With statements released today from Gary Bettman about NHL Olympic participation being in doubt unless the IOC will pay for the associated travel and insurance costs, it brings renewed conversation about whether we should send NHL players at all.

The Olympics have provided Canada with some fantastic hockey moments since the NHL decided to allow players to participate. I know I look forward to every game, even between countries other than Canada that had NHLers on them.

The debate seems to always be a hot one with almost everyone weighing in from NHL league reps, players, management and ownership, coaches, and the sports media reporters themselves who follow these players. I started off looking for reasons why the NHL should carry on going to the Olympics. The most common ones are promotion of the NHL brand internationally, it’s a real honour and treat for the players, the quality of the games are increased, other Canadian athletes get the chance to interact with NHLers, and of course the players who aren’t there have a 2 week break in the NHL season to rest and recover from mid season injuries.

What are the possible counter arguments? Well, who better to ask than even more NHL league reps, players, management and ownership, coaches, and the sports media reporters who follow them.

Some say the risk of injury to NHL players is not worth sending them for. The owners don’t like it because it possibly cheats their season ticket holders if a star is hurt. Then there’s the potential wear and tear on players from travel if the Olympics are too far away for them. Also, the two week break might make people lose interest in the NHL season costing the league fans and revenue.
If part of the NHL faction wants to participate but another portion of the NHL doesn’t, how do we decide whether to send them or not?

Here’s what I did to decide. I thought about it from the point of view of someone that has nothing to do with the NHL. Imagine that? The Olympics not revolving around the high minded goals of the National Hockey League? I know it’s tough, but now let’s run through the pros of NHL participation again.

1)Promoting the NHL brand internationally. This should be the easiest to counter. What a horrible reason to decide who gets to represent their country at the Olympics and who doesn’t. How about promoting the Canadian brand internationally? Yes the best players are the top product of the Canadian system. But if we as a nation have to repeatedly rely on our top 20-40 NHL players to at least be competitive at an international level what does that say about us at the grass roots level? It would be a great way to test how deep we are as a nation. We may not win every time, but we don’t win every time now. It’s amazing the number of North Americans playing in domestic semi-pro leagues as well as pro over in Europe that could (skill wise) be playing in the NHL.

2)It’s a real honour and treat for the players to represent their country. Yes, any chance you get to represent your country is amazing and the Olympics would have to be the pinnacle of that experience. But most of the players at the NHL level that would be considered for Olympic team training camps have already been to the U17 and U18, World Juniors, U22, U23, etc. Pick an age to be under, there’s a tournament for you. As a pro there’s the World Championships and more. Yes the Olympics are great but that’s a pretty selfish reason to keep someone else from going. It would mean just as much to anyone who had the opportunity. What if the “amateurs” who used to go had originally petitioned to the NHL to stop considering sending players because it was a real honour for them? I doubt that would have been enough.

3)The quality of the games is increased. I should hope so, Captain Obvious. Here’s your sign.

4)Other athletes get the chance to interact with the NHLers. Yes, when Little Johnny took up snowboarding and spent all his own money training, sacrificing friends and never being home it was all worth it for one reason. He’ll never forget the day he qualified for the Olympics and could finally tell his parents that he could now possibly catch a glimpse of Jonathan Toews up close.

5)The NHL players that don’t participate can rest for two weeks. Does this actually have anything to do with what kind of team represents Canada in the most sacred international competition ever? So a six or seven figure earner can have 10 days to take a break from the greatest job in the world?

Now, I’m kind of having fun with this and maybe there are some valid reasons presented somewhere by someone that has nothing to do with the NHL but I will say this. I remember as a midget player having guys from the Canadian National Program come work out with us. I remember when this was sort of a separate entity and a goal in and of itself apart from the NHL/AHL ranks. Yes, as a Nova Scotian I’m proud to say that we’ve recently supplied a captain of the Canadian Men’s Olympic team. You may have heard of Sidney Crosby, a gutsy, hard working guy and a class act. He is a leader of the best of the best and I was just as emotionally overcome as the next guy when he scored The Golden Goal. I would never want to take that moment away from him and from our country. However, I also remember a time when a gutsy, hard working class act from Nova Scotia named Fabian Joseph could be named Olympic Team captain. He also won two silver medals by the way, just in case you thought maybe we weren’t competitive then. I wouldn’t want to take that experience away from him and his family and for our country either. Yes, a lot of these players ended up either in the NHL or were at least drafted, but they weren’t all the superstar household names. They were the depth guys and the bubble players, and in a lot of cases they were just as good. The more relatable career guys living a slightly modified Canadian dream. They used to be a whole other set of heroes beyond the elite NHLer that a young Canadian player could look up to and strive to be. That’s what the Olympics once was and should continue to be.

I do love that the NHL players get to go because it means we get to send our best. But bottom line is the decision should be based on the growth and health of the game in each nation, not the growth or health of one North American league.

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