Stubborn and Naïve: The Growing Rift Created between the NHL and its Players & Fans
On February 28th, 2010, I found myself alone at home. My father was on the outskirts of Ottawa, helping run his motorsport club’s ice race, and my mother was at work at the hospital. I was alone watching the Canada/U.S. Gold Medal hockey game of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The game was a back and forth battle, pitting two bitter rivals against each other in a hostile environment. Late in the third period, the U.S. tied the game with 25 seconds left on a goal by Zach Parise. Watching Canada’s lead slip away was devastating, as the game moved on to an overtime period. The overtime had a feverish pace about it: chances were abundant on both sides and the crowd gasped and roared, depending on who had the puck. About seven minutes in, Sidney Crosby carried the puck through the neutral zone, only to lose it upon entering the American end. Jarome Iginla picked it up for Canada and fed Crosby, who, from an improbable angle scored, the most iconic goal of the 21st century. Canada stood up and cheered, as their sons had won Gold on home soil.
There are children in Canada, and around the world, who over the next decade, will not get to experience this feeling as their NHL heroes will not likely be headed to the Olympics. On Monday, the NHL officially announced that they were not sending their players to the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision is especially controversial considering the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had made accommodations for insurance and transportation issues the NHL had. The NHL and its owners, though, fear of injuries, like that of John Tavares at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, which cost the New York Islanders’ captain the rest of his season.
This is a selfish move by the NHL. The league, and its owners are now going to have a problem with rogue players, irritated fans, and the loss of international growth. The National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) released a statement shortly after the league released their decision, saying that they were “extraordinarily disappointed” and that they “adamantly disagree with the NHL’s short-sighted decision.” The NHLPA echoed the potential growth for the game and the NHL’s opportunity to showcase their talent in Asia, an untapped market. With the following two winter Olympics taking place in PyeongChang, South Korea and Beijing, China, it serves as an excellent opportunity for hockey to grow internationally. Yet, the NHL’s stubbornness and inability to cooperate hinders such an opportunity. Some NHL players plan to go, regardless of what the league mandates. One of the biggest stars in hockey, Alexander Ovechkin, has stuck to his guns and maintained his positon that he would play in the 2018 Winter Olympics. This puts the NHL in a tough spot: should they suspend Ovechkin? If so, for how long? The debate and decision has become a media circus, and it will likely get even bigger when someone, like Ovechkin, receives undeserved backlash.
The fans will not side with the owners and the NHL. They will always back the players who entertain them. In refusing to play in PyeongChang, the league is failing to gain access to a new group of fans in Asia. Recently, the Kontinental Hockey League expanded into China, and the Kunlun Red Star began playing in Beijing. With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, only six years away, China wants hockey to grow, and the KHL offered them a great platform to do so. What they did not expect was the absence of the NHL. The league has failed to realize that China is the biggest untapped market in the world. Their opportunity begs comparison to the NBA, and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Throughout the 2000s, the NBA had grown its market in China with Yao Ming’s success; but, then after the Beijing Games, China found an honourary son in Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba is a legend in China, and the crowds went crazy for him when the NBA toured through China in the pre-season of 2013. This all stemmed from his appearance at the 2008 Olympics, where he and the entire American team put on a show.
Kobe was not the only reason the NBA and basketball has become so popular in China, though. The NBA put offices in Shanghai and Beijing and, held grassroots tours throughout the country. For their attempts, the league received rave reviews. Forbes reporter Robert Tuchman compared the NBA’s success in exporting their product to China to the “same prestigious echelon” as that of Apple and Disney. The numbers match this lofty claim: in 2012, it was reported NBA China’s revenue was at $150 million USD. That number approached $200 million USD in 2014, and it continues to grow.
Why, then, would the NHL skip the Olympics? It is difficult to be global, and they do not have a Yao Ming, but the NHL has the Winter Olympics. They have back to back Winter Olympics in Asian countries, and will have all of the world’s attention. Yet, they hide their product and restrict it. The exposure and potential revenue outweighs the few consequences that would come from letting the players go to the Winter Olympics.
Gary Bettman thinks he has discovered the solution to ownership’s concerns. He believes that the IOC should switch hockey to the Summer Olympics. This solution is insulting. Hockey is not meant for the summer, and that’s the belief of the Great One. In 2008, Wayne Gretzky stated kids should have an “off-season”, a three-four month window where they play other sports. This lesson comes from Walter Gretzky, who would not let Wayne touch ice in the summer, and instead had him play baseball, lacrosse and other sports. Putting hockey in the Summer Olympics raises the same problem as the World Cup: injuries because players are not in peak shape, taking away their vacation, and a poor setting. Hockey is not played on the beach; it is played in the snow. Putting Olympic hockey in the summer would be a terrible decision, and would satisfy no one other than the NHL.
