were my decision. The risks involved far outweigh the rewards.
No matter my opinion, it’s a good possibility that we may be seeing the last of the NHL in the Olympics for a while, this year in Sochi. Take a good look, it may look very different next Olympiad.