Let’s say you’re a hockey fan on the East Coast like many people. You may know of the star power Connor McDavid possesses out in Edmonton, but you may not have time to watch a hockey game two time zones away. Or because you are a casual hockey fan who only tunes in deep in the playoffs or for international tournaments, you don’t have the best idea of what a McDavid or a Johnny Gaudreau provide on the ice because they play in Canada with a major time difference. The same can be said for emerging West Coast hockey fans not knowing Jach Eichel’s monster sophomore season because he plays three time zones away and plays in Buffalo, New York.
The NHL passing on the Olympics is short-sighted and as Jonathan Toews said, misrepresents the sport. Sure, the Olympic games have once before been an amateur tournament. It gave the world one of the best sporting spectacles ever during Team USA’s 1980 Miracle on Ice effort in Lake Placid. Times change though, and the NHL just swung and missed on a great opportunity to market some of the game’s best young stars. A World Junior Championship-type tournament with increased stakes is simply not the best way to promote the game.
Let’s flashback to Sochi 2014. T.J. Oshie had a solid career in St. Louis, another small market in the league. On a global stage, Oshie propelled his country to a shootout win versus Russia, the host country, and he became a household name and was never forgotten by some.
Now, don’t get me wrong; Oshie is a wonderful player any team would like to have, but he isn’t a bonafide NHL superstar. If Oshie can rise to popularity, then can you imagine the kind of attention the next wave of American talent such as Eichel, Gaudreau, and others could covet? This doesn’t even take into account new Canadian foe McDavid, the soon-to-be best player in the entire sport.
The only way hockey is going to grow is if fans can see the best players in the sport at times where viewership is the highest. Hockey is one of, if not the most, popular sport in the Winter Olympics. Is the way to capture new fandom and increase ratings during the NHL season to not market the best players on a global stage? If owners – the reason for this debacle – like making money, maybe they should reconsider their position.
The NHL is playing preseason games in China, so clearly they believe Asia is an untapped market for hockey. So why not send the best players to Korea, too, if Asia is of importance? Owners want control and a piece of the revenue pie, and the Olympics don’t give them that. What owners could get, rather, is a headache when outspoken players such as Alexander Ovechkin follow through on their promise to still represent their respective countries in 2018.
A two-to-three week break/stoppage in the middle of an NHL season isn’t idea. No one will every deny that. However, it’s a small price to pay when many casual or potentially new fans of the sport can finally learn about the best talent the league has to offer – proven superstars and the next wave of stars.
It’s not all bad that the owners seem to have gotten their way. We’re all very excited for that Devils-Coyotes game instead of watching world class hockey on a global stage.