I love that NHL players compete in the Olympics.
I know I’m not alone, but face it: NHL hockey on wide ice is everything we wish the NHL would be. The unique blend of skill, speed and stakes create arguably the greatest tournament in all of sports — competing only, in my opinion, with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The only drawback is the time difference, but as anyone who watched the world junior championships knows, there’s something fun about live hockey at 7 a.m.
Yet if I were the fan of an NHL team, I’d want as few players from my team in the Olympics as possible.
I just don’t understand why there is outrage over snubs. If you’re a Philadelphia Flyers fan, especially one in the United States, you should be over-the-moon excited that Claude Giroux was not selected for Team Canada.
For starters, pro athletes are a proud — borderline arrogant — bunch. When they get slighted in even the smallest way, they are prone to try to prove that party wrong. Giroux, for example, scored four points in his first six games since Team Canada’s roster was chosen.
More importantly, if you root for a guy like Giroux — who plays more ice time than any Flyers forward and the 10th-most ice time of all NHL forwards — you want him to have a two-week break during the Games. February brings the dog days of the NHL season, and any break to the arduous pace should be welcomed.
I understand that fan pride spills over to rooting for individual players and that it is difficult to talk rationality to a diehard. But if you’re rooting for your team to win the Stanley Cup, you should want fewer players from your team wasting energy in Sochi. Obviously, the most skilled players reach the tournament, but there are facts and figures that support my claim.
Only four Detroit Red Wings were Olympians the first year that NHL players were allowed at the Games at Nagano in 1998 — and that team went on to win the Stanley Cup. Dominik Hasek, who led the Czech Republic to gold in ‘98, and the Buffalo Sabres were upset by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference finals.
In 2006 in Torino, Henrik Lundqvist led Team Sweden to the gold. Yet Lundqvist broke down in the playoffs’ first round, leaving the New York Rangers open to a sweep at the hands of the New Jersey Devils. Three Red Wings were on Sweden’s roster — part of the nine Olympians from Detroit. The Wings were upset in the first round by a much fresher Edmonton Oilers group.
I bring up the overseas Olympics because the travel schedule could be credited for adversely affecting the players. These games are in Sochi, Russia — a 5,000-mile trek from Ontario. In 2002 and 2010, the Games were in North America, making for a less-taxing travel schedule for the players involved.
Travel aside, the competition level is at its peak in the Olympics. No player lets up, which is what makes the tournament so amazing to watch. Between the travel and high level of competition, injuries are a realistic possibility as is burnout.
Just watch how fresh physically, and mentally, the guys who did not play at the Olympics are when the NHL season resumes.
Still, Sochi will be fun to watch.