NHL Might Finally Take an Olympic Stand

I’m glad to see NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman admit the Olympics does very little for the NHL.

Yesterday, I watched Russia-Czech Republic on NBC and USA-Canada on MSNBC, both games moderately-to-negligibly hyped, and both games played with a ton of NHL players (or former NHL players, in the case of Russia-Czech Republic).

I wouldn’t have watched if so many NHLers hadn’t been playing. And I’m sure a lot of other people were watching for the same reason.

So basically, you have the NHL loaning talent and prestige to an event, bringing viewers to the matches, yet not really enhancing the NHL.

In fact, more than loaning talent, the NHL goes an extra step and actually shuts down its own product in order to participate in someone elses.

And what exactly does the NHL get out of its Olympic participation? Certainly not promotion of the sport.

Larry Brooks agrees the NHL doesn’t get much out of this Olympic partnership, but thinks fans are overreacting to NBC’s treatment of Olympic hockey:

I have never quite understood why people who love hockey are so consumed with validation from the masses who simply do not appreciate the sport. Of course NBC isn’t devoting three hours of a preliminary-round hockey game between the U.S. and Canada on its prime commercial network.

To expect otherwise is lunacy, and to protest the network’s decision by playing the lack-of-respect card is counter-productive.

I’m not sure if people are upset by a perceived lack of respect, so much as they’re upset the sport is being stopped for the Olympics, yet not really promoted or grown by NBC. Basically, the NHL is getting ripped off by NBC and the Olympics and a lot of fans are upset by the crime.

I don’t know of any NHL fan who thinks hockey is a mainstream American sport. But when the sport does find itself in the mainstream, like with the Olympics, it would be nice if the league could capitalize on the exposure. I would argue that’s what upsetting fans, not networks and time slots.

Having said all that, how great was it seeing Jaromir Jagr holding his own against some of the NHL’s best players? Russia played him tight and he didn’t have much support, but he still managed to show there are very few players that are stronger on the puck than he is.

It’s a shame the match wasn’t taking place in some kind of heavily-hyped, well-promoted NHL-KHL interleague game, rather than buried in a Sunday afternoon Olympics.