Friday, February 15, 2013
Destination Sochi: End of the Line
With the powers that be in the NHL, NHLPA, IOC, and IIHF meeting when it comes to the NHL's partcipation in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia meeting, the question turns to what's going to happen next for the NHL in the Olympics.
Since the 1998 Games, when the NHL first started in the Olympics-- the NHL has lucked out with the Games being in locations where hockey is a followed sport or is close to locations where hockey is a popular sport, sans Nagano. The good part of Nagano is that the NHL was starting to get into Asian markets, even opening up the 1998-99 season in Japan.
Yet, with all of this, the Sochi Games could be the end of the line for the NHL's involvement. One of the reasons is that the Russians would want to represent their country at home. Of course, we all remember how many Russians said they would play regardless of the NHL's participation; so to include the NHLers would be the best bet for the NHL rather than losing the fire-power of Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Alex Ovechkin, as well as Anze Kopitar-- who would want to help represent his native Slovenia in their Olympic journey. But after this-- it could be an indefinite hiatus for the NHL when it comes to the Olympics.
Past Sochi, there's South Korea in 2018 and 2022 is yet to be decided, but here are some potential bid cities. While the NHL would want to diversify their game, they don't seem to have the bump in Asia that they once had, so suspending the participation would probably happen, despite the IIHF and IOC actually wanting to have those high-profile names in one of the pinnacle events.
There's plenty of discussion about whether or not the NHL should be involved at all when it comes to the Olympics, as the whole "amateur" idea of the Games being put into check because of it, even with the exposure it gives to those involved. There's probably also a worry about the time that the NHL will have to take off because of it, the practice after the NHL is back in business, and the worry for some teams down the stretch when it comes to wear-and-tear of their players.
In the end, the NHL will go to Sochi and it probably won't take long to hash all of that out. The bigger concern is the involvement past this Olympics, which I'm sure the IOC would be pushing hard for a commitment, especially for a lesser revered venue and trying to get all the star power they could muster.