The NHL will send no active players to the 2018 Winter Olympics.
For most of us, especially hockey fans, the hockey gold medal game is the most important event every Winter Olympics.
The league explained that one reason they chose not to go this year was just the impact on scheduling. A two-week break in February with a longer season that is more compressed would add to player fatigue.
However, many feel that the NHL refused to go along this year because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) balked at the idea of paying player insurance and travel costs. This figure is speculated to be over $10 million.
Another factor at play is the injury risk. In 2014, star player John Tavares suffered an MCL/meniscus injury that ended his season. Fellow skilled players Aleksander Barkov and Henrik Zetterberg also missed the rest of the season after injuries in the 2014 Sochi games. The league would love to bring their game to the Olympics, but they can not deal with the expense of losing their star power.
It is important to note that the NHL was close to cancelling attendance at the 2014 games. That year though, the IOC agreed to pay the league for travel and insurance. The other added pressure came from the event being in Russia, the home country for many hockey players.
The start time of games was another issue for the league. The TV revenue would be severely affected by the games having to start between 3:00 and 10:00 am. The Sochi games also had time issues, but this was outweighed by the push from the players and the IOC deal.
A key reason for the NHL’s attendance at the Olympics is to grow the brand internationally. This year they decided to play some games in China and Sweden. They even created their own World Cup of Hockey, which wasn’t an overwhelming success, but the NHL could pocket the money from this event as opposed to the costly option of sending players to the Olympics. They also avoided schedule issues of a two-week break by putting the World Cup at the beginning of the season.
There are some logical, calculated reasons for the league not to participate in Pyeongchang. However, there are reasons they should’ve overcame these faults. The main reason being that this could be the biggest hockey event there is. Fans want to see their countries represented and competing for the flag. They want to watch their favourite players going up against the best everyone has to offer. More importantly, the players themselves have grown up as kids watching the Olympics. They have a desire to play for their country on the biggest stage to make an impact on an international level. Some players like Canadian Marc-Edouard Vlasic considered risking it all.
Paying to play in a tournament overseas just adds unnecessary risk and extra costs that the financially savvy league office and team owners are not willing to take. The players will likely be unhappy but being able to continue the season as normal is a minor positive for those who appreciate consistency.
Also, some fans may forget that this doesn’t mean that there will be no Olympic hockey. The teams will be comprised of players currently playing overseas. For guys like Mason Raymond and Andrew Ebbett who haven’t been able to stay in the NHL, this is an extremely rare opportunity for guys to rise to the biggest stage and play for their country. I’m sure once the Olympics come around, fans will be engaged by the underdog aspect for all the players and hold some interest in the games.
No matter who’s playing, its still the Olympics and hockey fans will tune in.