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NHL won’t send players to Olympics, and it’s definitely for the wrong reason

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News: Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins-White House Visit Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL officially shut the door to NHL players playing in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics with a statement to the public on Monday. It will be the first Olympiad the NHL will miss since it started sending its players in 1998 in Nagano, Japan.

“We now consider the matter officially closed,” the final sentence of the official statement from the league office read.

In reality, the matter was always closed in the eyes of the Owners. They claim that they had solicited arguments from the IOC, IIHF, and the NHLPA to argue their case for participating, but the League was always set on withdrawing participation. The World Cup of Hockey was shoved down hockey fans’ throats because the League was hoping it would be seen as an adequate substitute.

That and the NHL could actually make money off the WCH and they can’t for the Olympics.

They can’t make money on shootout round after shootout round where T.J. Oshie bests Sergei Bobrovsky in a total nail-biter of a game that also featured some great hockey moments on social media, for the covering media, and for devout hockey fans in their man-cave in the garage.

They can’t make money on Mikael Granlund teaming up with the Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne when Finland forced the USA out of a medal.

The NHL can’t make a buck off of Zach Parise forcing overtime in the Gold Medal game against Canada.

And they certainly couldn’t make a buck off Canada’s three Gold Medals in the last four Olympiads. You remember when Canada captured its first Gold in 50 years in Salt Lake City 2002.

Nope all those harrowing stories of Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, or Herb Brooks and the Miracle on Ice team versus the Soviet Union, not one cent to the league.

Sure, owners can speak about how the Olympics force the league to take a break for two weeks when they could be filling the suite level for a regular season game in the middle of February. They can speak about some of the man-games lost to injury that happened during the international competition that means very little in terms of the NHL season. They do invest a lot of money in these players and they do have a right to protect their investment. But without making the Owners’ whole in money lost, or without an insurance plan in place should an injury, like to say, Connor McDavid, and the effect it could have on the club, they’d rather not risk it.

They made that very clear in their statement:

The NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the Clubs.

It’s not that the NHL Player’s Association didn’t make an intent to state their reasoning to play in the Olympics, but that they didn’t make, “participation more attractive,” enough to the Clubs.

While the players, nor anyone, can really place a monetary or numeric value on the uptick in interest in the sport in the grand scheme of things, the players are rightfully upset that this ruins a chance to continue to get eyes on their game.

It’s not just relations with the players that’s strained, but what implications it could have on future Collective Bargaining talks. The players feel slighted, lied to, and felt like they made concessions to be able to keep the door open for Olympic participation.

ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside wrote:

The league had been hopeful that the players' desire to continue participating in the Olympics would lead to some sort of concessions, such as agreeing to see the current collective bargaining agreement through to its conclusion in 2022 instead of exercising an opt-out option two years earlier. But the NHLPA's view was that the players should not have to make concessions to ensure that Olympic participation continued.

For fans that were hoping for more years of labor peace between Ownership and the Players, this is yet another sign that things are rocky, at best, in terms of negotiating with the League. I’m not saying that this is the pin being pulled out of the grenade by any means, but this is just one more thing the players can add to their list in negotiations.

The Best-on-Best competition that the Olympics offers - these national Dream Teams, coupled with an organic source of motivation is what make Olympic hockey possibly the best hockey around. The national pride, representing your country, the desire to be an Olympic Gold Medalist, along with the many athletes in other sports that all represent their home country gives the Games an aura. It’s not manufactured. Yet, the NHL and the NHL’s constant ugly reminder of the business of hockey gets in the way.

This also places strain on NBC’s, the League’s national television partner until 2021, because NBC also had ponied up mega bucks for the exclusive rights to the Olympics in the United States. NBC Universal, which is owned by mega-media and cable conglomerate Comcast Corporation, isn’t happy with the NHL’s decision. When USA is in medal contention, the ratings are through the roof. No matter the time, early morning, midday, primetime, the ratings are huge. For Minnesotans, there’s generally a Minnesota-native on the ice for Team USA that hometown fans can follow. Being four years shy of a contract re-negotiation, it’s not a smart idea to piss off the only network that actually gives your sport attention.

The NHL is shooting themselves in the foot with this decision. It hurts their ability to get their players in front of a worldwide audience, hurts their ability to inspire future talent, and strains relations with their players business partners. This decision just screams an utter lack of awareness and tone-deafness among the Owners and Board of Governors.

Most of all, it’s screwing over their fans. The same fans they felt needed to be thanked with a giant “Thank You Fans” on the ice following the 2004-05 lockout canceled season. Those same fans that woke up early to watch the podium dance before the League and Players’ Association announced they had come to terms in 2013 after half the season was canceled. They are hurting the very same fans they charge astronomical ticket prices to, but still sellout the building even though every one knows that the NHL and Gary Bettman is one of the most ragged run leagues in North America. It’s tough to rise above the level of “Niche sport” when the highest level of Hockey can’t get out of its own damn way.