You don’t need NHL players to produce an exciting Olympic hockey tournament
As of this writing, the NHL and NHLPA have not officially left Beijing.
The news is expected to arrive today, however, and it’s hardly surprising. It had to be done, period. Whether you look at it from a COVID-19 or a political perspective, the NHL’s participation – albeit sympathetic – was always going to be tainted at this year’s tournament.
It’s worth giving the men’s Olympic tournament a chance, however.
Most people canceled the 2018 edition because the best players weren’t there. For an Olympic event, you want the best of the best. But Pyeongchang still created some amazing moments. There was a real competition for the title: Olympic athletes from Russia were definitely the favorites and ultimately won gold. But they lost to Slovakia in the tournament’s opening game, and Slovenia – a team that only reached the qualifying round – came second in a three-way tiebreaker in Group B after having defeated the United States. Germany, a team that avoided last place in Group C with a shootout victory over Norway, came second. Canada, the team that would likely have reached gold if they had competed in the NHL, won only bronze.
Was this the best hockey? No. But was it competitive? Absoutely. Remember 2014, a tournament that didn’t have much drama for the championship-winning Canadians other than a close battle against Latvia. The 2018 tournament had the same big dog drama every night, and it ended up being quite an event.
But for North American fans, it was hard to get excited. A 14-hour time difference meant watching games and waking up to work the next day was impossible, and the NHL was still playing within its normal time slots.
The average fan may not care about the emotional attachment that just being part of the tournament means for so many of these players. While 2018 provided an opportunity for players like Troy Terry and Kirill Kaprizov to show their future NHL teams what they are capable of, the majority of players were never going to try their luck in the NHL or at the Games again. Olympic. It was a special moment, but the fans want the best action possible. They wanted McDavid, Crosby and Ovechkin, not Hager, Roy and Noreau.
The stars are born. Maybe not global international stars as you might expect, but cult new heroes for individual teams. It’s good for them, and maybe not important to other fans, but like Crosby was in 2010 for Canada, Kaprizov was for Russia in 2018.
And from a point of competition, the overall talent spread becomes much smaller when you take out future Hockey Hall of Fame members. The fact that Germany fought for their life to advance to the final against a favorite Canadian team shows that anything can happen when a medal is on the line. of a last minute Olympic qualifying tournament, didn’t have an easy path to the money, but played well when it mattered.
Canada and the United States won’t have their best players at their disposal, but they will have a mix of players from European professional leagues, the AHL and maybe some NCAA and CHL talent as well. In principle, they should have stronger squads than the majority of the rosters in Beijing – but 2018 has proven that it doesn’t matter if you can’t come together as a squad well enough.
But, right now, you have to ask yourself: will the âreplacementâ players want to be there in the first place? If a player contracts COVID while in China, they could face a five-week quarantine period. For players with smaller European salaries, they can’t afford to miss out on the league action to sit alone in a foreign country. NHL players didn’t like it, and rightly so, but the impact could be far greater for those who don’t make millions playing the sport.
Many might not care – they know the opportunity is too great to pass up and, like in 2018, you never know if such an opportunity will happen again. That passion for the game – many know it’s the biggest milestone they’ll ever reach – can shine at a time like this.
It’s really disappointing that the best players in the world won’t be able to play next February and hopefully 2026 will finally provide us with that opportunity after waiting since 2014. In a normal year all of this would have been doable, but too many stars have fallen. from heaven to force the situation in which we find ourselves.
So, at the very least, give the tournament a chance if you can. It’s not the same, but it should still be good. The half-day difference between time zones will be tough, but it could be rewarding if you enjoy competitive, tight hockey action.