Will the NHL Boycott the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?

Adam Steevens is a student, author and blogger who has semi-coherent thoughts about the NHL

The 2010 Winter Olympics are approaching, and NHL teams and players alike are preparing for the games – although most hockey fans are eying the next tournament in 2014. In fact, the Winter games in Sochi are already causing a stir among the NHL community. Long story short, the league hasn’t confirmed that it will allow its players to attend, and it’s entirely possible that the league could prevent its players from competing altogether.

The issues surrounding NHL participation are multi-faceted – the league would have to successfully negotiate the 2014 Olympics into a new collective bargaining agreement (the current CBA expires in 2011). Secondly, the NHL would have to incorporate a 17-day break into their schedule. It’s not impossible, but it’s an administrative pain, and it kills the natural momentum of the season. Couple these problems with injury issues, and a time-zone discrepancy that makes it severely inconvenient for the North American audience to watch the games live, and it’s not hard to see why the NHL is reluctant to sign on for 2014.
In spite of all this, the NHL should allow its players to compete for the gold in Sochi – simply because they would encounter much worse problems if they boycotted the games.

Remember the contract disputes between the NHL and KHL over defecting players, like Hudler and Radulov? The KHL has put itself in position to give the league even more headaches; if the NHL decides to actually punish players who attend in spite of a league-wide ruling, the KHL will happily snap up any players who are suspended or barred from NHL contracts. Not only would the NHL risk losing some world-class talent to a competitor – it could lose some of its most recognizable players.

Alex Ovechkin has already said through the press that nothing will stop him from competing in 2014, and Evgeni Malkin followed suit shortly thereafter. These are two of the biggest drawing names in the game; why would the league suspend them? If the NHL drew a hardline against participation, they’d be destroying the appeal of the NHL from the inside out. Let’s suppose they ban participation, but don’t enforce it with serious penalties – most NHLers would represent their countries anyway and take the mandatory fine or suspension. What would be the point of non-participation then? It’s a lose-lose situation for the league – and the NHL needs to avoid this mess.

It’s funny, the NHL claims that the southern expansion under Bettman was ‘for the good of the game’ – but Olympic competition is a headache that isn’t worth their time? So teams in Atlanta, Phoenix and Tampa Bay are better for the sport than watching the very best players in the world compete for their countries? What a joke. The argument against professional participation really just amounts to administrative laziness and misplaced 1980’s-Lake Placid nostalgia – the players deserve better, and the game deserves better.