The NHL's participation in the Olympics is, to put it mildly, problematic. There are no tangible benefits to the League for shutting down its season to participate in the Games every four years. An international stage tailor-made for the birth of new stars is hogged by established ones. Oh, and once in a while a team will decide to have a fire extinguisher party on the fifth floor of their hotel. Never good.
Is there any going back to the days when a ragtag collection of college-aged kids would lace up the skates and get shellacked by foreign-born professionals, save for an occasional "Miracle?" Hard to say, but also hard to see the pros' participation ending in the near future. The NHLPA wants increased international player participation beyond the Olympics; and for 2014, the NHL's Russian players are ready to raise hell if they're not allowed to play in Sochi.
But with the 30th anniversary of that aforementioned Miracle arriving next year with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, it's natural that a movement to bring the Olympics back to its "uncorrupted" amateur ideals will get rolling again. One of our favorite curmudgeons, Stan Fischler, is already making his case on MaxHockey.com:
The Olympics merely get in the way of all the genuine fun. Everything gets disrupted; from the schedule; to injuries; to a huge mid-season hiatus that throws everybody off-kilter. No it doesn't have to be this way and we -- sane-thinkers -- know how it should be because we've been there (1960, 1980) and done that.
In 1960 a Minnesota goalie named Jack McCartan who -- until then -- never had played an NHL game led an underdog American team to the Gold Medal, topping the Holier-Than-Thou Canadians and the Russians en route to the title.
That victory was underplayed compared with Uncle Sam's "Miracle On Ice" melodrama paced by Herb Brooks and his merry band of Mike Eruziones, Ken Morrows and Jim Craigs. Who needs the pros?
Ah, but the pros need the Olympics, or so they say. What we have here is a stalemate of valorous sentiments -- representing one's country vs. that nebulous (and myopic) notion of the "true" Olympic spirit of amatuer competition. How to break the impasse? Why, with the wonderfully loopy notion that ice hockey should be played in the Summer Olympics, of course.
Jim Diamond of the Examiner has been ... well, examining the Olympics issue in a two-part series (Part 1 is here). In Part 2, he elaborates on an idea suggested by that rascal of out-of-the-box hockey thinking, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, in which Burke suggests that hockey should find a home in the Summer Games.
There is a precedent for summertime hockey though. Ice hockey made its first Olympic appearance in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. It was moved to the Winter Olympics when they started in 1924 in Chamonix, France.
From the NHL's perspective, hockey in the Summer Olympics would not cause a stoppage of play in the season, thereby keeping the integrity of the league's schedule. The Olympics would be played at least a month after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals and a month or so before the start of training camp in September.
From the player's perspective, they would not have to interrupt their already grueling regular season to compete in a two-week long, high-intensity international tournament likely played thousands of miles away from North America, and then return for the stretch run of the NHL regular season, followed by two months of high-intensity playoff hockey.
He goes on to explain how the move will benefit the IOC and allow the NHLPA to achieve its other goal, which is a semi-annual World Cup even that could be a windfall for the players. (He also suggests trading table tennis and rhythmic gymnastics for ice hockey, which is like the Thrashers trading Marty Reasoner(notes) and Johan Hedberg(notes) for Malkin.)
The change would mean amending the Olympic Charter, which Diamond writes would take a two-thirds majority of IOC's voting members; you know, the ones that hate America by killing the stuff we're good at.
Unfortunately, as Stu Hackel of the New York Times mentioned earlier this year, the IOC isn't into the idea of moving ice hockey to the Summer Games because it would gut the Winter Games of a marquee sport -- a valid argument. Plus, it would place hockey in a very crowded field of events in the Summer Olympics.
So we're left with hockey in the Winter Olympics; and, unless the players association is a complete mess by the time the CBA negotiation rolls around, we'll have professionals competing in them.
(H/T Illegal Curve for the Fischler piece.)