When I think about the NHL’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, I try to put myself in the shoes of team owners and general managers as much as possible.
When I do that, I can fully understand why they don’t want to send their players to the Olympics. It takes time (and money) away from their season, usually during a very valuable part of the year in February. And it’s a major injury risk to allow all of the league’s best players to go play some of the most competitive hockey they’ll ever play.
In return, the league doesn’t really see much tangible benefit. Sure, putting NHL players on the world’s biggest athletic stage is valuable. But how much of that can be quantified, particularly when the games are 14 time zones away from the east coast of the United States? It’s not an easy answer.
But none of this takes into consideration two very clear realities:
- Hockey fans, generally speaking, want to see NHL players in the Olympics. (Why wouldn’t we want to see them in the Olympics?)
- NHL players want to play in the Olympics.
The NHL might not go to the Olympics basically because of money. That doesn’t get to the core of what the players or the fans care about, though. So theres a natural disconnect there -- one that the NHL can only really bridge if they stop worrying about profits and their own concerns for a second.
Jakub Voracek was talking to the media in Toronto yesterday, and he got to the core of that divide. Via CSNPhilly.com:
"It's stupid and I find it absolutely ridiculous. ... Absolutely ridiculous. We have it once every four years. I read something that [NHL deputy commissioner] Bill Daly said we're not going. Nobody wants you to go. The players want to go. Why you're saying you're not going? You're not part of the players association. ... Nobody wants you there. They want the players.
It's the Olympics. It's not just about business. You want to be part of the Olympics. And trust me, players want to go. And the players who don't go get a week off to recharge their batteries. If you have bumps and bruises, you can heal and recover.
The players want to go, I guarantee you that. I want to see how you are going to hold [Alex] Ovechkin back. The Russian players. Tell them they can't go."
That last part really gets to the bottom of this. The players want to go. And the Russians, in particular, really want to go. They have always viewed the Olympics in some ways as even more valuable than the Stanley Cup.
Whether the suits on the 15th floor at 1189 Sixth Avenue in New York give them their blessing or not, a lot of players are going to Korea. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has already said that he won’t get in the way of Ovechkin or any other Olympian on his team going to the Games, and that’s a very messy headache for the league.
There’s only one easy, grown-up solution for the NHL here as a result: just let the dang players go. You might not make money, and you might have to take on some risk, and you might not really like the idea of taking two weeks off during the season.
But it doesn’t always have to be about the money. Saving face with your fans and your players — for once -- has some value too, even if you can’t apply a dollar amount to it.