When the Winter Olympics open in two years in South Korea, don’t expect to see some of the greatest NHL stars wandering around the Olympic village. They just won’t be there.
For many, this might come as a bit of a shock. Since 1998, the Olympics became the physical arena where the best players would face off for their countries to determine the ownership of hockey. Since then, Canada has won three of the five tournaments, sometimes in dramatic fashion—think the Sidney Crosby golden goal in Vancouver 2010—and sometimes with pure, yet boring, dominance—think 2014 Sochi games where their success was all but inevitable.
But Canada’s dominance in the sport has little to nothing to do with why the NHL, for the most part, won’t be making their way to South Korea in two years. No, that has more to do with the rampant success their rejuvenated World Cup of Hockey is currently enjoying at the moment.
Prior to the start of this tournament, you’d be remiss if you thought it was going to be a gimmick that the NHL would be putting on. The idea of trotting out the best NHL players before training camp while risking injury for no betterment to their NHL clubs didn’t make a lot of sense. Add on to this the fact that the NHL was using two continental teams (Team Europe and North America) and the whole thing seemed to be one large money grab.
And it has been so far, but at the same time, it’s been one of the best examples of competitive hockey that I’ve ever seen. First, it’s the level of competition. With only eight teams in the tournament, nearly every team is stacked with top level NHL talent. Think, the U.S. finished the tournament in the bottom of the standings and it was only 2010 that they had taken Canada to overtime on the Olympic stage.
The most exciting part of the World Cup, though, has to be what was once considered a gimmick in Team North America. Gathering players 23 years old and younger from both Canada and the United States, few inside the hockey community thought this team would have enough grit, experience and durability to pose a formidable threat against grown men on hockey’s biggest stage.
Then they did. First they beat Finland, then narrowly lost to a Russian team that was dominated at times by the youngsters before defeating Sweden in a thrilling 3-on-3 overtime spectacle.
Which brings us to why the NHL will be pulling its players out of the 2018 Olympic Games. For starters, as mentioned, they developed a better product. The eight teams that are competing in the World Cup have kept games competitive in ways that traditional Olympic countries like Latvia or Switzlerland wouldn’t be able to—no offence.
But the main reason the NHL won’t be going to the 2018 games is strictly business. Unlike the World Cup of Hockey, which is a product of the NHL, the Olympic Games serve no monetary benefit for the NHL. In fact, the IOC has come out and said that they won’t even be paying for insurance and travel expenses for NHL players to compete in the 2018 games, meaning that the NHL, NHLPA or the players themselves would have to foot the bill for something they will receive no economic benefit for. In today’s world, it’s hard to imagine that happening.
Add on to this that for the NHL to compete in the Olympics, the season would need to be interrupted for two weeks and the cost-benefit analysis from the NHL’s perspective is weighed heavily on the cost side without many benefits to compensate.
Of course, many of the NHL players themselves have said they still want to compete in the games. Why wouldn’t they? They themselves stand to make more money in advertising revenue through increased marketability, while helping strengthen their legacy beyond the game. In the end, however, it may not be up to them.
Thus, with the World Cup of Hockey entering its championship round at the end of September, cherish what has been the most competitive hockey of best on best that we’ve seen in years. Who knows when it will be back again.
While watching Canada dominate the rest of the tournament, if you are looking to direct your World Cup anger at someone, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org