Thanks to the NHL I’m experiencing a little bit of a bummer about the 2018 Olympics. Now, I actually understand a little bit from both sides of the argument, so I’m not ready to pick a side here except for my own side as a fan. I’m getting a raw deal here. You’re getting a raw deal. I think the players in the NHL are getting a raw deal. The NHL and the IOC? I will save my sympathies for more deserving recipients.
So here’s how I see things. The NHL and the IOC are simply money making corporations. If there is still a person out there that believes the Olympics are about amateur sport and national excellence it’s because that’s simply what they want to believe. There’s no helping that person. They live in an imaginary world of make-believe where amateur athletes perform because of their passion for the sport and love of country. That’s fine, and maybe to some degree, there’s still a semblance of truth somewhere in there to be found, but the Olympics are no more about amateur sport than McDonalds is about feeding hungry people.
The Olympics is about money. It’s about making heaps and heaps of Scrooge-McDuck-jumping-head-first-into-a-pool-of-gems-and-gold-coins money. The IOC basically operates by convincing countries to fund the construction of monorails – er – stadiums and other sporting venues that hold capacities unlikely to ever be filled again with tax-payer dollars, raking in massive dollars from these events, then moving on to the next sucker. It’s fantastic. I LOVE the Olympic games. I watch all the time, have every year, and will again in 2018 too. But it’s just a massive sporting tournament that exists to make profits.
It serves no other function. This isn’t the Olympics of Ancient Greece which also served religious and political purposes for a collection of city-states. It’s just ticket sales. And that’s fine because so is the NHL.
The NHL doesn’t exist to bring hockey to my TV. It exists to make money, like all private businesses. If the owners of the NHL could make more money hosting eSports in their 20,000 seat arenas and make more money, the only ice we’d see at hockey games would be in our $7 sodas and simulated by Playstations.
So the NHL and the IOC have been under some agreement that working together benefits each other tangibly. That is to say, the dollars made sense. And make no mistake, with 31 NHL teams owned by different billionaires, these guys have worked out exactly how much money the partnership has added to their pockets.
Now the IOC and the NHL negotiate every Olympics and every Olympics the IOC caves and pays for the travel and the insurance on the NHL players. It happened this year too. That’s been the sticking point for the NHL up to these Olympics. However, the NHL got what they normally have been satisfied getting and it still isn’t enough for them. The current reporting suggests they wanted to be treated like an official sponsor of the Olympics and get all of the perks that come with it WITHOUT forking over the hundreds of millions of dollars that it costs to do so.
Additionally, the NHL wanted to leverage Olympic participation against the NHLPA in exchange for an extension of the current CBA (which we know by that offer must be working out for the owners pretty well). So the NHL was trying to further line their pockets from the Olympic participation while also ensuring that owners continue to line their pockets from the current CBA.
Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the NHL trying either of those tactics. They have a right to try to make money. I can see from the money grubbing IOC’s perspective that they can’t just give away top sponsorship privileges without collecting hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s crazy. Imagine for a second that you sold a special badge that had no actual intrinsic value. It was useless to society in every way, but people would give you MILLIONS for it because you only had a few of these utterly useless badges. Would you give it away? No, of course not, because then people might see it’s useless and not pay millions for it anymore.
Also, imagine if you were the NHL and you were asked to farm out your product – that YOU sell for millions of dollars – and all you get in return was “growth of the game” that you could definitely calculate but only after the fact and whose value to you was a moving target at best. The IOC would cover the cost of the tournament and insurance but you had to sit there and watch them rake in millions with your product and smile like a dummy. Wouldn’t you ask for more? Wouldn’t you say, “Hey, I want in on your racket too?” Of course you would.
So I’m equally unhappy with the IOC and the NHL in this turn of events that will now see Nigel Dawes be Canada’s top forward (seriously, he had 62 points in 59 KHL games last year). This really is the darkest timeline for Olympic hockey. Now there’s a chance that the NHL is bluffing and the league will still participate. I know NHL players are hopeful for this. But I was hopeful that the 2004-2005 lockout was a bluff. It wasn’t a bluff. The world was less than a year away from being gifted a line of McDavid–Crosby–Stamkos on an Olympic sized ice surface. If that doesn’t make you want to throw up with rage then your heart is cold and broken.
For McDavid, he is young enough that there’s hope he will play in some other Olympic games (Or sport. Looking at you, short-track speed skating). For some of the middle aged NHL players, this probably closes a door on their Olympic careers. That’s sad because I actually think, harkening back to paragraph two, that NHL players make enough money already that the Olympics really are just about representing their countries at the highest level.
So we’ve been dealt a bad hand here by the NHL and the IOC. We don’t get to see the best national teams play each other. We won’t get to see the best teams from Canada and the US. Ok, well, Canada – because we know the US was going to screw it up anyway. Connor McDavid will be playing games for the Oilers and not with a Maple Leaf on his chest (sorry Leaf fans, the Olympics was as close as you were ever gonna get). That’s something Oiler fans can live with, but outside of Edmonton that’s a major loss for hockey. Connor McDavid will not be the NHL’s global ambassador for the sport at the 2018 Olympics. I wish I could say to NHL owners and IOC officials that this situation is an embarrassment to the game of hockey, but neither will care.
It’s just about money.