The game’s best came out and vocalized their opinion on the NHL’s decision on Monday. Erik Karlsson called the NHL’s decision “crap”, adding that “whoever made that decision has no idea what they are doing.” The NHL’s decision to not participate is unique, as the NHL is the only league in the world that is not allowing their players to go. The KHL, SHL, AHL and many more have made it clear they will still be sending their players to the Olympics. These leagues, especially the KHL will have a huge opportunity for growth, as they have already made headway into China with Kunlun Red Star, and will likely look to grow into countries like South Korea and Japan. This is a missed opportunity for the NHL. China’s president Xi Jinping made a commitment to get 300 million people “on the ice”. With the 2022 Winter Olympics around the corner, this would be an opportune time to grow the sport. Yet, the NHL continues to restrict their global audience and have squandered this opportunity.
The 2010 Winter Olympics averaged 24.4 million viewers in prime-time, and the 2014 Winter Olympics saw peak viewership during the Canada/U.S. hockey semi-final. NBC reported that 61.8 million unique viewers tuned into the 2014 Winter Olympics. There would be a similar audience for NBC in 2018 and 2022, perhaps even bigger. For once, there would be a large audience in Asia. The potential exposure is astronomical, but, once again, it seems like it will not be a reality. This is truly a shame, and once again is a one-sided decision. The fans, players, IIHF and the IOC want the NHL players to be in PyeongChang and Beijing. The only opposition is the NHL and its owners. This opposition will likely rip away the potential of another moment like Crosby’s 2010 game-winner, and there will be children who will never get to share the joy I felt back in February of 2010.
The Penalty Box
- Brad Marchand was allegedly considered a changed player by much of the hockey community. I am not buying that at all. Marchand’s statistics and offensive abilities have improved significantly, but he is still an ass, for lack of a better word. Marchand has attempted slew foots and dangerous plays on unsuspecting opponents this season and in the past. In an important game for the Boston Bruins on Tuesday evening, he chose to spear Jake Dotchin of the Tampa Bay Lightning for no particular reason. Dotchin was okay, but Marchand got a five-minute major and a game misconduct, and is scheduled to have a hearing with NHL officials. This means Marchand could miss one of two or both of the Bruins’ remaining regular season games, which will impact their matchup in the post-season dramatically.
- The New York Islanders have tied together an impressive second half of the season to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. However, those hopes received a crushing blow last Friday when Islanders’ captain John Tavares went down awkwardly and immediately was favouring his leg. It sucks to see players get injured, especially the stars of the game. One can only hope this is not one of the last memories Islanders fans will have of Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract next season and the pressure mounts on management to sign him or trade him. The Brooklyn era of the Islanders will be defined by Tavares and management’s decision.
Stars of the Week
- The Ottawa Senators looked to have crisis on their hands until two surprises happened. On Monday evening at 5pm, unannounced, Erik Karlsson showed up at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit to tell the Senators he would play. Karlsson’s appearance grabbed the Senators a crucial point and he looked fabulous while being on one good leg. On Tuesday Karlsson played once again, but the Senators got another late acquisition, which was Clarke MacArthur. After 538 days MacArthur finally played in an NHL game again, and it was incredible. On his first shift Mac looked comfortable and in control, laying a hit on Red Wings’ Danny Dekeyser and getting into the corners right away. He finished with 9:44 of ice time, and helped the Senators get two massive points with a 2-0 win. After the game he received the third star, a standing ovation and had an emotional interview. As a Sens fan and personally a huge fan of Mac it was a tear-jerker to see him get emotional last night, the Sens are happy to have him back.
- The Washington Capitals are hitting their stride at the right time, as the league leading Caps are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. Leading the way has been Nicklas Backstrom who has 21 points in 17 games since March 1st. Backstrom has a team-high 85 points, and has shown he is more than just Alexander Ovechkin’s sidekick. Backstrom leads the NHL with 35 powerplay points and is a huge reason why the Capitals have a top tier powerplay and offense. Backstrom will need to carry this success into the playoffs, if he and the Capitals wish to finally get over the second round hump.
The Weekly Rap
- The Toronto Raptors have won eight of their last ten and have looked pretty consistent in doing so. The Raptors have finally passed the Washington Wizards, but will need to continue to tally wins if they look to keep third place in the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors can continue to get secondary scoring down the stretch they should be able to put a nice playoff run together. Especially with the return of all-star guard Kyle Lowry on Wednesday night.
- Head Coach Dwane Casey will be tasked with finding minutes for young guard Delon Wright as Kyle Lowry comes back. Wright has filled in excellently by coming off the bench and providing anywhere from 15-25 minutes a night for the Raptors. He has served as a floor general who also excels defensively. It would be an oversight for Casey not to use Wright in the playoffs when defense and having a deep bench can be so crucial. With Lowry likely to not have his legs right away, having Wright in the lineup will be key for the Raptors’ post-season success.
