The 2014 Sochi Olympics were magical and memorable for fans and athletes alike. Canada exerted its world dominance and won gold; Finland gave Teemu Selanne a proper international sendoff with bronze. Americans came home with bupkis, but fans in the States will always have T.J. Oshie's shootout dominance against Russia to recall fondly.
Now that it's all over, it's time for some of the NHL's owners and general managers to begin selling fans on why the Olympics are bad.
The chances of NHL players, who have been participating in the Olympics since 1998, going to South Korea in 2018 seem average at best. Commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have both said the NHL will decide on its involvement in Pyeongchang within six months.
Players love it and do not care if the games take place in South Korea or Canada or the planet Thor comes from, but owners and GMs don't see the (financial) benefit of going to South Korea.
That's a fair concern from the powers that be. The NHL is a business, and there's nothing wrong with running a cost-benefit analysis on an endeavor like this. But some of the straw-man arguments appear to be designed to sway fans onto the NHL's side and away from the players' side.
It's like the lockout PR battle on a smaller scale with different tactics.
Jeff Z. Klein and Stu Hackel of the New York Times compiled some of the reasons management types gave for not being all that thrilled about the Olympics, and there are two that stand out as misinformation.
1. John Davidson, president of hockey operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets, on momentum: “We were in a groove. It was our time of year. There’s no Ohio State football. It’s Columbus Blue Jacket time. And we got shut down for two and a half, three weeks. It doesn’t help.”
2. Garth Snow, general manager of the New York Islanders, after John Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury in Sochi: “Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season-ticket holders now? It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt.”
A third argument presented by Bettman in an interview with NBC during the Olympics was there were no injuries during the Vancouver Olympics, which was played on NHL-sized ice, yet players were dropping like flies on the wider ice in Sochi.
Another dissenting voice was Philadelphia Flyers owner and cartoon villain Ed Snider, who said, "If anything, I can only see negatives.”
Increased exposure, time off for players who stay home to rest and recharge, the Flyers going to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 after the last Olympics. Sure, nothing but negatives.
Let's take a look at these arguments and decide what merit they have, if any.
1. The Olympic break hurts momentum
First of all, momentum is not a real thing unless we are discussing it in the sense of physics. In baseball, the saying is momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, which is just a clever way of saying the game you just played means nothing in terms of the outcome of the next one.
So when Davidson starts talking about the Olympic break costing his team because it was in a groove—by the by, the Jackets went 3-4-1 in their final eight games before the break so perhaps he was using "groove" ironically—it causes an eye roll of which Liz Lemon would be proud.
After all, have you ever heard a player, coach or GM talk about a hockey game? It's either one shift, one period or one game at a time.
God forbid you ask about a game a week down the road. You'll be told everyone is only focusing on the next game, the next practice.
Everyone who receives a paycheck from an NHL team speaks ad nauseam about not looking too far ahead. It's one of the more predictable answers in a business filled with predictable answers.
But when the Olympics are involved, well, hang on, guys, it's costing super-hot teams (not the Jackets, it seems) guaranteed wins during the two-plus weeks off. If you won four in a row before the break, that means you'd have won your next four if not for that pesky, meddling Olympic break.
In the previous Olympic year, 15 of the 16 teams to reach the postseason were already in a playoff position at the time of the Olympic break. The only team to fade was the Calgary Flames, who gave way to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Flames held a one-point lead on the Red Wings at the break, although Detroit had one game in hand, so really, the playoffs were just about set when the Olympics were getting started.
Did momentum work against the Flames? Did it work for the Red Wings? Did it cut the legs off a surging team that's outside of the top eight in either conference?
No, of course not. That's silly.
The Flames were an out-and-out train wreck going into the 2010 Olympic break. They went 4-3-1 in their final eight games prior to the break, but before that, they lost nine consecutive games. Nine. One more than eight. One fewer than 10. Nine. They lost nine games in a row.
If there was one team in the league that needed an Olympic break to stifle that magical momentum you read about, it was the Flames. Yet they went 10-9-1 after the break to finish 40-32-10 and outside of the postseason.
It was an average finish by an average team.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings lost four of five and went 4-5-6 in their final 15 games before the break. They finished the season 16-3-2 and found themselves in a playoff spot. Was it a product of negative momentum being halted, or was it time off that allowed an aging team to rest and Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula to completely recover from injuries?
Perhaps it was a terrific finish by a team that had gone to the Stanley Cup Final the previous two seasons and had nothing to do with momentum.
|Team||Past 10 Games||Overall Record|
|New York Rangers||7-3-0||32-24-3|
|New York Islanders||3-6-1||22-30-8|
There were six teams (three in each conference) that were within two points of a playoff spot when the NHL took its break for the Olympics in 2010. How did momentum or grooves affect them?
