Capping off the Sochi Olympics with tournament MVP honours is a fitting end to what will surely be Teemu Selanne’s last Olympics. But Selanne might not be the only NHLer skipping out on South Korea in 2018; reports have surfaced indicating Sochi will be the NHL’s last Olympics.
But should we be so sure?
4.1 million viewers tuned in to watch the US defeat Russia in round-robin action, making it the most watched hockey game in NBC Sports history, topping the previous high of 4 million for game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. The Winter Classic drew 4.4 million viewers to NBC, and that game didn’t start at 7:30 am EST.
About 12 million Canadians—or one-third of the country—tuned in to watch a somewhat meaningless round-robin game between Canada and Finland. Canadians then went to the bars between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. (depending on where they were in the country) to watch the Olympic final.
There is clearly demand from the fans.
And based on the enjoyment the players get from the games it seems clear that the players want to go back in 2018. According to CBC’s Elliotte Friedman, “being an Olympian is a big deal, and even though the World Cup is a better financial benefit, it’s simply not as attractive a competition for the competitors.”
The problem is the NHL owners and, by extension, Gary Bettman and the league brass. Flyers owner Ed Snider asked “how can anybody be happy breaking up their season?” seemingly oblivious to the fact that the owners have locked out the players twice in the last decade.
But don’t read too deeply into any comments from the league and the owners. Whenever the league is involved in negotiations—whether that be with the NHLPA, broadcast partners, or the IIHF and IOC—every interview and every press conference is calculated in a way to best position the NHL. Everything should be read skeptically.
When asked about the Olympics Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly didn’t speak glowingly either, although he was more diplomatic than Snider.
“There are a lot of negatives that come along with the Olympics,” he said. “The fact is, we’re guests here. It’s not our tournament. In terms of making it as good as it can be, we really don’t have control over that.”
In comparison, the IIHF isn’t even trying to hide its desire to have NHL players back in 2018.
“I’m going to work hard and do the best I can to get the NHL and NHL players in Pyeongchang,” IIHF President Rene Fasel told The Associated Press. “I will do everything I can—seven days a week—until a decision is made.”
Even before Fasel’s interview, the league knew everyone involved wanted NHL players in South Korea. It’s a matter of using that leverage in the most advantageous way possible, whether it be getting insurance and travel costs covered or some sort of cut of revenue.
The NHL’s participation in South Korea looks bleak right now, but things can change quickly. The on-ice games are over, but the off-ice games are just beginning.
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This article is not written or edited by Global News. The author is solely responsible for the content. © Matt Horner, 2014