SBD/February 19, 2014/Olympics

NHL Owners Not Keen On Olympic Participation Because Of Injury Risk To Star Players

Melnyk said he is "on the fence" about the NHL's participation in the Olympics
Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk has joined the list of NHL team execs that are not "convinced the NHL should be shutting down to let players head overseas" and compete in the Olympics, according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN. Melnyk, who has donated C$500,000 directly to Canadian athletes, said, "There's no question I support the Olympics." However, he went on to say, "That being said, basically you are risking your players going to the Olympics. Look at what happened to (Dominik) Hasek (in 2006) when he went. He gets hurt playing for the Czech Republic. God forbid something happens to (Erik) Karlsson. I know there's some very vocal guys out there who are very much against it. I'm on the fence but it could sway me if I had one of my top stars get hurt again. You're kind of torn because you support the Olympic movement in a big way" (OTTAWA SUN, 2/19). Meanwhile, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said he was "really having a hard time trying to figure out whether I like the idea of the Olympics or not." Davidson: "I'm going, 'You know, I don't think it's a good idea.' We shut our league down. We talk about it for two months before the Olympics instead of talking about our own league -- and our league is by far the best league in the world. We worry about injury." Davidson admitted he was a "flip-flopper right now" and said, "I don’t know what to think." However, if he had to decide today whether he would vote to allow NHLers to play in the '18 Pyeongchang Games, "I'd say no" (SPORTSNET.ca, 2/18).

NEED TO THINK BIG PICTURE: In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes the "only folks who've got a reason to bristle at the NHL's Olympic participation are the league's owners, who pay these players an average" of $6M to play for their teams. Flyers Chair Ed Snider, who prior to the Games railed against the NHL shutting down, can be "forgiven his small-word view," as he "writes the paychecks." Red Wings LW Henrik Zetterberg already has been injured during the Sochi tournament, and team owners "make massive financial investments in these players." However, Kravitz writes the "short view doesn't help the sport's international growth." The game "needs to grow, and the best way to do that is to send the best players in the world to the Olympics" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/19).
 
DOES LEAGUE NEED OLYMPICS ANYMORE? ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote part of the reason the NHL decided to send players to the Olympics beginning with the '98 Nagano Games was that the league "needed the tournament to help its profile, to grow the game, to become more relevant." It is not "fair to ask whether the league needs the Olympics anymore." However, anyone who "watched even five minutes of Saturday's instant classic between Russia and the United States understands that there is something special, long-lasting -- and, dare we say it? -- valuable about the NHL players being here" (ESPN.com, 2/18). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa writes under the header, "NHL And Olympics Are Meant To Be One." By playing in the Olympics, the NHL "accomplishes what we desire in all-star games: pitting the best players in the sport against each other in a highly competitive atmosphere" (DETROIT NEWS, 2/19). FS1’s Katie Nolan said, "They get the international attention from the Olympics, which is an amazing thing for a sport that is trying to get people to watch.” Nolan: "They shouldn’t pull out of the Olympics. That would be awful for the sport.” But GQ’s Drew Magary believes it is to the NHL’s “detriment” to compete in the Olympics. Magary: “These international competitions give casual fans like me an excuse to not watch the NHL. ... I get my two-week hockey fix and I’m like, ‘Hey, I just saw a hockey season, great for me’” (“Crowd Goes Wild,” FS1, 2/18).

SUDDEN DEPARTURE FOR RUSSIA: Russia was beaten 3-1 by Finland today in the quarterfinal round, meaning the country will not medal in men's hockey for the third straight Olympics, and NBC's Al Michaels said, "You can't overstate what a disappointment this is for a country that for so long was the dominant power in this sport" (NBCSN, 2/19). Michaels added, "If the Russians only won one Gold Medal in these Olympics, it had to be hockey. … I mean Putin is the guy this was the most important thing to" ("Squawk on the Street," CNBC, 2/19). ESPN's Barry Melrose said, "This was not supposed to happen, and this is a shocker for the Russian Federation. They thought they had a team that could win a Gold Medal. ... Overall, this was a terrible loss." ESPN's Kevin Negandhi: "This cannot play well on their home soil" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/19). CNBC's Brian Sullivan wrote on his Twitter feed, "Tough loss for Russia. Will be despondent in village. Every local I've talked to has spoken of hockey. This is THE game of #Sochi." The N.Y. Times' Juliet Macur: "Very sad Russians all throughout the Olympic Park." NHL.com's Dan Rosen: "Lots of people were waving flags in here earlier. Now those flags are being lowered to half-mast." The CBC's David Common: "Sochi hockey arena usually displays final scores on its lighted roof. But not tonight. Not after Russian loss." TSN's Jamie McLennan: "Does Putin cancel the Olympics and ask everyone to leave? His body language certainly says so." ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun: "Gives you more appreciation for what Canada pulled off 4 yrs ago with the immense pressure at home. Russian team felt the weight of it here." The CBC's Elliotte Friedman: "Only one Russian player stopped to talk to the media (on the TV side). That was Alexander Ovechkin." DC-based WJFK-FM David Elfin: "Can't be fun being @ovi8 back home right now" (TWITTER.com, 2/19).

WILLING TO PAY THE PRICE? NBCSN's Jeremy Roenick noted the investment Russia has made in hockey in recent years, including President Vladimir Putin "trying to make the KHL comparable to the National Hockey League." The addition of players like former Devils LW Ilya Kovalchuck has made the KHL "more competitive, but it's not as competitive, and you could see with the way they played in this tournament." Roenick: "The Russians were not able to get over the pressure that they had of the country." But NBCSN's Mike Milbury said, "I don’t think the pressure got to them nearly enough. I don't think they felt any urgency." Milbury: "This was not about money. This was representing their country in their backyard, with the president of the country sitting around waiting for them to do something special. And they laid a big, fat egg" (NBCSN, 2/19). ESPN's Melrose said it was a "question of character, it’s a question of passion, it's a question of paying a price." Melrose: "No one ever questions the Russians' talent. If you go by talent, the Russians would win the Gold Medal every year. That doesn't happen, other things have to come in" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 2/19).
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