• The Lightning lost three straight going into the break; after the break, they lost four of five and nine of 11.
• The Rangers went 4-8-0 going into the break and lost four of five and seven of 10 after the break.
• The Thrashers won two of seven before the break and two of eight right after the break.
• The Stars were 6-2-1 going into the break and lost six of seven after it ended. If anyone can make a momentum argument, it's the Stars.
• The Ducks lost five straight after the break but were actually slightly better after the break than they were before it.
The takeaway here is momentum does not matter. Over an 82-game season, whether there is a break in February or not, the best teams will make the playoffs and the bad ones will not. After 60 games, teams pretty much are what they are, and blaming success or failure over the final 20 on interrupted momentum is lazy.
Davidson's comments are a nice built-in excuse if the Jackets, who are one point back of a wild-card spot today, miss the playoffs in April. It could get fans to scream bloody murder about the Olympics, which could sway players.
At least, that seems to be the plan here, despite the fact the Jackets were in no such groove heading into the Olympics.
2. The Olympic break hurts Blue Jackets' attendance
For those who don't know, Ohio State football is sort of a big deal in Columbus. If you're a relatively new sports franchise in that city, you are forever doomed to be the second-class team in relation to college football during the fall. So to hear Davidson say these two weeks off when Ohio State's season is over hurt his team, you feel for him.
But then you look into it, and you stop feeling for him.
Ohio State's first four home dates were before the NHL season began. They played three home games during the NHL season; the Blue Jackets were not home on those days and played just one road game on Oct. 19 in Washington when Ohio State was beating Iowa.
Ohio State played at 3:30; Columbus played at 7.
The Blue Jackets rank 29th in the NHL in attendance this season and haven't been better than 27th dating to the 2010-11 season. In their final six home games before the Olympic break, the Jackets averaged about 16,000 fans per game, about 2,000 more than their season average.
It's difficult to compare the Blue Jackets' current situation with four years ago, especially when the franchise has been as bad as it has been and is somewhat decent this season.
They averaged 15,416 fans per game in 2009-10, a spike that perhaps had something to do with them making the playoffs for the first and only time in 2008-09. But after the 2010 Olympic break, attendance was a bit below that number.
Was it because the Olympic break sapped momentum and fan enthusiasm, or was it because the Jackets had zero shot of making the playoffs at that point of the season?
When your club is nine points out of eighth with 19 games remaining and has reached the postseason once in franchise history, maybe that's why fans stop buying tickets. Perhaps Davidson should look inward to find the answer to attendance problems and not set fire to a straw man that is the Olympic break.
If your market is so weak that two weeks off result in everyone forgetting about your team, maybe your market shouldn't have a team.
3. The Olympics cause injuries, and those are bad for NHL teams
This is the one that bugs me the most. When owners agreed to let players go to the Olympics in 1998, were they not aware that hockey would be played, and when hockey is played, there are sometimes injuries suffered by the players?
Suddenly after a particularly bad Olympics in that regard, owners are all, "Oh man, did you know injuries can happen at the Olympics? We can't have that. I was not aware that bones could break and ligaments can tear under the magical umbrella of the Olympic spirit."
Players suffer injuries during NHL games. Players suffer injuries during Olympic Games. Sometimes the Olympic break allows key players to heal from injuries (Marian Gaborik would have missed six to seven additional games if not for the break this year).
Sometimes an injury happens early enough at the Olympics that they can withdraw, rehab and not miss as many NHL games as they would have otherwise.
Bettman's passive aggressive, "Boy, lots of injuries on big ice," attitude in that interview is either ill-informed or intentionally hilarious. I already discussed this injury excuse here, where you can find a list of current Olympians who suffered injuries in NHL games one year ago on NHL-sized ice.
As for Snow's insinuation that the IOC or IIHF should reimburse Islanders season-ticket holders because of the season-ending injury to Tavares, it's quite an impressive statement. The content of it isn't what makes it impressive—it's that frugal owner Charles Wang has his hand up Snow's backside in such a way that you can't even see him controlling the puppet from afar. That's master showmanship.
When injuries occur in the NHL, season-ticket holders don't get discounts based on the quality of player and time missed.
Try to find a season-ticket holder who has a letter from a team that reads, "Due to Pavel Datsyuk missing four games with a concussion, your season-ticket account will be credited with $48." Or, "John Scott is out for the season. We are requesting you send us an additional $78 for the improved product you will now watch."
|Henrik Zetterberg||Red Wings||Back||Out 8 weeks|
|John Tavares||Islanders||Knee||Out 8 weeks|
|Mats Zuccarello||Rangers||Hand||Out 3-4 weeks|
|Paul Martin||Penguins||Hand||Out 6-8 weeks|
|Alexsander Barkov||Panthers||Knee||Out 4-6 weeks|
|Fedor Tyutin||Blue Jackets||Knee||Out 2-3 weeks|
It's also hard to say this injury would affect walk-up sales in Long Island, considering the Islanders are toast and will be unloading Thomas Vanek during another failure of a season. I'm sure that won't drive away fans, though. I'm sure the real problem with lagging ticket sales isn't nearly seven years worth of ineptitude.
