June 07, 2009
As tickets to the gold medal game in Vancouver were flying faster than Penguins to a penalty box in Game 5, it's clear that interest in seeing NHL talent in the Winter Olympics is high in the 2010 host city.
The debate over NHL participation in the Games is a textured one; both arguments have virtue, although ultimately it's hard to dispute that shutting down the regular season hasn't produced any tangible results for the League at the gate.
At least in North America; it's hard to assess the benefit for the NHL to have its stars on a global stage in front of billions of eyes. But it's clear that the League sees greener pastures on foreign soil, as the recent chatter about selling global television rights would indicate.
So it's a bit of a mixed message from the NHL when it comes to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014, as Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe discovered at Gary Bettman's State of the NHL address last week:
"I think the time element between Sochi [Russia, site of the 2014 Games] and the East Coast of North America is eight hours," noted the commish. "So if you do the math, there won't be any games on in Sochi in prime time in North America. I think it will run anywhere from 4 a.m. to 2 in the afternoon that games would be on. That is something that we'll have to consider."
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, speaking as a club owner and not in his role as the league's chairman of the board, said in this space weeks ago that he doesn't see the virtue in shutting down the league for the better part of two weeks to allow the game's best and brightest to ship off to Olympus. He said he doesn't believe the exercise, which began with the 1998 Games in Nagano, has provided the league with the kind of worldwide marketing bump that was envisioned.
Again, hard to argue with Jacobs; but rather easy to argue with Bettman (as usual). What will the NHL's global penetration look like by 2014? Will that outweigh the problematic television time back home? Dupont continues, with the NHLPA take:
Meanwhile, the players and their union continue to believe it's both fun and critical for them to participate in the Games. No better way, they say, to stamp the NHL shield on the world map.
As we've said before, the NHL is in for a hell of a fight with its Russian stars when it comes to Sochi participation. (Alexander Ovechkin(notes) will be 28; Evgeni Malkin(notes) will be 27.) But what do you think: Should the NHL continue on in the Olympics after Vancouver, or cut the cord?