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Should the League Allow NHL Players To Go To Sochi?



I’m blinded by emotion when I try to discuss NHL players going (or not going) to the Olympics, so I’m not even gonna try to pretend that my “they should go” mentality is all that well-founded in logic.

But still, I’d like to understand the issues that are creating the league’s hesitancy (Bettman says their research shows support for players going is a “mixed bag”.  I presume the “mix” is a whole bunch of “well yeah, of course” and a dash of Bettman lies).

Team Canada, 2010

Since I’m not really up on all the ins-and-outs of the decision, I’m going to ask three questions, and maybe some readers can help me out:

1) Business is supply and demand.  The demand (from everyone who isn’t the league) for NHL players to be in Sochi in 2014 is insane.  Thus, there’s lots of money to be made there.  As of today, a major problem is that while some people are making money, the NHL does nothing but lose it.  And, of course, they’re the people taking the biggest risks.

If the IIHF and everybody else badly wants the best players in the world there, and that costs NHL owners money, is there not some sort of compensation that can be given from party A to party B so everybody can make some money, instead of just having party A make a ton of money?

2) I batted this about on Twitter with Bruce Arthur yesterday:

One of the reasons the owners give for how it costs them money is the “loss of momentum”.  As in, the 17 day lull in the schedule means some fans don’t know their team is back playing again, and thus, they miss out on ticket sales.

The US had plenty to celebrate in the 2012 Olympics

Obviously, this isn’t a problem in cities like Toronto, St. Paul, or Vancouver, but might be in cities like Raleigh-Durham, Atlanta or Nashville.

My question then is…. how much is that supposed lull really costing them?  Is “loss of momentum” a proven thing that they’ve established a value for?  The break is like, 17 days – just for the sake of pointing it out, most teams take a couple two-week road trips over the course of every season.  This is really that much different?  It’s certainly a lot more meaningful. 

And by the same logic, wouldn’t the lull end up bunching other games together, providing a “gain of momentum?” 

Basically, I’m skeptical that this is an important reason.

C) Isn’t this “should we let the players go?” talk from Bettman strictly to create a bargaining chip in the next CBA?  (Here are the thoughts of Jeff Marek from CBC, whom I’m in the process of agreeing with).  We all agree that Bettman’s “hesitance” is just to create an ”okay, you can go to the party, but only if you clean your room first” situation, when the parent was going to let the kid go all along I would think, no?

Shouldn’t the players be countering (as much as I hate these games) with a ”meh, whatever” response to that?

The whole thing is just like how I let Bri watch “Cake Boss” or “Ace of Cakes” in exchange for an episode of Sportscenter.  I freakin’ love Cake Boss.  Shhh.

As for the other reasons….

Risk of injury, star player fatigue, that sort of thing: I totally, totally get it.  I know it’s not all roses, this whole degrading the NHL schedule for something “bigger” thing.  But to me, and I said this on Twitter yesterday, there’s just zero/none/nil/no way you could convince me it’s not worth it, or that it won’t happen.

Hockey fans are just too in love with that tournament, and I honestly believe the NHL loves it too. If the players don’t go (hint: they will), it’ll be pitchforks and torches for months.


Good news!  It’s a double post day.  Well, only because this one went well into four-digit words so I split it up, but whatever.  It looks like two posts.  Go read the other one!


17 Responses to “Should the League Allow NHL Players To Go To Sochi?”
  1. Char says:

    Regarding the Olympics:

    1. Everyone should get some pie. Pie is good. Or maybe cake. Cake’s even better.
    2. Loss of momentum? Didn’t the Olympics make people MORE interested in hockey?
    C. (hey, wait a minute…) Yes. It’s a chip. Crunch.

  2. Goody says:

    Believe it or not, there are people out there for whom hockey is not on their radar. I hang out online at a discussion forum (US based) that has roughly 60 regular users/posters spread across the country. Of those, roughly 3 watch hockey with any regularity. During the Olympics, there were actually active discussions about hockey which had participants other than those 3. I can only interpret that as the Olympics allowed hockey to reach potential new fans where the NHL just wasn’t making a blip. It was essentially highly viewed ‘free’ advertising for the NHL. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

  3. jtbourne says:

    Goody: Right – it’s like, for some reason, they NHL pretends to be blind to the whole “reaching new people” thing the Olympics does, but I think they know. A stronger case for (C).

