SOCHI, Russia — A handful of KHL players, a few NHLers on the back stretch of their careers and a couple of teams chock full of players most hockey fans would have trouble recognizing was the scene at the Bolshoy Ice Dome Saturday in a moment foreshadowing the future of Olympic hockey.
Once the refuge of Canadian players somehow estranged from the NHL and Europeans still playing at home, Olympic hockey is going back to the days of alphabet soup where the North American fans is concerned. As in, "What’s that guy’s name? How do you pronounce it? Who drafted him? Why isn’t he in the NHL?"
If the NHL goes through with its plan to reinstate the World Cup and repeal its Olympic-participation agreement, this Sochi tournament will be the last of its kind featuring the best players in the world regardless of which league they work in.
More and more the talk is there will be no NHL agreement to send its players to Pyeongchang, South Korea where the 2018 Winter Games will be held.
Will Alex Ovechkin tell the NHL he’s going to the Olympics whether they want it or not? Will Ovechkin stand up for the good of Korea as he did when there was doubt about his league coming to Sochi? Even if he did, how many would join him?
Will Sidney Crosby risk his contract and his future to elevate the Olympic ideal? Who could blame him if he didn’t?
Jiri Novotony — a journeyman of 189 NHL games who might be best remembered to Manitobans for his time playing with the Rochester Americans — represents the next phase of Olympic hockey in both ability and anonymity.
Novotony isn’t quite a no-name but he’s close. A fine player but not elite, Novotny found the NHL to be a touch above his station.
Good but not great — the IOC’s men’s hockey slogan for 2018.
We simply won’t be sending our best and that will result in a lack of engagement. Canadians and Americans will cease to care about hockey at the Olympics.
Certainly this isn’t the problem or concern of Gary Bettman and the NHL. His job is to create revenue for the NHL and while the Olympics has been a promotional boon, it hasn’t generated cash. From Bettman’s perspective, the Olympics has outlived its usefulness, and now it’s time to monetize international play with an NHL-owned World Cup.
So enjoy Crosby and Ovechkin and Toews and Kane and the superstar quality of these Games. They’re on their way out and just like The Replacements was a tough sell at the box office, so too will they be at the Olympic Games.