The NHL is in a very unique position in regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics. No other professional sport that lends its athletes to Olympic competition has their players taking a break during their season to participate in the games only to reconvene after the Olympics have finished.
Sure, the NBA allows their players to participate in the Summer Olympics, but the NBA season is long finished before the athletes actually begin competition. The NHL has its athletes in the middle of the season leaving for Sochi, Russia to participate in games that could jeopardize their NHL seasons and possibly careers.
From a fan standpoint, Olympic competition is tremendous. Watching players play for their country and demonstrate such pride for their heritage is something that is so rare in today’s day and age it is refreshing; however, as a fan you do have to be concerned for the athletes on your favorite NHL team to remain healthy so no injuries linger and hurt the chances at a Stanley Cup run upon their return.
With potential injuries and time taken away from the regular NHL job description, one can’t help but ask if the Winter Olympics are a distraction from the NHL season.
Think about Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. Bylsma is not just the bench boss for the Penguins, but he was also selected to coach Team USA in the Olympics. Think one of those jobs doesn’t suffer a little for the other? If Bylsma focuses solely on the Penguins and the NHL then is he putting all he has into the Team USA preparation for Sochi? It could go the other way as well.
The players also could suffer from the distraction of the Olympic games. Not only will they be playing with players they are not familiar with, but they will also be skating on a bigger ice surface that will take an adjustment when they return to their smaller NHL rinks.
The NHL thought about not allowing its players to participate in Olympic games before eventually allowing them to participate, and I honestly wouldn’t have disagreed if they decided to go the other way. Taking a two-week hiatus in the middle of the season isn’t always the best plan of action for your product; however, now only time will tell if the Olympics are a distraction or just an added bonus for those that get to participate in them.
Personally, I look forward to Olympic competition and seeing players that go from superstars in the NHL to just another cog in the wheel all in the name of their country. You don’t get to see that every day — more like every four years.