The NHL will be a no-show in South Korea, and it could be the norm for future Olympics
If you’re wondering, “Where in the world are all the NHL players?” at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, well, we’ve got an answer for you: they’re back in the United States playing in the NHL. So what gives? NHL commissioner Gary Bettman emphaticly nixed the league’s participation in the Winter Olympics way back in April.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that nothing will change the fact that Bettman and Co. will have their way in 2018, keeping NHL stars off the Olympic ice through the month of February. So if you’ve yet to familiarize yourself with the makeshift lineup assembled by late Team USA general manager Jim Johannson, you’ve still got a little time.
Done? Good. Now let’s dive into — or at least try to dive into — why we have to familiarize ourselves with “replacement” rosters in the first place. Here are three reasons, and first reason is simple and, if we’re being honest, influences more situations than we’d care to admit.
It’s all about the money
In its own unceasing public-relations push for a 2017-18 season absent the Olympics, the NHL tried telling fans that it was right to avoid the world’s biggest athletic stage because of “the cost-benefit equation.” (Anyone have any ideas why the NHL is persistently ridiculed among the major sports leagues yet?) Translated, that means the NHL did not want to lose money on sending players to the Winter Games. Business-wise, of course, that’s fine and dandy, especially since the International Olympic Committee paid for NHL players’ insurance during the league’s debut participation in 1998, but it also alienates the views of countless fans and players, some of whom used their status as NHL icons to openly criticize Bettman’s decision.
Simply put, paying for players to travel to South Korea and then compete in games that may result in injury and, thus, impact the NHL’s own teams, all while a North American audience holds a rather lukewarm interest in the Pyeongchang Games, was too much of a financial gamble for league executives.
Convenience is another factor here. No matter what opinion you hold regarding the NHL attempting to save some coin by holding its players back, it’s undeniable that the league won’t be as burdened by a nearly month-long break for the Winter Games. It could be argued, of course, that the NHL’s own inability to market its best talent on national TV makes the whole “we don’t want people to miss our games in February” thing a moot point, but by steering clear of Pyeongchang, the NHL is also avoiding the trouble of having to break up its regular season for at least three weeks. Now, thanks to the Olympics absence, everything will remain on schedule for the rest of the season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The NHL is already international
For those holding out hope that the NHL isn’t completely opposed to building its international following, there’s also this to consider: The league is already well invested in its own global outreaches, so it didn’t necessarily need to go to South Korea to tell the world it’s interested in expansion. Several preseason matchups in Beijing and Shanghai were tabbed as the China Games this season, and the NHL just this week announced 2018 and 2019 games set for Germany, Sweden and Finland. When you’re exploring the map on your own, why worry about the criticism that you don’t care about international play?