On the Topic Of the NHL/Olympics Squabble

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First– I agree with everything Gary Bettman says about the Olympics and despite the possible money that could come from any kind of marketing of the NHL in China– it may not be worth it.

….thanks for reading….

Okay, there’s more to it, but needed to get that opinion out there.

Bettman, who said that he’s not sure that the NHL will go to the 2022 Games because it’s disrupting to the league, was at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference when he took this stand/had this take. And in all honesty– why would the NHL want to go back if the cost is wholly on the shoulders of the league for things they can’t market after the fact– like the Golden Goal by Sidney Crosby in Vancouver.

More over, why would the IIHF want the NHL to be there when you see these Games, see who’s had a shocking run at it, and see the potential growth across the world from non-NHL players who are taking part of this and giving hope to their nations?? We know why the IIHF wants the NHL to be there, the same as the IOC– money. All the money. But honestly, while this hockey hasn’t been up to snuff like the last 20 years has been since the NHL took over the Olympics– it’s the way that it should be for the time being.

If we’re not going to play these as the World Juniors every four years, why not make the Olympics as NHL-free as possible?? You can debate that the best players in the world should be at the biggest tournament in the world– but there’s many people who skip out on the yearly World Championships after the season because they’re worn out or because they’re still playing in the NHL. They don’t seem to be too concerned with the WORLD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS when they’re still in the playoffs…but whatever.

Not only that, but you don’t think more teams will stress the idea of a National team playing the entire season leading up to the Olympics like they did in the old days?? Canada was big on that, same with Russia, the US had their team going around– it was a good thing for these guys to play in exhibitions around their countries and partake in pre-Olympic tournaments to tune up. Hell, take the lead from the Women’s teams who take off a year from the pros to train with their teammates in preparation.

Hockey fans have been pampered with the best players in the world playing in the Olympics and God love them for actually being this passionate over it. But you know what, maybe it’s time for a change to see how the people adapt to life without the NHLers there. If you not want to watch the NHL in protest and watch only Olympic hockey– you’re right to do so, but why not both?? Why does hockey have to be exclusive to one platform and not all the platforms?? It makes no sense to me, but not a lot makes sense to me anymore.

Good on the NHL for not going, good for the Nations to do without the NHLers and create more stories and narratives, and good on fans for watching this hockey that is out of the ordinary of the caliber they’re used to at the Olympics for the past two decades.

Maybe it’s time to get used to that, as well.

Blame Development, Not NHL, for Team USA Shortcomings

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Photo via USA Hockey’s Website

The Olympics are going on and there’s hockey in those Olympics, but the NHL isn’t there, so people are split. There’s some who are going to watch the hockey because it’s hockey, there’s some who will watch out of spite to the NHL, there’s some who won’t watch at all because of the time difference.

However, with the 4-0 loss by the USA to the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), some people seem to quickly blame the NHL for the shortcomings of what USA Hockey is doing. One of those people is Alex Kirshner of SB Nation who suggested that NHL should be at fault for pretty much screwing over the USA and Canadian Olympic teams. Kirshner said while the NHL was right to not attend the games because of the CBA, it’s a short-term decision to worry about the league rather than worldwide appeal…though it still hasn’t gotten that from the past couple games and the IOC is hellbent on keeping the property to themselves rather than let the NHL have highlights to show and promote the game, but that’s another story entirely.

Kirshner suggests that because USA Hockey has all their talent in the NHL, the team didn’t have a chance because other countries have players are playing high level overseas and the USA has someone like Chris Bourque (undersized), Brian Gionta (undersized and old), Matt Gilroy (good in college, meh elsewhere) and college players, who in the past wouldn’t have made the team if the NHL was around (Troy Terry, Jordan Greenway).

But how is any of this on the NHL?? USA Hockey seems to have an underlying mantra of “NHL or Bust” when their players are in their system. The USA Hockey side of things preach development through the youth leagues, into college or juniors, then into the NHL. Doesn’t seem like much is made about the professional leagues in Europe being just as good indicators of talent for players– but something that seems to be often overlooked by the players and the heads of USA Hockey. When you only focus on the NHL as the end goal rather than elsewhere, the players are going to take that to heart.

