NHL Agrees to Send Players to Sochi Olympics ... As If
The lowest-tension drama of pre-Winter Olympic build-up has been resolved.
Was the NHL ever going to ban its players from going to Sochi?
The league has done some dumb stuff -- think last year's lockout -- but it's not stupid.
- TV ratings are on a roll,
- USA broadcast partner NBC has paid well for the rights to the Sochi games,
- The Russian players were going to be there, regardless,
- The Vancouver Winter Olympics featured one of the most-watched gold-medal games ever, and
- There is no way its All-Star game -- which would have been scheduled at the same time as the Olympics -- would compete for viewership with tournament games that actually meant something.
The Winter Olympics tournament finalized its pool-play alignment last February. Here are the results:
|Russia (1)||Finland (2)||Czech Republic (3)|
|Slovakia (6)||Canada (5)||Sweden (4)|
|United States (7)||Norway (8)||Switzerland (9)|
|Slovenia (18)||Austria (15)||Latvia (11)|
The NHL will begin its Olympic sabbatical on 9 Feb and resume games on 26 Feb. The Olympic tournament is scheduled from 12-23 Feb.
One of the more interesting sidebars to the NHL's negotiations with the Olympic poobahs was the intense desire of papa bear Vladimir Putin to stage a two-week spectacular that would restore Mother Russia to the pinnacle of world sports. As in nations such as Canada and Sweden, hockey is a source of national pride there. Putin has made no secret in the past that he'd like to see the KHL be seen as level par with the NHL; there's no doubt he would have taken an absence of NHL cooperation personally.
As intruiging as such a power play would be, it's been avoided, as it always would be.
Fortunately, an authentic build-up to hockey drama -- on the ice -- can now begin.