Good show, but NHL shouldn’t be involved
Could it have been scripted any better for Team Canada? Heavy favorites to at least reach the gold-medal game from the moment rosters were announced, Canada earned every bit of gold. The players deflected pressure, focused after suffering a confidence-shaking loss to the Americans in preliminary-round action and came together while leaving no doubt during victories over Germany, Russia and Slovakia to earn a rematch against a stout Team USA.
Sunday’s finale was filled with all the drama NBC hoped it could give viewers. And thank goodness the game was decided – one way or another – before it reached the bogus shootout format that would have followed a scoreless sudden-death period.
And, of course, it ended with the puck on Crosby’s stick. Sid the Kid has taken a lot of undeserved flak for being put on a pedestal by everyone but himself since being drafted first overall in 2005 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, and subsequently asked by the league to successfully lead the NHL out of the embarrassing lockout of 2005-06.
Crosby didn’t ask for that responsibility – to put a happy face on a new NHL that became the first pro sport to lose an entire season due to labor strife. And a lot of people have come down hard on Crosby simply because he receives so much attention. At the tender age of 22 he led his team to the Stanley Cup and his country to a gold medal in the span of nine months.
I’d say he’s pretty good.
Now here’s the rub. Crosby, Rafalski and all the other NHLers who were participating in the Vancouver Olympic men’s hockey tournament should never have been there in the first place. And they definitely have no business being involved in the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.
Harsh, you say?
Granted, watching two weeks of Olympic hockey is good stuff, but it’s not worth all the sacrifices, and it does take away in other areas.
Let’s say NHL players were allowed to play in 1980. Imagine that. So much for the Miracle on Ice, regardless who won the gold. How good was it to learn about each of those individual stories, the background of each player, what unbelievable obstacles in terms of an uneven playing field the U.S. overcame to win 30 years ago.
Hockey would never have received the boost the amateurs gave the sport with their win at Lake Placid, N.Y., it would never have raised the profile, albeit modestly, to the level it achieved in the 1980s and ’90s. Wayne Gretzky’s trade from Edmonton to Los Angeles gave rise to Sun Belt expansion – nine new NHL outposts in all (Anaheim, San Jose, Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, Dallas and Phoenix), but how do you quantify what the 1980 Miracle did for growth?
The NHL product has suffered, and will suffer more this season because it accommodated a long break to shut down its business in the middle of the season. The regular-season schedule has been compacted on both ends of the break, and that’s led to more injuries and less aesthetic pleasure when watching on many nights.
Who pays for that? The loyal paying customer, in fact, and quite literally as well. Loyal fans are plunking down big bucks in hard economic times and getting less for their investment than ever. There’s no guarantee the best players are really at their best considering what the schedule is doing to them this season, and the best players are the ones playing in the Olympics.
Someone should ask the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche how they feel about playing Monday night. More specifically, Mike Babcock goes from coaching the gold-medal game to having to rush off to Denver to coach his team barely 24 hours later. Think Rafalski suits up for that one? He goes from playing six games in 12 days – all in a playoff-like atmosphere – to jumping straight back into the NHL rigors.
On the other hand, considering the Red Wings’ precarious position in the Western Conference standings in relations to the playoffs, can Detroit afford to risk not playing Rafalski?
We don’t know yet what the rest of the regular season will look like other than a bunch of games crammed together after the players were forced off the ice for several weeks. How are those first couple of games going to look?
What are teams going to have left for the Stanley Cup playoffs? How much energy are top players going to have? Will the overall product be noticeably less than we’re used to seeing?
Olympic hockey should be reserved for non-pros. It’s as simple as that. These games over the last two weeks were nothing more than NHL games with reshuffled rosters. Most players on Sweden or Finland or Russia or the Czech and all players on the rosters of Canada and the U.S. have faced their counterparts many times before in the NHL. There was no mystery about matchups.
Don’t think the Olympic hockey tournament would be compelling without the pros you know and recognize? Did you happen to tune into the World Junior Championships not even two months ago where the U.S. beat Canada, 6-5, in sudden death for the title? It happened on Canadian soil, too. Great stuff. Great stories. Not very many people had heard of those young stars before that tourney started, but they sure knew of them if they followed it all the way through.
Fast forward four years, and if you think it was inconvenient to play in Vancouver this time around just imagine the hassle Sochi would provide. The NHL is still complaining about Torino in 2006 and Nagano in 1998. It will be the same, if not more, in Sochi.
There’s no guarantee the NHL will be involved. The players’ association will likely want to be included, certainly the Russian faction of the membership would love to be a part of those Olympics. Ownership and commissioner Gary Bettman might have other ideas. Big clue – it will ultimately come down to money.
Let’s just save everyone the aggravation and not include the NHL. It’s the right thing to do.