Let’s be honest with ourselves here.
On Tuesday, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman informed fans to assume that the NHL will not send players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. I just erased several hundred emotional words I had written blasting the NHL for even thinking of not going.
Why blast them? Because here we go again. Every so often it feels like the old men in charge of hockey hold a gun to the sport’s head and bore us to nausea with lawyer speak. What made it even worse in this particular case, and in many cases before it, was that it just seemed like another instance of Gary Bettman getting his way.
When fans click an article about hockey, you can bet the farm they didn’t click it to read about a bunch of lawyers being passive aggressive with each other.
Having said that, as fans, if the NHL doesn’t go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, how upset would you be?
I was asked that question earlier today and it gave me pause.
“Of course I would be mad,” I replied.
“Because it’s just Gary Bettman getting his way again.”
“Leaving Gary Bettman out of it, would you actually care?”
Q: WOULD YOU ACTUALLY WATCH THE GAMES?
If you thought the time difference for Sochi was rough, the Olympics in PyeongChang are going to be another beast altogether.
Now, I cover hockey for a living. I’ll get up for games. I’ll stay up for games. It’s literally my job. If it wasn’t, though? Who’s going to phone in sick to watch a 6am round robin game? When I was in Vancouver in 2010 I watched Canada’s opening game against Norway live. Would I have gotten up at 6am to watch it on TV? Would I have stayed up to watch it on TV if it started at midnight? I still probably would have, and I’m sure some of you reading this would have, but my bet is most in North America – the NHL’s base – would not have.
Add in the little factoid that the NHL would still be playing actual NHL games during the Olympic schedule. How many energy drinks can a human consume in a two-week period?
Q: IF IT WAS A REALLY BAD BUSINESS DECISION NOT TO GO, WHY WOULD BETTMAN DO IT?
I feel horribly for fans like this one. This person is a fan of hockey. I’m a fan of hockey. I want as many people as possible exposed to the game. Why on Earth would you skip out on an enormous Asian market such as South Korea?
Well, it would appear that the NHL thinks they can have their cake and eat it too by going to China four years later. Not only is China the bigger market, but they would also get to position it as an “NHL comeback” of sorts. “Guess what?!,” they can say. “Did you fall in love with hockey at the 2018 Olympics full of KHL and Swedish league players? Well, the 2022 Olympics are going to be even better because our guys will be there!”
I don’t love the business people who run the show, but one thing I can’t accuse them of is being allergic to money.
Q: WHAT IF THE NHL ONLY SKIPS SOUTH KOREA AND THEN GOES TO CHINA?
Believe me, I would find nothing more hilarious than the NHL thinking they could get away with picking and choosing which Olympic Games they participate in, only to have the IOC say, “Thanks but no thanks” and telling the NHL to beat it. For as much posturing as Bettman and the NHL have done the IOC ultimately holds the cards here, right?
But if we’re honest, the IOC always wants the best athletes possible to attend and compete at their Games. If the NHL, who employs the vast majority of the world’s best male hockey players, tells the IOC they’d like to participate in the Beijing Olympics in 2022, they’re going to let them go.
Sure, the players want to go to the 2018 Winter Olympics. Max Pacioretty just said it.
Even Mike Babcock has said it.
But are the players putting too much faith in assuming fans actually care if the NHL skips PyeongChang? At the same time is the NHL putting too much faith in the belief that they can simply skip PyeongChang and pop back in for Beijing like nothing happened?
So ask yourself all of the questions above. Once you’ve done that, then ask yourself: how much do you actually care whether?