2014 Olympic games will need NHL’s stars

first_imgBack in the mid ’90s, when most of us were still watching Power Rangers and eating pizza Lunchables, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was trying to get NHL players into the Olympic games. After a 1995 agreement, it was announced that the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan would be the first to allow NHL players to play.Flash forward to now, and the league is on its Olympic hiatus while hordes of NHL-ers flock to Vancouver for the Games. And if Bettman has anything to say about it, it might be the last time this happens.“It’s difficult for any business, any league, to shut down for two weeks with the attendant loss of attention and everything that flows from it, and there are competitive issues,” Bettman told the Associated Press.It’s hard to blame him for worrying about losing attention. The league is still trying to regain popularity after its 2004-2005 lockout, and if you want to catch an NHL game, you need to turn to Versus, not ESPN.Bettman’s worried the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia aren’t conducive to large television audiences in North America. The whole “being eight or nine time zones away,” thing tends to do that. So Bettman’s early solution is for the NHL to carry on through the 2014 Olympics like nothing is happening. Apparently it’s fine if the games are within the cozy confines of the U.S./Canadian television markets, but if the torch is lit past the Prime Meridian, there are some problems.Pump your brakes, Commish.I understand that two weeks is a long time for there not to be an NHL game. But we’ve survived the past 12 years sending our pros to the Olympics and you’re still hanging in there. And I know you’re sending the game’s best away to potentially get injured — but that’s the point — it’s the game’s best that are competing.Team Canada, a.k.a. the NHL all-stars, could feature a line with Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla. For you non-hockey types, that’s like having Peyton Manning, Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Peterson in a 3-on-3 street football league.Behind those guys you have the NHL’s highest scoring line in the San Jose trio of Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton (85 goals, 119 assists for 204 points). Regardless of whether you’re a Canada fan or not, that’s going to be fun to watch.And even though Canada has the hockey version of an All-Madden team, the rest of the field isn’t just going to roll over and give the Canucks the gold. Russia has one of the world’s best in Alex Ovechkin and a superstar center in Evgeni Malkin. Team USA has young stars in Patrick Kane and Zach Parise, as well as former Badgers Joe Pavelski and Brian Rafalski. This isn’t going to be the U.S. basketball team in Beijing; it’s going to be a full slate of top-notch games.When you have that many talented players competing for their home nations, you’re going to see some great hockey. Take away the NHL-ers and you get some of that old-school mystique back, but also consider this: Major League Baseball players don’t compete in the Summer Games. And when’s the last time you watched an Olympic baseball game?Of course, that’s Bettman’s argument. With no NHL players in the Olympics, his league gets to keep its audiences.But a baseball gold medal doesn’t carry the same weight that a hockey gold medal does, and the repercussions of going back to amateurs for hockey makes a two-week hiatus seem like a minor inconvenience.If the NHL stopped sending players to the Olympics, we go back to drawing from the pool of amateur players and pros in other leagues to fill rosters. Yipee.So if we figure that many of the best U.S. amateur players play NCAA hockey, this becomes a headache for a number of universities. If you want proof, just ask anyone on the UW women’s team. With star forwards Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan taking a season off for the Olympics, the Badgers have struggled to find consistency.Hypothetically, Wisconsin could lose defenseman Ryan McDonagh or goal-scoring center Blake Geoffrion to the senior squad. Across the WCHA, guys like Denver’s Rhett Rakhshani and Minnesota’s Jordan Schroeder might make the U.S. team.Combine the skaters lost to the senior squad with players on the Junior team and you have some schools that might be missing five players for various parts of the season. UW was without three players during the World Junior Championship and 11 of the 22 players on the U.S. roster for that tournament play at the collegiate level, and seven of those came from WCHA teams alone.It’s a sappy argument, I know, but with only four years of NCAA eligibility, some seniors without a future in hockey might miss the chance to make a Frozen Four run because key players are missing the season for the Olympics. The NHL just shuts down and nobody misses anything — although players lost to the games come back a little more worn out then their non-Olympic counterparts.Yes, it’s inconvenient to shut down the league for the Olympics. But handicapping college teams isn’t any better of a situation for the U.S. and the lower level of competition in an NHL-less Olympics would take some of the luster off the tournament. Isn’t the point of the Games to see the world’s best athletes? What you’ve got going right now works, Gary; let’s not go messing things up.Adam is a junior majoring in journalism. Should the NHL stay out of the Olympics, or would you rather see all its stars on the big stage? E-mail him at aholt@badgerherald.comlast_img

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