One question that has lingered since the lockout ended has been about NHL players being given clearance to represent their home countries in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi. This week, the league and NHLPA met with both the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation to finalize plans for that to happen.
The league came prepared with a list of things they wanted in place before they’d give their final blessing. The main thing the league wants is to be treated much like a sponsor would be treated. Aside from giving league and union staff access to tickets and event sites, they’re asking to use the Olympic logo for advertising purposes. Using the Olympic rings in league promotions would be a boon for teams who attach it to their logos and websites, and those NHL players who eventually win a medal would receive special promotion. In using the Olympic logo, everyone would benefit.
There are, however, two main hurdles to any deal that’s made. The first is the risk of injury to players. Injury in any international tournament is a big concern to owners and general managers, but the Olympics takes place at a crucial time in the season, right as teams begin making their final push for a spot in the playoffs. If a top player should be hurt during the tournament, it could hurt his team’s chances for the playoffs. Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates has voiced his concerns about injury during the Olympics, particularly about Alex Ovechkin, but owner Ted Leonsis has stated that he will give his blessing for Ovechkin to join the Russian national team over Oates’ objections.
The second sticking point has to do with scheduling. In order for players to participate, the league will essentially have to shut down for 16 days, with February 9 being the last day games would be played. When you have an average of five games played per night during the season, that could be a sizable hit to revenue. One solution could be making up that lost revenue with the advertising revenue from use of the Olympic logo if it’s permitted. But after locking out players for four months and losing so much money, the league probably shouldn’t whine so much about this point.
Any deal that is made will have an impact on not only the Sochi games but the Pyeongchang games in 2018 as well. Whatever the deal, it will ideally benefit players in next year’s Olympics and those who have dreams of hitting the ice in four years.