The NHL has done this before, but somehow this seems worse.
The NHL has shut down business at one of the best times for exposure before, but somehow going to the Olympics in Sochi this year seems worse.
The NHL has sent players to the Games since 1998 in Nagano, Japan, and I’ve railed against this nonsense since then. These games come after the Super Bowl and before March Madness, which should be prime time for the NHL.
But no. The NHL is closing down. Again.
Closing down for the longest time since it began sending the pros to the Olympics.
Closing down so its best players can deal with a different brand of hockey at ridiculous hours for its main audience.
The NHL always seems like the fifth sport in a four-sport world. It should crave having a spotlight window.
But no. The NHL is sending that spotlight halfway around the world. Sounds like they should start the concussion testing in the league offices.
Ideally, the NHL wants another U.S.-Canada gold-medal game. That was the matchup in 2010 in Vancouver and 2002 in Salt Lake City, both won by Canada.
But history says it won’t happen under these conditions.
When the North American countries get off the continent and suffer jet lag and have to play on bigger Olympic ice, history says the U.S. and Canada bomb out.
In 2006 in Italy, Canada finished seventh while the U.S. finished eighth. Sweden beat Finland for the gold. The Czech Republic beat Russia for the bronze.
In 1998 in Nagano, the Czechs defeated the Russians for the gold, while Finland beat Canada for the bronze. The U.S. finished tied for fifth and some Americans ended their stay by trashing their rooms.
Nothing will be as embarrassing as the Americans in Japan, but simply in terms of NHL participation, this Olympic year feels worse.
And I think the Blackhawks have made it so. For me, anyway.
Since Canada beat the U.S. in overtime to win the gold in 2010, and Jonathan Toews was named the most outstanding forward, the Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups. That’s the difference right there.
Before the 2010 Games, the Hawks had given us championship hopes. Since then, those have become championship expectations.
Everything the Hawks do is viewed through the prism of winning the Cup. Not so long ago, that was a joke. Then it became legitimate to measure the Hawks against the Red Wings. And then Patrick Kane shot a puck into immortality.
The Hawks are the reigning champions again, but this time they have the talent to repeat. However, repeating in sport’s toughest postseason becomes tougher still while enduring a compressed regular-season schedule that exacts a greater physical toll demanded by the foolishness of going to the Games.
Injuries are going to happen, sure. But they’re more likely in a jammed schedule, which also means more games missed because of injuries, which might have an effect on playoff seeding. And then to risk more injury by sending the best players halfway around the world to play for somebody else is stupid, even for the NHL.
I don’t like Olympic hockey on the bigger ice, anyway, and I certainly don’t like things that hurt Chicago’s chances of winning a title. Yeah, it’s provincial. Tough noogies.
I also don’t like my favorite sport shutting down, especially at a time when it could grab more attention.
Olympic hockey is not the best hockey in the world. NHL hockey is. The NHL ought to figure that out.