NHL Column: Staying home for the Olympics

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby skates during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Billy Hurst)

The greatest athletes in the world are gathered in PyeongChang, South Korea for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games. That is, except for the ones that play hockey. The greatest hockey players in the world were kept home from the Olympics by the NHL this year for the first time since 1994.

The likes of Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby and Taylor Hall will not be representing Canada. Joe Pavelski, Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews cannot don America’s red, white and blue. Russia will miss its stars, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

These superstars will be stranded 5439 miles away in North America, playing in regular season NHL contests. The league and its clubs decided to not allow its players to participate in the 2018 Olympics, ending a run of five straight Winter Olympic games with NHL stars present. The league did not want to disrupt the season’s schedule, as allowing its players to go would require a two-week break. And with this, of course, there would be revenue lost.

But this is not about the Olympics vs. the NHL. This is about hockey. It is about promoting the sport throughout the world and providing space for the league to grow. While the NHL has made decent strides towards globalizing the game, being absent from the Olympics leaves so much opportunity on the table.

The league is adding international games to its regular season schedule. They also helped institute a new World Cup of Hockey in 2016, partially in hope of creating an event that brought the sport to the national stage without interfering with the season. The tournament took place in September to avoid conflicting with NHL games. These games were compelling, with a plethora of star power. But it just simply was not the same as the Olympics.

No moment in that tournament could ever live up to aura, flare and magnitude of the Olympic Games. One of the main issues with the tournament was that the teams were not solely divided up based on country. They added youth star teams for North America and Europe in order to distribute talent more evenly. With some players from Canada and the United States wearing the same sweaters, it is hard to say that this was a true world tournament. The games themselves had plenty of excitement, but the meaning behind them was missing.

Hockey fans watch hockey regardless of what event it is. But to open the door to the average sports fan, the NHL needs the Olympics. People tune in to watch the Olympics even when they know little about the sport they are seeing. Outside of the world games, people rarely watch sports like snowboarding, bobsledding, skiing and curling. During the Olympics, people watch less popular sports for a sense of national pride and to witness some of the best athletes on the planet competing.

Hockey fans watch the World Cup of Hockey, but everyone watches the Olympics.

By skipping the Games, hockey loses the chance to appeal to people all across the globe. Someone watching Olympic hockey could decide to start watching NHL games because they enjoyed watching the skills of its players on the Olympic stage.

Instead of a star-studded roster that will intrigue the masses, the United States Olympic hockey team this year features Brian Gionta, Bobby Butler, Mark Arcobello and bunch of other lower tier players. The name recognition is entirely gone. These players are not even close to the best in the world, as the ones selected are players who were not up to NHL standards. This means that almost every NHL player is better than the ones going to the Olympics.

When they drop the puck today to begin the Olympic hockey tournament, people won’t be thinking about what is on the ice, but rather what is not. The NHL has chosen to smother their superstars’ talents instead of exposing it to a true global spotlight.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.