Other nations don’t seem to have that issues. As pointed out by Kirshner, Russia had nine players in the last Olympics from the KHL and other nations need to fill the roster with other leagues when they don’t have enough NHL talent. (If you want to have NHL talent in international competition, then you need to support the farce of a tournament that is the World Cup of Hockey.)

My point is that when you only focus on the NHL while not giving any acknowledgement about how much an experience the leagues overseas could be for some players, then you are selling your players and your organization short when it comes to something like this. There’s a reason why a lot of European teams were ranked highly to win Gold, because they have a focus outside of the NHL that not many countries have. Canada has a little bit of that in going to tournaments like the Spengler Cup, but Hockey Canada is just as much to blame if they falter for not showing off the European leagues as a destination and focusing mainly on the NHL for their talent as the pinnacle of sport.

Given they all came together a short time again (unlike years where they had traveling National teams for a year-plus before the games), they have played alright given the situation they’ve been thrown into. It’s almost a reason for nations to not want to have the NHL there anymore because then they can actually gauge how successful their amateur development has been. If you just heavily rely on the Golden Goose to produce for you, you get complacent and then panic when it’s not longer shooting out gold bars.

On the Topic Of European/North American Hockey Relations

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Photo from @OntarioReign

Did you know that there as an international friendly that happened on Tuesday in Ontario?? More likely not, as there wasn’t much pomp and circumstance on the grand scheme of things, but the Ontario Reign took on Eisbaren Berlin on Tuesday, with Ontario cruising to a 6-3 win in front of  over 8,700 fans– according to the Ontario Reign.

Looking at the highlights from their Twitter, the Berlin fans who were in attendance really made it for a European feel of chanting and constant energy throughout the game. However, it didn’t seem to get much of a ground swell outside of the Ontario and Berlin community. Hell, this is the first time since 2014 when Farjestad took on the AHL All-Stars and then the Toronto Marlies that international teams took on North American teams during the regular season– as far as I know, that is.

There’s something to be said about the idea of international teams coming to North America to play against AHL teams, something more to be said when it has to deal with the AHL squads beating those international teams. Sure, the teams coming over may not bring their best line-up, especially since those teams are also in season. However– wouldn’t it be something to see more of these international friendlies and actually have them promoted by outside media sources in order to garner a little more appeal?? Of course it would, we all love hockey and getting to know more teams outside of the North American bubble would be a nice change of pace for some people.

When it comes to something like this, there’s two ways to go about it. First, get more teams active in forming a sister cities approach to international teams. Have each AHL or ECHL team adopt a European team and keep track that way. While it would be much harder to get the ECHL team to agree to it since they often have players defect to Europe to play, the idea could be there for the AHL by the parent organizations to almost compare ideas of coaching and playing styles and all that fun crap. It may be a hard-sell, but something that could be done. Ontario and Berlin came together if only because The Anschutz Group owns both teams.

The second way to go about it is to find a way to have more international tournaments for the minor league teams to participate in. While the Spengler Cup is a tournament that once in a blue moon invites AHL teams to their party (mainly the Rochester Americans), there needs to be more ideas.

One could be the idea of putting the Calder Cup champions in the Champions Hockey League. Yes, it could create havoc on scheduling, but to have a North American representation would be a big boost for the North American game and get people more invested in the European side of things. But, like I said, the schedule in Europe allows a lot more leeway for the teams to play in their country league and the Champions’ league– so many North American leagues would be pretty hard pressed to have involvement, but at the same time– one can dream about it.

There’s untapped potential when it comes to having European teams come over to North America more frequently and vice versa. The hardest point is to actually find a way to make it happen logistically and not just force down people’s throat like an outdoor game we’ve seen time and time again. You need to have it frequent enough to make people want to see it, but infrequent enough that you don’t over-saturate the marketplace.

Sadly, hockey marketing teams everywhere have yet to figure out that balance. So it goes. The dream is alive, but sleep hard before it becomes a reality.