Lockout Is Over But Are the Olympics About to Be?

The lockout may be over but not all the issues have been resolved. Ahead of the formal document being signing details have been emerging from players and officials around the details. Details such as that the issue around whether or not NHL players will be allowed to compete at the Olympic games. This will be dealt with in a separate agreement to be arranged suggesting Bettman is non to happy with it but if the last negotiations are anything to go by the parties better start now or they wont have met by the time the games start in Sochi next February.

But of course it should be a no brainer. NHL players should be allowed to compete at the Olympic games. It makes sense for all sides especially Bettman’s retirement fund.

For players it is the biggest stage at which they can represent their country. NHLers have spent the last months saying how much they love the sport well the Olympics is the perfect way to show it by really just playing for the jersey.

Whilst the NHL might think it has everything to lose by allowing its stars 3 weeks off to play on the other side of the world it has in fact got everything to gain. The NHL is a global entity and with that players come from all over the world to play. But of course its Russian counterpart the KHL is quickly joining it on that global stage.

The NHL can use the Olympics to remind the world were the majority of the players ply their trade. By letting its players fight for the chance to win hockey’s triple crown the NHL can showcase its history and the Stanley Cup’s to a global audience. This an audience that as the Premier Europe games show is hungry for the NHL and to see their NHL heroes.

Then there is of course of the expansion issue. The NHL has for a long time with the NFL and NBA been linked with putting teams in Europe. However this will only remain the pipe dream it seems if the casual fans in Europe are not familiar with the players or league. Again the Olympics are there ready to help them. A look at the popularity of the BBC’s interactive coverage of the London games is evidence that people like to watch the big sporting occasions. And with the KHL ready to roll out its 64-team league plan stretching as far west as Barcelona and Dublin the NHL really cannot waste time.

Team GB Winning Gold in 1936

Team GB Winning Gold in 1936

There are problems for the NHL if it does not allow its players to live the Olympic dream as well. In particular with regards to its Russian contingent. The rivalry between Crosby and Ovechkin is worth millions for the NHL. The Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals was one the most watched games in NHL history. Yet denying the likes of Ovechkin, Malkin, Datsyuk and co the opportunity to play in a home Olympics or any Olympics may just make them think twice about travelling to the other side of the world to play hockey when they could be making millions at home playing hockey and win Olympic gold.

There is also NHL owes this. Hockey needs the history, prestige and glamour of the NHL. The modern Olympics are also a professionals event. Skiers, sliders, boarders and skaters at the top level are now all professionals; even professional soccer players take part in the summer games. If the NHL were to disallow its players it would instantly damage the reputation of the sport by portraying it has amateur, a reputation that NHL has already damaged with the in fighting, pettiness and moaning of the lockout.

On the flip side the NHL can show that it is about the hockey and not the money. The lockout was all about the money and what better for the NHL to prove it is about the sport than releasing its players.

Prior to 1998 these considerations were not a problem. It was a simpler time. There were no Russian billionaire backed leagues and professional athletes in the Olympics were still new things. But by opening up in 1998 the NHL surely cannot but the lid back on. All the NHL needs is bit of spin which it has had plenty of in the lockout and the Olympics could be a major boost.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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