Could the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, be the last time NHL players participate in the Games for the foreseeable future?
It may not be the most pressing question at the moment — the next Winter Olympics after Sochi are in 2018, hosted by Pyeongchang, South Korea — but there are reasons to believe the answer may be yes.
For now, the NHL says it’s taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We specifically avoided negotiating over or committing to Olympic participation beyond the 2014 Sochi Games,” wrote deputy commissioner Bill Daly in an email to PHT. “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.”
The NHLPA concurred with Daly’s statement in a separate email.
Why might 2018 be a no-go for NHLers? Here are three big reasons:
—- Pyeongchang isn’t in North America. Here’s commissioner Gary Bettman in 2010: “In some places, the benefits are greater for the Olympic participation than others. When you’re in Vancouver or Salt Lake City and you’re in North American time zones and you’re getting that type of coverage, then you are getting coverage that may be commensurate with shutting down. When you’re halfway around the world, maybe the coverage isn’t as great.”
—- South Korea isn’t even a hockey nation. You’ll recall that much of the push for NHL participation in Sochi came from Russian players who wanted the opportunity to play for a gold medal at home — especially after the country’s disappointing performance in 2010. For obvious reasons, there won’t be that kind of push for Pyeongchang. The host of the 2022 Games has yet to be announced, but it’s not expected it will be held in North America.
—- The World Cup. There’s talk it could be reborn as an alternative to the Olympics — one that would be controlled and sanctioned by the NHL and NHLPA, cutting out the IIHF and IOC. While there’s certainly much to be said for the Olympic experience, remember that some of hockey’s most memorable international moments came outside of the Olympics, from the 1972 Summit Series to the Canada Cups to the inaugural World Cup in 1996 that was won by the United States.