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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Superior Olympics threaten Bettman

Puck tourney vastly better than NHL

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Let's be honest and just come out and say it: The NHL feels threatened by the Olympics.

Do not digest the tripe that tells us that NHL owners don't like Olympic hockey because they are solely concerned with a John Tavares-type situation (MCL & meniscus tear) befalling their team.

And certainly do not pay any heed to New York Islanders GM Garth Snow lamenting, "It's a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don't want to pay when our best player gets hurt."

The last time I checked, the Islanders were sitting pretty in 25th place in the NHL, so Tavares or not, it's not like Snow had to cancel his playoff vacation plans.

No, the NHL owners, and especially commissioner Gary Bettman, do not like Olympic hockey because it is a far superior product to what they offer the masses, and they think they get nothing out of it.

They do have a point. Every four years the Winter Olympics are so good, it almost ruins the game for many of us. All the greatest players, from all the greatest hockey nations on earth, get together, play for the love of the sport, and spoil hockey fans over the course of 12 short days.

The fourth line for team Canada gives me Patrick Sharp, Matt Duchene and Rick Nash. The fourth line of my local neighbourhood NHL team gives me James Wright, Eric O'Dell, and Anthony Peluso. No offence to anything Winnipeg Jets-related, but you do the math: It's hard to go back to pedestrian living once you've been lounging in the penthouse for a couple weeks.

At the Olympics, the players leave their eight-figure contracts at home, ride bicycles through the village, sleep two to a room, get motivational notes passed to them from the hockey "girls," and demonstrate just how passionate they can be about the game. There are no two-way players, no projects, and no goons. Olympic hockey is so good, you actually don't even miss the fighting. There is no other time during the NHL season, outside of maybe the Stanley Cup final, where many of us would attest to that.

Platform

In the NHL, you have 82 games in a season and 30 teams. There are 12 teams in the Olympics, and if you are good enough, you play six games. The Olympics season is a twice a decade event, where superstars clamour for a seat on their nation's platform and they sprint to the finish line. To be sure, good hockey is played most days in the NHL regular season, but slow and steady always wins that race.

The argument of the commissioner and owners is that the NHL risks everything and stands to gain nothing from allowing its players to participate in this tournament. The counter to this premise is that the Olympics put hockey on a global platform, introduces it to a brand-new audience, and showcases the game at its very best.

The NHL may have no direct financial rewards for granting the participation of its assets, but the exposure and interest the Games generate are invaluable.

When two teams meet in the Stanley Cup finals, two cities in all of North America get riled up. When Olympic hockey teams face off against one another, entire countries are galvanized and get involved. It's like confederation revisited every four years.

Snow said the Olympics, "...want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don't want to pay when our best player gets hurt." I think he's actually looking at the situation upside down. The Olympics do more for the NHL and hockey overall than any Stanley Cup season ever could. It showcases the game at a nearly incomprehensible level, and shows us the difference between what the players are paid to do, and what they love to do.

It would be nothing less than a tragedy if 2014 were to be the last.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 25, 2014 D2

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