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The NHL is rightfully wary of the 2018 Winter Olympics, but they should go anyway

A handy guide to this complicated drama.

Ice Hockey Gold Medal - Sweden v Canada Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The latest NHL Board of Governors meeting didn’t result in any official decision on the NHL and the 2018 Winter Olympics, but it did reveal a fairly negative view of the event held by league owners.

And it’s hard to argue against their viewpoint.

The NHL’s Board of Governors (essentially the league owners and commissioner Gary Bettman) met in Palm Beach, Fla. on Thursday to discuss a myriad of pertinent issues. One of them was the ongoing issue of the Vegas Golden Knights trademark hurdles. The other was NHL player participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The board did not come to a vote or decision on the matter on Thursday, leaving the situation still up in the air. At this point you might be wondering why this is even an issue. So let’s talk this out.

Hey, Pat.

Hey self. How’s it going?

I don’t care. So what’s the big deal?

That’s awfully generic. Can you be more specific?

Fine. What’s this NHL/Olympics drama about?

It’s rather simple, actually: the NHL is still trying to decide whether to let players leave for the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018.

How is that a problem?

Well, they (the league owners) don’t want to do it.


Cost, honestly. Unbeknownst to many fans, the NHL has to cover expenses such as travel, player insurance and accommodation for the 2018 games. About 150 NHL players go to the Olympics every four years. That’s a ton of money.

How much money?

Hold on.


I’m trying to find the link.

And wasting everyone’s ti—

Here it is!

In total, the IOC were thought to have contributed around $14 million (£10 million/€13 million) for Sochi 2014.

Around half of this amount was on transportation.

This comes alongside around $18 million (£12.5 million/€16 million) contributed by the IIHF for Sochi.


Yeah. So one of the major sticking points for the league is that the IIHF or IOC foot that bill again. On Thursday, Bettman said “If the expenses aren't being covered, it's a non-starter, there's nothing to even talk about.”

Yeesh. So let’s say the expenses do get covered. Will the NHL agree to participate?

Nope. Well, probably not. You see, expenses aren’t the only financial concern at play here. Profit losses are, too.

The Olympics come at a terrible time for the NHL, forcing the league to shut down for two weeks in mid-February, right in the thick of the season’s homestretch. The NHL seems quite tired of it.

Commissioner Bettman outlined other concerns the Board of Governors have regarding Olympic participation in 2018, including the effect of suspending the NHL season for two and a half weeks in February.

"There are a lot of owners, clubs, over the years that have been very concerned about what Olympic participation does to the season, what it does to the players in terms of injuries, not just to those that go but having a compressed schedule can make the players more tired, more wear and tear, and the potential for injury is greater," Commissioner Bettman said. "I think after doing five of these, I don't know, fatigue might be a word?"

So the owners just want money? Is that it?

Well, it’s more nuanced than that. That might be the heart of it, but the condensed schedule is a legitimate issue, as well.

Just look at this season. The World Cup of Hockey forced the NHL season into Compressed Mode and injuries are piling up across the league. Big names, too. Steven Stamkos. Johnny Gaudreau. Patrick Sharp. Jonathan Toews. Jonathan Quick. The consequences of a compressed schedule are apparent already and there’s not even a two-week Olympic break on the horizon.

But isn’t there a mandatory break this year?

Well, yes. Every team gets a bye week later this season. But during an Olympic year, you can’t really justify that profit-wise when you’ve already shut down your league for two weeks for an event held across the Pacific Ocean.

Wait. You sound like you’re taking the owners’ side here.

I mean ... I kind of understand their hesitation. Where’s the upside for the NHL here? They either pay a ton of money to suspend their season and lose players to injury or they get to suspend their season and lose players at a profit loss anyway.

So, it’s no wonder they’re asking the NHLPA for a collective bargaining agreement extension as a price for Olympic participation. If they’re going to voluntarily lose money in 2018 again, then it seems fair not want a lockout anytime soon after.

But ... the Olympics are more fun with NHL players.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 8 - United States v Russia Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

They really are. And the players still want to participate badly. You think the NHL is going to stop Alex Ovechkin from trying to finally bring gold back to Russia? No.

That’s why I think some compromise gets worked out soon between the NHL, NHLPA, IOC, and IIHF to send players to South Korea in 2018.

And Bettman and the NHLPA sound confident about that possible future, by the way. Bettman thinks the World Cup of Hockey makes for a crowded international calendar and, therefore, more interest from the league owners to stay in the Olympics. He doesn’t sound like a man determined to end this relationship, which dates back to the Nagano games in 1998.

It’s in the IOC and IIHF’s interests to have NHL players (the world’s best hockey players) represented in their event. It’s in the NHL’s interest to have their players marketed around the world on a huge stage. And the players just have a ton of interest.

So, it will get done?

Yes. Painstakingly, and perhaps not soon, but NHL players will go to PyeongChang.

Good. My next question is: can you buy a ticket to the Games for us? Because I want to hang out with the mascots.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic - Venues Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images