Let's face it, NHL owners do not stop on their way to the bank to think about fans of their team. They have demonstrated their disdain for fans by commissioning two work stoppages in the last 10 years. These work stoppages deprived fans of watching hockey on the say-so of owners, despite the fact that the players were willing to take a 7% decrease in revenue sharing. On top of that, hockey arena employees – many on minimum wage – were forced to go months without work. Therefore, NHL musings that they will not allow NHL players to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics is an ominous sign.
NHL owners do not like Olympic hockey for one reason and that is because they don't share in whatever revenue it makes. New York Islanders general manager, Garth Snow had the audacity to ask will the Olympics refund Islander fans because they have now lost their best player – John Taveres – to injury suffered at the Olympics.
I'll let that sink in for a minute. The general manager of the worst run franchise in NHL history, who has repeatedly made bad decisions that have cost their loyal fan base, is accusing the Winter Olympics of upsetting his fans. This is the same Garth Snow who signed Rick DiPietro to a fifteen year, $65 million dollar contact. Also, as Katie Shrang pointed out, the same Garth Snow complained when Kyle Okposo didn’t make it onto the Olympic roster?
Another of the positive things about watching Olympic hockey is the pace of the game. Without the NHL designated TV timeouts (three minutes, three times per period) the game is allowed to flow and patterns to become apparent.
While I for one will not try and debate the merits of Olympic hockey versus the NHL, there is room in the calendar for both if – and it's a big if – NHL owners are prepared to put the sport of ice-hockey above their own fat wallets. The 2013 Stanley Cup was decided by two goals from the Chicago Blackhawks in 17 seconds. It was a moment of high drama, an event that should have transcended sports and been celebrated within a wider community. However its impact was far less wide spread then TJ Oshie's shootout successes against Russia.
Oshie led the United States to a famous victory over Russia by scoring four of his six shootout attempts. He has since by immortalized by this meme which is surely the greatest thing to come out of these Olympic Games.
Oshie's star was born at the Olympics. He could have 100 points in this NHL season but that wouldn't have registered the interest in him like his Olympic successes. The game started at 7.30am EST but still ended up being the most watched event in the short history of the NBC Sports Network. Clearly there is an appetite among fans for Olympic hockey. Importantly, the appetite is there among wider sports fans who do not always watch hockey.
On the ice, Canada's depth in talent was too much for the rest of the competition. Had Sweden not been plagued by injury – losing Johan Franzan, Henrik Sedin and Henrik Zetterburg – they may have been able to compete with Canada in the gold medal game. Comparatively Canada lost John Taveres and this didn’t even register a blip in their offense.
Against both Sweden and the United States, the Canadian pressure was a sight to behold. Huge credit must go to Mike Babcock for getting his Canadian team ready. Managing a team of superstars is no easy task and seeing how guys like Martin St. Louis, who was originally left out of the Olympic roster, forechecked was a sign of how prepared Babcock had these guys.
The United States were manful in their efforts against Canada and were impressive throughout the tournament with the exception of the bronze medal game. While they peppered Finland's Tuukka Rask with shots once Finland got a lead they capitulated. It is evident that the mental scars of losing in two successive Olympics to Canada is going to take time to heal. However losing a bronze medal game in such a fashion shouldn't be forgiven or forgotten quickly. The Russians could not live up to the unerring pressure their nation put on them and the tournament was a loss for it.
From a riveting Russia-USA game to a hard-hitting Czech Republic-Slovakia derby to the mastering of the forecheck by the Canadians this was an Olympics that was filled with hockey of the highest quality.
Unfortunately it could very well be the last time we see NHL stars gracing the Olympic stage. In the 1950's and '60's baseball dominated the sporting landscape in America to the extent that people couldn't imagine anything else. Since that time football has managed to overtake it. While hockey is starting from a much lower base than football it doesn't have to concede to being the number four sport in the country. Pulling NHL players from the Olympics would be another shortsighted decision by the owners and would further alienate the public. For the betterment of the sport, this must not happen.