NHL Players To Participate in Sochi Winter Olympics, Possibly For The Last Time10:40 AM
By Chris Doud
One way or the other, Alex Ovechkin was going to represent his native country in the upcoming Winter Olympics. The 2013 Hart Trophy winner had been unabashed in his desire to participate in the games which are being held in his mother land of Russia (Sochi, to be exact) this February, and he has long stated that his NHL brethren must do good to follow him there. While he has had the support of his owner Ted Leonsis for some time to do as he pleased, many were unsure if it was worthwhile for the NHL to shut down for three weeks in the middle of its regular season schedule to send its best players across the globe to compete at a high level for a coveted Gold Medal. While the league and the game benefited mightily from the contest in 2002 and 2010 when they were held in North America (Salt Lake City and Vancouver respectively), its involvement in the fabled games were not so warmly received by audiences on this continent when they were held in Nagano Japan (1998) and Turin Italy (2006).
Speculation on the league's involvement were put to rest late last week with the release of the 2013-'14 schedule. While it may have been apparent for some time now that the NHL's best would be making a mid season trip to the other side of the planet, what with the appointment of some league executives and coaches to lead positions within USA hockey and the like as well as the multi-million dollar deal the IOC shares with NBC Sports, there still remained some hesitation as reports of ongoing talks between Gary Bettman and IIHF President Rene Fassel had yet to be resolved. The two sides came to an agreement which was announced along with the NHL schedule, as well as the Olympic schedule which can be found here.
Looking past this season however, the question still hovers large over the Olympics with regard to NHL participation. The 2018 games are slated to take place in Peyongchang, South Korea. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly was quoted on the topic as stating “It’s our joint intention (NHL and NHLPA) to assess the experience in Sochi before even considering whether to continue with Olympic participation going forward.” It seems doubtful that the league would be so keen as to press pause on another regular season campaign to send its athletes to yet another far off land for little return on their end. To appease the desire to don native sweaters in meaningful contests, the resurrection of the World Cup could come to fruition as a preseason tournament. The last of its kind was held in September of 2004 right before the season long 2004-'05 lockout, and many may recall the epic 1996 World Cup which saw USA capture gold in a thrilling final against the neighbors from the north. Such a tournament would be far easier to regulate and control for the NHL and NHLPA alike, as it would be held in NHL barns and draw direct revenue into the pockets of players and owners alike.
The 2002 and 2010 Olympics were some of the most thrilling games we've seen, mostly because we were able to see them. If you're the type of fan that loves seeing the best in the world compete for the gold, silver and bronze, and you happen to be nocturnal, this winter could be your last chance to experience that.