  4. Danimal says:

    If they could come up with a viable World Cup of hockey (outside of the regular season/playoffs), the should we go/should we not go to the Olympics would become null and void. And too many people/casual sports fans get TURNED ON to hockey because of the olympic tournament for Bettman to say it’s a mixed bag. How many casual fans are sick of the NBA or other sports when the olympic tournament roles around and they see the great product and then invest in their local product once the olympics are over? Bettman just wants the NHL to make money on the tournament; he’s basically pissed because he knows the NHL can’t match the quality of hockey of the olympics. If the olympics were full of U20′s, the NHL would then look like the greatest hockey in the world. But the olympics makes the NHL look like minor league to the CASUAL sports fan.

  5. Rob says:

    Great points! I completely agree with this post. The “momentum” thing is BS. I compare hockey at the Olympics to the Soccer World Cup. People who usually don’t watch will watch and people who already do can’t get enough. If anything it creates more momentum for the non-fan. Do you think ANY soccer leagues are even thinking about not sending pros to the World Cup because it might disrupt their season?

  6. djimass says:

    Rob: The comparison with soccer is valid. However, the World Cup is played just before the European leagues’ season, and mid-Season for the Russian league.

    I have a feeling that Bettman is hesitant about Sochi because the games are not going to be shown in prime-time here in North America (a 7:30 PM game there would start at 3:30AM on the east coast). That’s what he means by “loss of momentum”, I guess. All I know is I’ll watch whether NHLers are there or not. But I would definitely prefer if the pros went.

  7. Kennedy says:

    I think NHL players should go to the Olympics. 100%. I also think the NHL wants them there but it realizes it has a big bargaining chip and its going to exploit it. That being said let me play devils advocate:

    One thing to bear in mind is that Vancouver was an AWESOME Olypmic hockey tournament. Awesome. The Canadians won. (Thank god.) The Americans won the Silver and Bobby Ryan got a new nickname. Both good things.

    NHL players played in the last Olympics too. I don’t recall people in Arkansas going coocoo for cocoa puffs during that tournament?

    But how much Olympic hockey talk would there have been in the USA (because lets be honest, thats what we are really talking about here) if the finals was Sweden-Russia? If the US goes out in the round robin – the numbers on the final game would paltry. Now put the Sweden-Russia final on at 3:30am in New York and let me know how many people are watching? Sochi is a problem by itself – if the Games were in Lake Placid it’s a different story.

    Last – during the Olympics I love curling. I LOVED it. I watched almost all of it. I haven’t even thought about it since.

  8. Trevor says:

    The worst argument of all comes from Brian Burke. He talks about how the players don’t see one dime from the Olympics, yet every player is just dying to go free of charge. I think Marek talked about this in his blog today as well.

    I agree with Burke on a lot of things, but he’s making himself look foolish in these departments. Burke seems to think that hockey players are above other Olympians for some reason.

    The loss of momentum is a made up argument I think. I just looked at Atlanta’s attendance. Pre olympic break was 13,303, post Olympic break was 14,386. That was also post Kovy trade too. Nashville had a pre Olympic attendance avg of 14,418 and a post break attendance avg of 15,951. I’m not seeing any loss in momentum.

    Maybe Tim Horton’s shoudl get compensated for allowing Kevin Martin to miss the Brier, that makes about the most sense. (How many people on here are gonna know what the Brier is, I wonder)

  9. James says:

    It’s great hockey.

    I’m all for anything that gets more great hockey on my TV.

  10. Kennedy says:

    Not all Olympians are created equal.

  11. St. Cloud Gopher says:

    “1) Business is supply and demand.” Yup. And nearly every hockey fan demands someone else could run that business.

    2) The “loss of momentum” theory. Attendance figures have already been posted. You couldn’t go 30-seconds into a SportsCenter post-Olympics without a Ryan Miller sighting. Cindy Crosby was usually the following story. The gold medal game averaged 27.6 million viewers. The Cup Finals were up from 2009 — a non-Olympic year.

