As the World Cup of Hockey winds down in less-than-dramatic fashion, thoughts are already turning to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. And those thoughts aren’t necessarily that positive. Reporter Chris Johnston tweeted out NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s thoughts on the matter yesterday, with Daly noting that he is more down on the possibility of NHLers going than he was two weeks ago.
There are myriad reasons why the NHL shouldn’t go to Korea, but the one that might spike it for real involves money. Shocker, I know – usually the International Olympic Committee doesn’t care about cash at all, right?
Staying on topic, the issue involves insurance and transportation costs for the NHLers. That can be pricey for the IOC, but it’s the cost of doing business if you want the best hockey players in the world to travel across the world, interrupt their own quests for the Stanley Cup, and entertain the planet for a couple weeks.
Daly (via Johnston’s Twitter feed, again) raised the possibility of NHLers returning to the Olympics in 2022, when the Games will be held in Beijing. I can see the pragmatism there. It’s still going to be super-inconvenient for the NHL, but China is a huge potential market and the KHL already planted a flag in the nation with the Kunlun Red Star franchise. If the NHL could get even a fraction of the market that the NBA has already tapped into, you’d never have a lockout again (ha ha, just kidding – Bettman’s still here).
I know the players love the Olympics and fans do too. My hang-up has always been that it forces the NHL to associate with the loathsome IOC – of course the hockey is good once you get to the medal round. But right now, as we have watched Canada stomp the field at the World Cup, I have to wonder how competitive the 2018 Games would even be. Sure, Team USA doesn’t botch its roster and have John Tortorella behind the bench (you would hope), but the Americans might be the only rival for Canada, which would add Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad to a core featuring a still-excellent Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron. Russia’s defense will still be threadbare in two years, while Sweden likely won’t have a dominant scorer (and perhaps no No. 1 goalie, depending on how Henrik Lundqvist ages). Maybe it’s all for the best to skip Korea, money issues or not.
Of course, a lot can change in time. The NHL doesn’t have to make a final decision until January 2017, when the 2017-18 schedule is imposed. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail and the IOC will pony up. Otherwise, Korea will basically be the Spengler Cup Part Deux and it won’t even be worth covering.