As the NHL and NHLPA continue to negotiate the eventual CBA which will end the lockout and let both sides get back to rebuilding the smoldering mess that is the 2012-13 season (and the even worse mess that is fan confidence in the league), there are many...non-essential issues to be covered. They'll get the HRR definition and split figured out; they'll work on contract term limits and variability. They will agree on a length for the CBA somewhere along the lines; they'll codify how long players have to wait before getting their 2nd contracts and how long before they're true UFAs. Heck, they might even get that pesky realignment issue settled.
Depending on the length they decide on, the CBA will also include a section which will specifically mention participation in the Olympic Games for 2014, 2018, and perhaps 2022. For this purpose, I'm going to pretend this upcoming CBA is not going to be in effect for the 2022 games, so that leaves us with only 2014 and 2018.
These are games that the NHL and NHLPA should agree will not heavily feature NHL players, if at all. It's better for the North American game like that. Here's why:
These games are in shitty places
All respect to Sochi, Russia and Pyeongchang, South Korea. I'm sure those are lovely places and will offer all the best that the Winter Olympics can expect from their venues. Being a worldly man myself, I love foreign places because they're inherently more interesting than domestic ones. Even better, they're not full of Canadians. Sadly though, these things are little comfort when you take into consideration that Sochi is 9 hours ahead of EST and Pyeonchang is 14 hours ahead. Unless these places are going to work out their schedules to start playing games at 4 and 9am local time, they're shitty places to host hockey games.
Don't give me that "There's a thing called a DVR" bullshit either. Spending your entire work day and the entire "live rebroadcast" of the game avoiding Twittter sucks. It's just like Willy Wonka said: "Don't forget what happened the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted... he lapsed into a coma thanks to the drop in blood pressure caused by the very next erection he got."
The Spirit of the Olympics is better served by the NHL
Quick, what the hell are the Olympics about anyway? I'm sure if you asked the IOC, they'd tell you something about promoting understanding, peace, environmentalism, cooperation, and a ton of other things before offering their bid bribe money to the nearest person willing to brain you with a pipe for asking. The nearest we can figure, it's about the fun spirit of international competition to see who has the best athletes in a given sport. That's cool and all when we're talking about luge and ski jumping. We should probably get everybody together every four years to check that; why not?
But, if you're looking for the best gathering of athletes from all around the world to get together and create the highest level of competition you can, then stopping the league which actually does that in the middle of them doing just that would be like holding the Pro Bowl during halftime of the Super Bowl.
Canada has nowhere to go but down, Russia nowhere but up
As an American, there's something I'm still learning about international competition. That something is the full breadth and scope about how much Russia and Canada hate each other when it comes to hockey. We like to cling to the Miracle on Ice as our "look at us, we also did something noticeable!" moment, but it was a miracle because the US does not belong in the discussion of national hockey powerhouses (yet). These two hate each other like Gary Bettman hates tipping servers. They hate each other like Nashville fans hate logic. They hate each other like the Winnipeg press hates Evander Kane.
So in 2010, when Canada won gold in Vancouver, they set themselves at the very top of the hockey world. Russia came in a horribly disappointing sixth place. With Russia hosting the next set of games, the pressure on them to win gold is going to be huge. The pressure for Canada to keep their own gold will also be large, but they have a great option coming up right now to hedge those bets and shoot for the moon. You see, if Canada doesn't send their NHL stars, their juniors still have a decent shot at gold. Russia would be the odds-on favorite, having their homegrown KHL stars.
If Canada wins gold with their juniors over a bunch of KHLers and whichever Russian NHLers flat out leave the league (or are granted a leave of absence by their clubs), then they'll have bragging rights forever. If Russia wins the gold, Canadians can insulate themselves from criticism with an easy argument that Russia's gold doesn't count nearly as much as their own 2010 victory did because it wasn't the best-of-the-best.
Sending amateurs to the Olympics makes them better
It's time to stop coddling the amateurs by sending the pros to do their work for them. "Here kid, go to this two-week international tournament where you're expected to win and don't come back until you do." Simple. You want them to grow up into awesome NHLers? Start piling the pressure on earlier.
Did I mention the time zone difference?
Seriously? The NHL is going to lock out its hardcore fans for this long and then they're going to shut down their own product to cater to them? Why? It's pretty clear that the league wants casual fans and we're also pretty sure casual fans aren't going to watch games aired at 8am on a weekday. If the hard core fans aren't already driven off, then skipping the Olympics probably isn't going to do that either. As they try to rebuild their base, pausing that rebuilding by shutting down a playoff race and goofing with the trade deadline all so their best stars can go risk injury elsewhere isn't going to do that.
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The good news is that the CBA will probably expire before irreparable international damage is done by the NHL choosing not to go to the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. It can also help from a business standpoint for the NHL to send a message that they're only going to sign a CBA where they go to the Olympics when the IOC chooses better time zones in which to hold them. It's win-win all around.