    3) The “bargaining chip” theory. Yeah, I could see that. But, again, Bettman is the kind of guy to double-down his 6-5 as everyone else at the table plays poker.

    I think we’re about to see a big change in the sport with Fehr being named head of the NHLPA. I’ll say it right now: If there is a lockout/strike in 2012, I will support it 99.9%. This is a league that needs to be on ESPN/ABC and get away from VERSUS/NBC. There is already a couple of leagues that have their own network, and getting an NHL channel on cable (basic would be nice, but expanded basic is fine) would only increase the footprint.

    With talk of possible DI college teams sprouting up at Penn State and California, the league could certainly find itself with new markets that don’t have NHL/AHL teams, but have enough new viewers to impress.

    Bettman, of course, is the wild card. The man has done a fair job, but there are such glaring deficiencies in his past that the future seems dark. I believe that Fehr will be around until about 2013-14 to make sure a new CBA is implemented in the players’ favor and to see that Bettman is ousted by the owners.

    I don’t think Sochi will be the big deal everyone thinks it will be. Fehr will make sure of that.

  12. Kennedy says:

    One interesting thing with the PA. The salary cap is a percentage of total revenues. How many NHL players played in the Oympics? 5 teams worth? 1 out of 6? If I am in the 1, I want to go to Sochi – money, and rights etc be damned. If I am in the 5, I want some revenue for this, and I want that revenue to count as part of what drives up the cap.

  13. TN Hockey says:

    What do the contracts say? I suspect that the players have signed to play for the NHL for the entire 2014 year. That being the case, its up to the owners to decide whether they allow those players out of their obligation. It might be interesting if some star players demanded in their 2014 contracts that they be allowed to participate in the Olympics…….

    But I agree that this should be a large enough pie(cake?) that everyone can be made at least a little bit happy.

  14. abnmoose says:

    devils advocate: could the “loss of momentum” thing also be the breaking up of the team for the couple of weeks and playing against each other in high stakes games? How does that hurt the team AS a team? going into the olympic break with a 4 game winning streak, and making good strides to cementing a place in the playoffs. Yet, now my team is scattering for 2 weeks and playing for their country (great thing) and possibly having bad blood come up, how do i as an owner/coach/gm get the same momentum/bonding going AGAIN after my star forward just burnt my star goalie for a medal?
    just thoughts bouncing around in my head, but as a fan, theres NO way i dont wanna see the worlds best players playing for their country. DVR will be set and recording if its a silly time for the game. The olympics are for the planet to see, not just the east coast/west coast of the United States.

  15. MattyJ says:

    Two radical theory and idea:

    1) NBC partners with VS, ESPN, Centre Ice (hey yo, I’m American but spell it that way) to show hockey games, especially women’s hockey, live and on channels that more than 15 people get. I could rail on NBC’s coverage for 2000 words (and I did on my blog.) Perhaps Bettman’s blase attitude is about the terrible coverage in the US (West Coast especially.)

    2) Each NHL team has a handful of players go to the Olympics yet they have 10 handfuls of players in the minors waiting for their break. Don’t shut down the NHL, bring in bubble players to fill out rosters. Sure, this would put the NHL in direct competition for airtime but the real money is in the gate and if it comes down to live hockey vs TV hockey, live hockey wins out every time.

  16. AdamS says:

    Matty. There is no way that the NHL will ever keep the season going with some of its players in another tournament. Wins are worth too much to go 5 or 6 games without your star. And if they are conference games… you can forget it. Moreover, the players that are gone would be trying to focus on the Olympics while they are watching their teams put out the JV squad and lose their playoff bonuses. It would be a lose – lose for everyone but the AHL bubble guys. Besides, no fan is going to pay NHL prices to watch an AHL game. I love the AHL, but to pay 80 bucks to watch it… Not gonna happen.

    The Olympics need the NHL. And the NHL needs the Olympics. It is all gobblygouc to think that the players aren’t going to play for a Gold medal. In fact I would bet even money that Ovy is busy resurrecting the Red Army and running hockey boot camps each day until Sochi. It is a great event, not just for hockey, but for the entire sporting community.

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