For the first time since 1994, NHL players won’t participate in the Olympics. It sucks because the hockey being played has been terrible. The world isn’t watching the best of the sport. Instead, they’re watching 2nd and 3rd rate players. USA captain Brian Gionta who’s 39 years old and hasn't scored 20+ goals since 2011. We got Chris Kelley who was a second or liner in his prime as our captain. He’s only got 1 point in this tournament. Yes, there’s young talent like Rasmus Dahlin, who is potentially this year’s number one pick overall. Yet Sweden barely played him even though the hockey world were salivating for the youngster to play. NHL players have created so many memories at the Olympics. From Hasek’s dominance helping the Czech Republic win the gold to the 2002 Team Canada team featuring Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic, and Steve Yzerman. Don’t forget the Golden Gold scored by Crosby in Vancouver during 2010. Will this year’s Olympics be memorable? Maybe not. Even if we might get a Canada vs Russia gold medal. It just wouldn’t be the same.
Last season Gary Bettman announced that the NHL wouldn’t be at this year’s Olympics. It was pretty obvious considering the NHL almost didn’t let their players play in Sochi in 2014. Nonetheless, it was disappointing to hear the news. I understand the concerns of the owners and Bettman. Players don’t get paid or insured playing at the Olympics. Also the fear of a star player getting injured and costing a team potential Stanley Cup run ie. (Dominik Hasek with Ottawa in 2006). But really it should be the player's option to go or not. Players have so much passion and pride to play for their country. Winning a gold medal is as big as winning the Stanley Cup. Plus it’s every four years, which means there’s only a few Olympics a player can compete.
For the fans, it robs us, the fans watching at home and the people attending the games in South Korea. Imagine having Crosby and Mcdavid on the same team? Or Auston Matthews and Johnny Hockey representing the USA. It also hurts the European teams, despite Sweden and Russia being the favourite. Sweden just got bounced out against Germany but no one cares. Canada's in the semi-finals and might play for the gold medal… Who cares! This Olympics has hurt hockey. It doesn’t help grow the game in a market that’s not familiar with it. If you want hockey to become a bigger sport than you have to showcase to the world it’s greatest talents on the ice. The interest and ratings are way down for Olympic men’s hockey. You can’t blame them! What would you rather watch a game between the Penguins and Capitals or The KHL Russian team vs the Czech Republic? It's not a tough question to answer. If I want to watch non-NHL players I'll watch the juniors. Not even seeing Former NHL all-stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk can entice me from watching ( I was a big Datsyuk fan as a kid).
What’s garbage is that the NHL is pushing the World Cup of hockey as a bigger and better tournament. How can it be? Is it fun? Yes. Is it entertainment? Yes. Do you see the best Players? Of course! But the problem is it doesn’t feel as important. They have held the event twice with the possibility of a third time in 2020. So there’s not much history. Plus there was a big gap between the first and the second world cup. I’m not saying the players didn’t compete hard. However, competing for a gold medal for your country on the grandest stage vs competing for an odd looking trophy would give every player an extra stride to their skating.
Friday is the semi-finals and Sunday is the gold medal game. But I won’t be watching. Instead, I’ll watch the Leafs continue their playoff push and play against real competition. I’m hoping this won’t continue into 2022 Beijing China. Just like the world cup was Christmas for soccer fans, Olympic hockey was ours, and I hope Bettman and the owners don’t make the same mistake twice. It is Gary Bettman though, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he does.