I am glad the NHL isn’t going to the Olympics. Since 1998, I don’t think I’ve ever bought into the whole “best vs. the best” ideal because if they’re the best and they’re playing in the NHL…aren’t we getting that on a nightly basis?? Can’t they do that at the World Championships??
However, there are some people– maybe rightfully so– annoyed with the NHL not going. Pavel Bure went so far in saying that the NHL doesn’t care about growing the game of hockey, they’re only caring about their league business.
While I can understand what Bure is trying to get at, it’s not just the NHL’s burden to carry in growing the sport. They are the most recognizable league for sure, but in the world we live in today; the interest in hockey can be taken in by anyone with an internet connection and the desire to watch the NHL or any other hockey for that matter. Other than maybe a passing bump post-Olympics, the idea it would create a boom for hockey just because the NHL is there never really jived with me overall. Always seemed like the NHLPA used it as the possibility of a huge ratings bump when it doesn’t seem to happen.
The Olympics have never really benefited the NHL, aside from the players being associated with the league. They don’t have any media rights to the coverage, they can’t use any photos or videos to help promote, and it turns an already long season into even more of a marathon. Luckily, this season; the perfect storm of COVID cases, the Games being in China (which many North American fans wouldn’t tune in live to watch games), and the threat of a five-week quarantine if someone were to test positive gave the NHL and NHLPA the no-brainer decision on skipping out of this one.
And, like I said before– I’m glad they’re not. The 2018 Games were fun with the plucky German crew having a couple big upsets on their way to Silver, the Olympic Athletes from Russia taking home their first goal medal as the OAR and the first for that area of the world since the Unified Team won it in 1992. It showcased players like Kirll Kaprizov before he made it to the NHL, while also bringing older players that many may have forgotten to take part– allowing them to live their dream that they may have thought as being impossible due to the NHLers going out for the Olympics. The Hockey News’ Steven Ellis wrote about it better than I’m putting out there.
One point I will bow to is the one that non-traditional hockey nations can benefit from being on the same ice as NHLers from more developed hockey nations. You could argue that Italy’s entry in 2006 help that country grow a little in terms of having more competitive hockey despite some the team being from Canada. The South Koreans were gearing up as if they were going to face NHLers for 2018 before it didn’t happen. Teams like Germany, Norway, Belarus, Slovenia have been matured on the big stage, as well. Hell, they almost ousted the host nation because they didn’t know if they’d be embarrassed or not against NHLers for this one.
The NHL’s participation is not the end-all, be-all for men’s hockey. Hey, who knows– the Games as a whole could be pushed back a year and then the NHL can get back into it. It has happened before and could happen again for this. Even then, I’ll still stand by my thought that the NHL and the Olympics are better off for not crossing the streams for the near future.