Top 5 NBA Power Ranking
- Warriors (64-14)
- That is twelve wins in a row for the Golden State Warriors and their foot is still on the gas. The Warriors have an easy schedule for their four remaining regular season games and will most likely get the Portland Trail Blazers or Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs. Regardless of who it is, they will likely serve as a victim to the Warriors who look scary good. Remember, the Warriors still do not have Kevin Durant back, if Durant’s teammates are playing this well when he comes back then the sky is the limit for the Warriors.
- Spurs (60-17)
- The San Antonio Spurs have bounced back and rattled off three straight wins. All of these wins came against Western Conference playoff teams, and one saw them beat their likely first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies. This series would be a grind for the Spurs, as Memphis similarly to San Antonio plays hard defense, but it would certainly get them accustom to the playoff atmosphere. Regardless the Spurs will take on all comers, and will be tough to beat with Kawhi Leonard leading the way and Gregg Popovich running operations on the bench.
- Celtics (50-27)
- The Boston Celtics host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in a potential conference decider. Both teams sit atop the Eastern Conference at 50-27, and with the playoffs looming this will be their final matchup before a potential Eastern Conference Finals meeting. The Celtics expect Avery Bradley to play on Wednesday despite his illness, and have said Jae Crowder will be a game-time decision after the MRI on his elbow came back negative. The Celtics understand the importance of home court advantage and will look to lock that up until the NBA Finals, with a win on Wednesday.
- Cavaliers (50-27)
- Cleveland has won their last three games, because of their scoring attack. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith have all scored 10 points or more in all three of these games. This balanced scoring attack helps spread the floor, and lead the Cavaliers, further enabling LeBron to setup his teammates and dominate defenders. The Cavaliers are going to beat teams by making it a track meet, so getting their offense cooking before the playoffs has been crucial, and could carry them to a win over the Celtics on Wednesday.
- Rockets (52-25)
- The Houston Rockets did not have a good week, but with Ryan Anderson coming back they will get some much needed help. Anderson missed over a week with a sprained ankle, and his contributions are needed that much more after Sam Dekker suffered a broken hand. Dekker’s injury will only see him miss three-four weeks of action, which can be considered a blessing for the Rockets who feared he would miss much more time. This team still does have MVP candidate James Harden to carry them, until they are fully healthy, so they should be okay in a first round matchup, minus Dekker and having a less than 100% Ryan Anderson.
NCAA Bracket Results
I said I would give shoutouts to everyone who beat my official bracket, so with that in mind….
Shoutout to the following people or accounts (if I couldn’t figure out who you were!):
Special shoutout to: Chase Casey on being the official winner of the JSST Bracket!
Now here is everyone else who made me cry at night!
- Matthew Saunders
- Justin Young
- Hannah Kocsis
- Brayden Cavanagh
- Janson Bautista
- Fraser Curry
- Kameron Beatty
- Tristan DM
- Kyle Poole
- Ethan Brown
- Shawn Corcoran
- Espn82844012 (Erkcity)
- Ryan Bili
- Steve Rozanec
- Kelsey Swindall
- Lucas Vani
- Parker Wilson
Thank you to everyone who participated and congratulations to everyone who beat me! It was a pleasure and I hope you will re-enter next March!
What to watch this week?
- Wednesday: Blue Jays vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Cavaliers vs Celtics 8:00pm ET, Thunder vs Grizzlies 8:00pm ET, Rangers vs Capitals 8:00pm ET
- Thursday: Senators vs Bruins 7:00pm ET, Lightning vs Leafs 7:30pm ET, Celtics vs Hawks 8:00pm ET, Blackhawks vs Ducks 10:00pm ET, Oilers vs Sharks 10:30pm ET
- Friday: Yankees vs Orioles 7:05pm ET, Lightning vs Habs 7:30pm ET, Heat vs Raptors 7:30pm ET
- Saturday: Senators vs Rangers 12:30pm ET, Red Sox vs Tigers 1:10pm ET, Capitals vs Bruins 3:00pm ET, Blue Jays vs Rays 6:10pm ET, Penguins vs Leafs 7:00pm ET, Clippers vs Spurs 8:30pm ET, Flames vs Sharks 10:00pm ET
- Sunday: Blue Jays vs Rays 1:10pm ET, Senators vs Islanders 5:00pm ET, (Last game at the Joe) Devils vs Red Wings 5:00pm ET, Penguins vs Rangers 7:00pm ET
- Monday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, Dodgers vs Cubs 8:05pm ET, Jazz vs Warriors 10:30pm ET, Rockets vs Clippers 10:30pm ET
- Tuesday: Cardinals vs Nationals 7:05pm ET, (Jays’ Home Opener) Brewers vs Blue Jays 7:07pm ET, D-Backs vs Giants 10:15pm ET
Special thanks to Geoff Marlowe for helping with the editing work and a big thank you to you the reader for taking your time to read my work! Appreciate it! Hope you continue to read along, if you have any suggestions/comments/questions, please feel free to inbox me or talk to me on Twitter @sassysaslove.