During the NHL season, the attention turns to North America. On a global front, it shifts to the Olympic Games, where hockey is at its highest pique, featuring the best athletes in the world.
Like other major sports, hockey has cemented itself as a global game. We all recall the "Miracle on Ice"—the story behind the 1980 U.S. team that defeated the odds, and eventually the mighty Soviet Union, to win the gold medal.
Likewise, we all remember Sydney Crosby’s game-winning overtime goal against Team USA that ultimately gave Canada the gold in the 2010 Vancouver Games and left the U.S. stunned.
Crosby’s goal could be the last by an NHL player in the Olympics.
With the 2014 Sochi Games right around the corner, the likelihood of players from the NHL participating has yet to be determined.
If the unthinkable happens, then the Olympic Games won’t be the same.
After enduring a four-month lockout, the NHL’s brand was slightly tarnished. Aside from the hardcore types, casual fans were driven away by the labor dispute. People simply stopped caring. They had no reason to.
Now they do. The 2013 regular season is well under way.
And greater spectacles rest on the horizon—still months away—but the clock is ticking.
Hockey in the Olympic Games isn’t the same without the NHL and the best players in the world. Hockey fans deserve to watch, listen to and read about the best players in the world skating on the same sheet of ice in Russia come next winter.
Current NHL players certainly want the same, too.
“Everybody wants us to go over there,” Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin said of the 2014 Sochi Games, courtesy of NHL.com.
In another article published in The Washington Post, Ovechkin said playing in the Olympics means everything.
When I was growing up, only [care about] Olympics and World Championship. It was very important, all media all [attention is on] Olympics. I remember, I was little kid in my country home, far from Moscow, little kids, we watched the Olympics, summer Olympics. Everybody is involved. It’s nice, to be honest, when you can be there.
Elsewhere, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman—the executive director for team Canada for the 2014 Olympics—firmly believes the NHL should participate in the tournament to expand its appeal, according to The Tampa Bay Times.
“It’s the biggest stage in the world to market our players,” Yzerman said, courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times. “The Olympics is one time the world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because they are the best in the world.”
Talks between the NHL and officials from the International Ice Hockey Federation and the International Olympic Committee have since commenced.
According to ESPN.com, the first day of discussions began with a positive vibe.
“We had good discussions,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Associated Press in an email last Thursday night after talks concluded, courtesy of ESPN.com.
Following last Friday’s round of talks, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and IIHF President Rene Fasel said the meetings were genuine, according to NHL.com.
“I would say I think the meetings and the discussions were productive, but there are a lot of things that still have to be worked out on both ends,” Bettman said. “Ultimately, the IOC, the NHL Players and the Board of Governors are going to have to approve what we get done, but we’re working on it.”
Fasel agreed with Bettman, saying everything between the two sides is certainly reachable.
We put everything on the table. It is not an easy operation logistically to bring the players over. I fully agree with Gary and I fully support Gary on this operation. The players are very important. We also discussed some other issues. Once again, it is not an easy operation, but it was very constructive. We put everything on the table. I’m confident, but still we have to work on each side—the NHL side, the PA side and our side.
It’s good to hear Bettman and Fasel are on the same page, considering all the back-and-forth bickering that took place between Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr over the course of the extensive lockout. And it looks like Bettman and Fehr are finally seeing eye-to-eye.
Shipping its players over to Sochi for the Olympics calls for speculation, and the NHL is still weighing its options. Doing so would mean the league shutting down business for more than two weeks next season to allow players to fly over to Russia for the Olympics.
The time change is another problem. It would force games to be played at unusual hours in North America.
But these problems shouldn’t determine the final outcome because hockey is what makes the Winter Olympics so addictive. Putting the challenges and logistics aside, the NHL needs the Olympics and the Olympics need the NHL.
Now it’s time for Bettman to do right by the fans and stand by his players and allow them to compete on the world’s biggest stage.