Just like with the attendance/momentum argument in Columbus, if your team has been so historically bad and your fanbase so fragile that an injury to a star player will drive away fans over the final 12 home dates, perhaps an NHL team doesn't belong there.
Money is a fair issue for the NHL in regard to Olympic participation, be it compensation from the IOC or the cost of insuring players. But telling fans that a team's momentum is being hurt by the break or blaming a lack of attendance on the layoff is borderline cowardly, if not entirely foolish.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
Greg Wyshynski wrote an article in which he blamed Dan Bylsma, at least partly, for Team USA's shortcomings against Canada when they played each other in the Olympics (other than the on-paper talent). However, it seem every team that played Canada reverted to more of a shell-type defense, in an attempt to coax them into, and then capitalize on their mistakes.
Had Bylsma tried to play with the Canadians, and go right at them with an aggressive gameplan, as Wyshynski suggested they should have done, isn't it just as likely the Canadians would have dominated?
You made a few comments on Twitter that seemed to suggest you agree with Wyshynski's take on the matter. Can you explain how you think Team USA should have approached the game?
Bylsma has been catching grief for Team USA's performance at the Olympics, although no one seemed to have a problem with him through the first four games. I only have one problem with how Bylsma ran things against Canada.
Bylsma's refusal to move the Joe Pavelski line away from the Jonathan Toews line despite having the final change is what I can't defend. It was pretty clear through 20 minutes that they were being dominated by Toews and yet Bylsma waited until it was too late to change things up.
In a game against a team as talented as Canada, you can't wait that long. By the time Bylsma did anything in that regard, the game was over.
The one thing Wyshynski mentions in his takedown is the passive 1-2-2 forecheck. He was there, and I was not, so it's a lot easier to see a team's strategy unfold when you can see the entire ice. If he says that strategy hurt Team USA, I have to defer to him on that.
To me, it looked like everyone on Canada was faster and sharper in all three zones. Did that have to do with talent level and execution or a forechecking strategy? I can't say for sure.
I also give Bylsma a pass on the Finland game. Maybe he should've started Ryan Miller over Jonathan Quick, but that's hindsight from me. Bylsma's team played a spirited first 20 minutes then fell apart after Finland scored twice in 11 seconds during the second period. After the second goal, Bylsma called timeout and implored his players to keep pushing, to not give up.
It didn't work. There's not much else you can do if your players don't give a damn.
So outside of the Toews/Kessel debacle, I can't hang too much blame on Bylsma for Team USA's disappointing Sochi. Kessel could've faced Canada's fourth line on every shift, and it may not have mattered.
@DaveLozo What do you think the Markov situation in Montreal and what will the final outcome be in your opinion?— GameChangingCH (@GameChangingCH) February 25, 2014
I see both sides. Andrei Markov had a litany of knee problems over the past three years, and this year he is healthy and having an outstanding season. He's 35 and about to become a free agent, so while the Canadiens want to give him a one-year deal, it's understandable Markov wants three years because that's what he'll get in a market that wildly overpays for defensemen every summer.
My guess is Markov stays through the rest of the season but is allowed to leave via free agency.
For the Bruins to get Shea Weber, they'd need to hire Ben Affleck's crew from The Town and steal him from Nashville. For the Bruins to get Yannick Weber, they'd need, well, a DVD or Blu-Ray copy of the Ben Affleck movie The Town to exchange for him.
You should name your dog The Town.
@DaveLozo if NHLers don't go to Olympics in 2018 what's your proposed alternative?— Greg Donnelly (@gdon44) February 25, 2014
A World Cup on North American soil that takes place during normal hockey hours would be great. I love Olympic hockey more than anything, but I don't know if I want to stay awake from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two weeks with the games in South Korea.
I had to wake up at 6 a.m. a few times during the Sochi Games, and I was starting to see the ghosts of dead relatives. I don't handle mornings well. I don't think I could handle flipping my schedule entirely without having a psychotic episode.
@DaveLozo why don't more players wear a turtleneck under their gear like wayne gretzky used to do? man that was cool.— Tom Pauly (@ThomPauly) February 25, 2014
That wasn't a turtleneck. Hockey equipment has always been behind the times, and what Gretzky was actually wearing was protective gear. The neck part was a throat guard. Underneath was padding for his chest and arms. The NHL had a partnership with the clothing store Structure, and that's where it received all of its protective turtlenecks.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.