Olympic Injuries Shouldn't Be a Reason for the NHL to Pull out of South Korea

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Olympic Injuries Shouldn't Be a Reason for the NHL to Pull out of South Korea
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As far as injuries go, the 2014 Sochi Olympics have not been kind to NHL players.

Henrik Zetterberg, Mats Zuccarello, Tomas Kopecky, Aleksander Barkov and John Tavares have seen injuries bring their tournaments to an end, with Tavares' knee injury Wednesday ending his NHL season with the New York Islanders.

The NHL has responded tepidly at best when asked about sending its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, citing concern over potential injuries, among other things. So it was no surprise when commissioner Gary Bettman hinted the big ice in Sochi could be a problem.

In an interview with Al Michaels that is available at NBCOlympics.com, Bettman had this to say about the injuries to NHL players at the Olympics, probably before Tavares could pull himself from the MRI machine:

There have been some people who have advocated that it’s a little safer. I don’t buy that either. In Vancouver — which, by the way, most people say has been the best hockey tournament there’s been in the Olympics — that was played on NHL ice, and our injury factors seemed to have been a lot less than they are here [in Sochi].

Whether it's a negotiating tactic to extract more concessions from the IOC or Bettman truly believes playing on big ice at the Olympics makes players more susceptible to injury, it's about as asinine as it gets. NHL players made it through Vancouver mostly unscathed, sure, but it's because of the ice size?

It's a good thing no one ever gets hurt in the NHL.

The Olympic break for the NHL runs from Feb. 9-24 this season. The last time the NHL played an 82-game season in 2011-12, there were 14 current Olympians who missed at least one game during that window.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Some of the more notable absences included:

• Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks played his final game of the regular season on Feb. 19 because of a concussion. Four days later, he was the driver in a one-car accident. A hockey player can suffer an injury anywhere, but with bicycles being the primary mode of transportation at the Olympics, he is probably safe in that regard over the rest of the week.

• Pavel Datsyuk also departed the Red Wings lineup Feb. 19, as he had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and didn't return until March 17.

• Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals missed one game with a lower-body injury.

• Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Blackhawks missed seven games with a concussion he suffered on Feb. 10.

• Jamie Benn suffered a leg laceration on Feb. 18 that cost him six games with the Stars.

That doesn't include Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings or Matt Duchene of the Avalanche, who were befallen by injuries before the Olympic break window but were forced to miss time during that stretch. 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Other current Olympians who missed at least a game during that time: Brooks Orpik, Alexander Steen, Dustin Brown, Jakub Voracek, Martin Hanzal and Tomas Plekanec.

Sidney Crosby was lost for the season prior to Feb. 9 with a concussion, so an Olympic shutdown wouldn't have mattered to his season.

This isn't to mention non-Olympians like Sheldon Souray and Jared Boll who were hurt during that time period.

And oh by the way, while about 150 players are participating in the Olympics, about another 500 are resting and recuperating from minor nicks and scrapes they otherwise would be playing through.

In a way, an Olympic injury can be better than one suffered during the NHL season.

In Zetterberg's case, he was dealing with back issues before the Olympics, so it's not as though a hit from an overeager Latvian caused the damage. Further to that point, by withdrawing early in the tournament, he has two weeks to heal without missing an NHL game.

If the NHL gets its way, there will be a World Cup of hockey played during the offseason in North America, which, just like the Olympics, will feature the best players in the world.

Are injuries suffered then more palatable to owners who have millions of dollars invested in their top players? Would Islanders owner Charles Wang shrug off a major knee injury to one of the game's best players if he suffers it in August instead of February?

In the case of Tavares, his injury comes at the most fortunate of times. The Islanders' season is over, and he is expected to be ready for the start of the 2014-15 season.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

If Tavares had shredded his knee in a summer tournament, it's somehow better for everyone because the event is under the NHL's umbrella and thus makes the league money, unlike the Olympics, even though he'd miss half of the 2014-15 season?

Man, it's almost as if injuries are wildly unpredictable and can hurt teams in different ways depending on when they occur and their severity.

The NHL should just come out and say, "We don't think sending our players to the Olympics is worth it financially. That's it. The injuries, the start times of games on the other side of the world, all that is a smoke screen to distract from the point that we feel we deserve a bigger slice of the Olympic pie."

Which is fine. Perhaps the NHL deserves more.

But pinning the reason for skipping South Korea on injuries in Sochi is silly and somewhat embarrassing.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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