The NHL returned from its two week Olympic hiatus only a few days ago. Many of the league’s stars were involved in the competition and the league shut down completely to accommodate its top players.
Stars like Team Canada’s Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Team Russia’s Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Team Sweden’s Henrik Lundquvist of the New York Rangers, and Team USA’s Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks each sought Olympic gold. Of the 300 players that participated in Sochi about half were NHL players.
American viewers embraced Sochi ice hockey and NBC Sports Network saw its highest ratings ever during the Saturday morning US 3-2 shootout victory over Russia. The ratings for the semi-final 1-0 Canadian victory over the US the following Friday afternoon were also huge. Olympic ice hockey generates excitement and new fans as the best players compete against each other for global domination.
The NHL is hoping that once again fan enthusiasm for Olympic hockey will carry over into its season. The last time the NHL took an Olympic sabbatical in February of 2010 there was a boost in attendance and TV ratings when the players returned from Vancouver.
Compared to their ratings in February of the previous year, the TV viewership saw a 32% increase for their national broadcasts on VERSUS (now NBC Sports Network). According to the league, 19 teams experienced an increase in attendance after the 2010 Olympics. There is no reason not to expect something similar to happen after the Sochi games.
That is why it is a must that the NHL continues to allow their players to participate in future Olympics. For a league that flounders in ratings and attendance, this boost can only help. Yet some team owners and league executives are trying to squash future player Olympic participation. A ban has even been mentioned. Big mistake!
The Olympics have made stars out of players like Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabers, who was Team USA’s goalie in the Vancouver games. T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues, who scored the game-winning goal in the shutout versus Russia, should be highlighted for similar recognition as well.
It is true the NHL is putting the league at risk by having their players participate in the Olympics because of the potential for injury. New York Islanders star and member of Team Canada John Tavares partially tore his MCL in his left knee during the tournament and is now out for the remainder of the season.
While the Islanders had an incredibly slim chance at playoff contention - they currently have a record of 22-30 - the loss of Tavares not only hurts attendance, but kills what little playoff hopes there were. Injuries like this are why the NHL is rumored to be considering banning their players from participating in future Olympics.
I personally think that it is worth the risk. It is less likely that players will suffer a serious injury at the Olympics than in the NHL. The IHF imposes strict rules against big hits and bans fighting altogether.
The NBA, which has many of the same owners as the NHL, is considering a similar ban for their players following the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro.
Despite the big risk of injury to its star players it would be foolish for the NHL to ban players from participating in future Olympics. Not only does it help bring the league to the forefront, it helps bring new fans to the game.
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