Will NHL Players Return to the Olympics in 2018? Despite Owners' Objections, They Should

Clive Mason

As we turn our attention back to the NHL season, the case for the players to continue to participate in the Winter Olympics remains strong.

The NHL regular season wasn't supposed to start back up until today, at least, before Buffalo suffered from white out conditions that forced drivers off the road and the postponement of a Sabres game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

So this opinion from me seems a day or so out of date now. Regardless, indulge me for one more bit on the Winter Olympics before we turn our full attention back to the boys in green for their stretch run.

Just as before the start of the games, there were a series of columns about how hockey fans should savor this Olympics because it would likely be the last with NHL participation, at least until the games returned to North American. And those same columns reappeared at the end of the games, especially after Islanders general manager Garth Snow went on a bit of a rant about losing John Tavares to an MCL injury.

But the issue isn't a unilateral owner's decision, though I'm sure they really wish it was. I'm a big fan of Sean McIndoe's weekly grab bag column, and the most recent edition featured a solid list of all the stakeholders who think NHL participation in the Olympics is a good idea.

Essentially, it's everyone except the owners, and the reasons they give always make me laugh. They don't like shutting the league down for three weeks. They don't like the risk of injury the players incur. They don't like that people are paying attention to hockey other than the NHL brand.

But if we're talking about preventing injury, then you'd think they would be just as concerned with golfing (or driving a golf cart). Or participating in drills after practice. Injuries are a risk any time a person leaves the house (or if you're a certain Texas pitcher, simply from owning a dog). Yes, there is a legitimate concern here - Stars fans held their breath a few times when Valeri Nichushkin went down hard - but it's one as inherent in playing a meaningless game against the Florida Panthers as it is overseas.

And as far as the shutting down the season being the problem, like McIndoe points out, this is the group that has sacrificed a full season and significant parts of others to make more money for themselves. The issue isn't the time of the season, the issue is that the owners can't monetize it.

All reports seem to be that the players really enjoy going and that the players who don't go really enjoy their week off to recharge and heal up. Heck, the Stars may even benefit in some ways as both Alex Chiasson and Aaron Rome have reportedly had more recovery time for lingering effects of illness and injury, respectively.

Plus, with the ever increasing reach of live coverage and social media, even the non-North American Olympics can have a big impact on popular culture outside of the general hockey world. You don't have to look any further than the T.J. Oshie mania of a few weeks ago to recognize that. While there's nothing quite like an Olympics in North American for maximum publicity (not to mention ease of transportation and lack of jet lag), the best players in the league - and therefore the league itself - do get significant publicity mileage out of big performances.

And you can't overlook the advertisers and the television side of things. The United States hockey team was a big draw for NBC both on television and online, and with NBC as the flagship network of the NHL, you'd have to think there's some pressure there as well.

A few of the more level-headed insiders, Elliotte Friedman, Nick Cotsonika and Scott Cullen among them, have made the case that this is not a done deal on the owners' side. Cullen even went so far to imply that the hard-line stance may simply be an opening move in negotiations with the IIHF and IOC (and as an aside, the mental image of Gary Bettman and IIHF head Rene Fasel as bickering Statler and Waldorf will always make me laugh). The decision may be made as soon as the next six months.

We here at DBD hope you enjoyed our Olympics coverage - or at the very least the chance to celebrate then decry the performance of your favorite team and watch a few players you care deeply about bring medals back to Dallas. Here's hoping we have the same chance four years from now.

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