Edit Desk: Let them play

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Erik Thomas

I like hockey.

Some people watch it for the fighting, but I watch it for the camaraderie.

One of my favorite aspects of professional hockey is the sense of friendship across the NHL. On the ice they might fight each other, but off the ice players from different teams often work and hang out together. At international competitions, they play together for their country.

But the NHL took that away.

On Monday, the NHL announced it will not be sending players to participate in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. This decision came after months of discussion brought on by team owners about unhappiness over the league shutting down for the Olympics every four years.

The International Ice Hockey Federation believes the NHL is picking and choosing which Olympics to take part in. The league is believed to have an interest in going to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing as a marketing tool for the NHL. In preparation, the league will host its first ever preseason game in China starting next season. By picking one Olympics over another, the NHL is hurting the IIHF’s efforts to have a presence in Asia.

It wasn’t an issue of financing the trip, it was a deal between the International Olympic Committee and the NHL that fell through. The NHL didn’t want to have to completely shut down and the IOC wasn’t willing to compromise.

I understand the NHL is a business, but it’s taking away a point of pride for many of the players in the league with this move. Stars like Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, who have represented their respective countries on the international stage before, have had career-highlighting moments there. Look back to the last winter Olympics, when Team USA’s T.J. Oshie on Sergei Bobrovsky of Russia in a marathon shootout.

For a league that has been struggling for years to increase its viewership, losing this opportunity is a waste. Choosing the Chinese Olympics versus the South Korean Olympics does not make sense. If the NHL wants people to turn on its games, it has to put its players on the biggest stages possible. By choosing not to partake in the Olympics, the NHL is hurting its business more than it would by taking the time off for the event.

Regardless of the politics behind the decision, it was a selfish move. By announcing this decision, the league has taken away the power for each player to represent his country — all so NHL play doesn’t slow down for a couple of weeks, every four years.

Many players have spoken out and complained about the decision. The NHL Players Association released a statement after it was announced, which said the NHL’s decision was “shortsighted.” The statement later argued an interruption to the NHL’s schedule is a small price to pay, and this decision hurts the growth of both the NHL and the game of hockey.  

In other words, the decision was selfish.

The only basis for this decision was the issue of the event falling in the middle of the regular season. Many NHL players took part in the World Cup of Hockey during the summer of 2016 and the league had no problem with that. But when the ability to make money is involved, it becomes a problem.

The NHLPA went on to say that the NHL did not take its players’ opinions into account when making this decision.

“NHL players are patriotic, and they do not take this lightly,” the statement said. “This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone.”

I agree — selfish move, NHL. Never did they think or ask the players before taking away their ability to play in the Olympics.

Ovechkin has individually said that even if the NHL decides not to take part in the Olympics, he will be playing for Team Russia in 2018 and he confirmed that statement Tuesday. He said playing in the Olympics is the biggest opportunity of players’ lives, and he will play for his country no matter what. I expect that more will follow his lead.

However, the Russian hockey vice president, Roman Rotenberg, said Ovechkin will not play for the team unless the NHL agrees to it. In his statement, Rotenberg said Russian NHL players wanting to play in the Olympics should retire from the NHL and play for the KHL, the Russian domestic league, next season.

So this decision not only blocked the Russian players from being able to come home and play for their country, but it also might cost the NHL some of its top players.

The one positive that could come out of this decision is a more level playing field during the Olympics. Without the NHL players, college hockey all-stars and minor league players will be called up to fill the Olympic teams, similar to when the 1980 Miracle on Ice team was formed.

Erik Thomas, ’17, is the deputy photo editor for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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