The NHL Should Have Sent Athletes to the Beijing Olympics

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games are here. Hockey fans were disappointed about the product that would be on display this year. For the second straight Olympic games, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has opted to pull NHL players from competing in Olympic hockey. The decision came on Dec. 22, allowing the league to withdraw from the competition without receiving a financial penalty.

The NHL is simply robbing players and fans of what the Olympics are truly about: a competition between the world’s best athletes. NHL players have not been present in the Winter Olympics since the Sochi Games in 2014, which means that players such as Connor McDavid, hockey’s undisputable brightest star, have never had the opportunity to represent their countries on sport’s biggest stage.

Stripping Olympic hockey of the game’s best players has tanked television ratings. For a sport that already has trouble maintaining revenue and relevancy, it is simply bad for the game itself. The 2014 gold medal game between Canada and Sweden, which included NHL players, brought in a 2.5 rating and 3.6 million viewers. The 2018 gold medal game between Canada and Germany, lacking NHL players, pulled a mere 1.0 million viewers and a 0.6 rating, dropping over 70% of viewers. An NHL regular season game that aired on the same television network during the same month in 2018 saw just 32,000 less viewers than the finale of an international competition. For a sport that boasts a great deal of international diversity, television ratings are abysmal when compared to other sports. Keeping the game’s best players off the ice has only steered viewers away from the sport.

Hockey has seen a severe lack of international competition in recent years, especially at the professional level. Without the Olympics in 2018 or 2022, there has not been a competition that all NHL players were allowed to compete in since the World Cup of Hockey in 2016. Aside from the annual IIHF World Hockey Championship – which takes place smack in the middle of the NHL and AHL playoffs, keeping a majority of players out of the competition – and the annual IIHF World Juniors Championship – which was canceled this past December due to COVID-19 – hockey has been in a drought in the realm of international competition.

The league’s justification for withdrawing from the Olympic Games was the widespread cases of the Omicron variant that struck the NHL along with other professional sports leagues at the end of 2021, forcing dozens of games to be postponed. The NHL originally had a two-week break during the Olympic Games, allowing players to travel to Beijing to compete in the Games, but the league is now using the break to reschedule the postponed games. Although this is an efficient way to reschedule the games, it should not have come at the sacrifice of the players’ desires. The NBA, which was also hit hard with COVID-19 related cancellations, has found a way to reschedule their matches, even without a two-week Olympic break. There were other solutions to this problem, but the cancellations just seem to be an excuse for Commissioner Bettman to pull the league’s players from the Olympic Games.

Having professionals in the Olympics is beneficial for fans and players alike. It is an honor to not only represent one’s city, but to be a representative of one’s country, which carries along an unmatched sense of pride and nationalism. Players like Sidney Crosby and TJ Oshie were able to become national icons and gain international recognition because of the Olympic Games. 

Pulling NHL players from the Olympics has done nothing but hinder the desires of fans and players while tarnishing the league and the sport itself. It is time for the league’s executives to listen to what the people want and to do what is best for hockey.