NHL's Future Olympic Participation Far From Certain, As Owners Gripe About Break, Risks
The NHL will not decide on future Olympic participation until after it "assesses what happens in Sochi," but it "seems clear league officials aren't enamored with the idea of going" to the '18 Pyeongchang Games, according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. While NHL officials "like the romance of participating in the Games, they have never liked shutting down the league 16 days to make it happen." The Olympics coincide with "the time of year when NHL attendance is strongest, and some markets have had trouble re-acquiring their fan base after the shutdown." It also "bothers the NHL and NHLPA that it doesn't have more say at what happens with the hockey tournament at the Games." The league and union "negotiated a better deal" for Sochi than in the past, but the NHL "believes it deserves a larger voice given the talent it provides." Olympic participation "isn't in the collective bargaining agreement, but the NHL is keenly aware" that players "love going to the Olympics." The league has a 10-year TV deal with NBC, and network officials "undoubtedly would prefer to have NHL players at the Olympics." Allen: "Will they lobby aggressively enough?" (USA TODAY, 2/10). In Boston, Stephen Harris noted Pyeongchang, which is located 110 miles east of Seoul, would "figure to be a much more modern and better-prepared venue than Sochi." But there are mixed feelings "within the NHL about Olympic participation: Excitement about the competition, but displeasure with the upheaval it causes." Bruins C Gregory Campbell said, "For selfish reasons, it’s a tough schedule for us in the NHL. But in the grand scheme of things it’s good for hockey. It adds a lot of exposure for the game. It does a lot for the game. Everybody is a fan of it." Harris: "The bottom line, though, will probably be this: As long as the players want to go, the NHL will remain part of future Games" (BOSTON HERALD, 2/9).
IS IT BAD FOR THE LEAGUE? YAHOO SPORTS' Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the Olympics "might be bad for some fans in a narrow sense, if they directly hurt those fans’ favorite team somehow, but generally the Olympics please hardcore hockey fans and attract more casual sports fans to hockey than any other event." Cotsonika: "How is that bad for the league?" Still, Flyers Chair Ed Snider, who last week spoke out against Olympic participation, "isn't alone." Coyotes President & CEO Anthony LeBlanc said, "I’m not thrilled about shutting down in February, which is a massive month for us here in Phoenix with out-of-town travelers, but it is what is." Cotsonika noted the Olympics to owners are "more trouble than they’re worth, especially when they’re outside North America." The owners are "pausing play midseason to lend their high-priced assets to someone else’s tournament, sometimes halfway around the world." There is "not as much as you might think" in it for the owners. For "all the talk about exposure and all the anecdotal evidence that the Olympics generate buzz about hockey, the league has reviewed the hard data" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 2/7). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly last month said that he "worried because the 16-day break could affect the teams with the most players in Sochi," and that the break and the travel "might combine with injuries sustained during the Games to interrupt the momentum of NHL clubs" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/9). In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote the break "might be a pain for the owners, but the NHL’s participation in the Olympics is wonderful PR for a league that needs it, here and abroad." Olympic hockey is "the best tournament in the world" and takes place every four years. Engel: "Let ’em play" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 2/8).
TAKING A MID-SEASON VACATION: In Denver, Adrian Dater wrote the Olympic break is a "raw deal for the NHL, the league that pays all of these players to go off for nearly a three-week joy ride." Some players "strenuously object to the characterization that they look at the Olympic break as mostly a paid vacation." Dater: "But that's what I believe. Players are getting paid by their NHL teams to go over to Sochi and compete for a medal in the Olympics." Regardless of the result, they "come back to their teams with their money still guaranteed, while NHL owners take zero from the profits of the Games, and take all the risk if one of their top players gets hurt." The NHL "continues to go because the players union likes it" and, because in '98, the league "needed all the exposure it could get." Players "continue to love it, because they get nearly three weeks paid time off and get to play for the glory of the flag" (DENVER POST, 2/9).
LEFT BEHIND: A USA Hockey spokesperson said that U.S. Olympic men's hockey GM David Poile is "still recovering from an eye surgery at a St. Paul hospital" and is "not expected to join Team USA overseas before the Feb. 18-22 medal round." In St. Paul, Brian Murphy noted Poile, who is also Predators GM, was "hit by an errant puck" last week while "standing in the tunnel between the visitor's bench and dressing room at the Xcel Energy Center" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 2/8).