The news was already hard to swallow across Canada when National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman prevented players to head to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. It got worse when the Canadian hockey team lost 4-3 to Germany in the semifinal, having to settle for a bronze medal matchup against the Czech Republic.
Let's be clear here: what the Canadian team and the American team were able to accomplish without NHL players is still impressive. The Olympic Athletes of Russia are of course the real menace, as many Kontinental Hockey League players, notably Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kolvachuk and Mikhail Grigorenko, were allowed to take part in the prestigious tournament.
Bettman was asked on Friday if hockey fans across the world can expect the NHL players to participate in the Olympics in 2022, who will be taking place in Beijing, China. His answer is most likely the most ridiculous thing you'll ever all day. Scratch that. The most ridiculous thing you have heard since the start of 2018. Get ready for this...
First, he suggested the NHL-less international tournament’s next go-round could look pretty similar to this year’s iteration.
“I don’t know that we want to go to China,” Bettman said of the 2022 Games in Beijing while speaking on a panel at the 2018 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “I think going to the Olympics is incredibly disruptive on a season.”
And then, this absurd solution came to his mind...
“I’ve asked the IOC, I said ‘Why don’t you put us in the summer?’” Bettman said. “You know, just for you history buffs, that the first participation of hockey in the Olympics was in 1920 in Antwerp in the Summer Games. We’d be happy to go in the summer.
“I’m sure the players would be thrilled to go in the summer.”
Say what?! Yes, because when people around the world think “Summer Olympics”, they automatically think, “hockey”. Duh.
As Sports Illustrated reports, it is not only fans and players that have been disappointed and angry with his decision to prevent league players to take part in the international tournament: it has also affected television ratings and NHL interest, especially in the United States. They collected comments from several broadcasting experts on the field, and the verdict is not encouraging for 2022, if Bettman sticks to his guns:
NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus explained to Sports Illustrated earlier this week that its hockey ratings had declined without NHL players participating, estimating the percentage drop at "roughly in the high 20s or low 30s." He also claimed that NHL ratings had declined in all but two local markets during the Olympics.
"I think it is bad for hockey everywhere," Lazarus told Sports Illustrated.
Amid speculation that Bettman had been using the Olympics as an edge in the upcoming collective bargain agreement negotiations, the NHL commissioner denied the rumour.
“I know there’s this perception out there that we were looking for some grand negotiation with either the (NHL) Players’ Association or the IOC or the International Ice Hockey Federation. It wasn’t about that,” Bettman said. “It was about the fact that we think it’s too disruptive to our season. We are in the stretch drive now – every game matters … This is an exciting time, to have disappeared half way around the world for three weeks doesn’t do anything to enhance our game.
We only have one thing to say to Bettman - besides the fact that his summer solution is completely absurd : you are passing up a great opportunity to grow your product in the word’s most populous nation.