Thursday, September 18, 2008

2,014 arguments for the Olympic hockey tournament

This is simply about what people, as fans, want to see in their 2014 Olympic tournament.

The debate debate over full NHL participation is an endless as "Religion: What Is The One True Faith?" The emergence of the KHL in Russia and the possibility of the NHL expanding to Europe (Kitchener-Waterloo is officially part of Europe, by the way), are going to influence what the NHL does for the Sochi Olympics.

There's an argument that it should become an under-23 event like Olympic men's soccer. The best rebuttal, though, is that wouldn't make for a more competitive tournament -- it would just be like the World Juniors. Switzerland or Slovakia would not have the depth to keep up with Canada in an age-group tournament. The other rebuttal is economic. In soccer, there's an economic reason why events like the FIFA U-20 World Cup are so tightly contested. Countries such as Nigeria might not be able to put together a great senior national team, but have very talented young footballers. That doesn't exist in hockey, which is a game played by rich countries.

As for reverting to the rules in 1988, '92 and '94, when there was limited NHL participation, the best argument is the Spengler Cup. It's a good tournament and each year, it's largely ignored in Canada. There's no better proof than the Olympic baseball tournament that Joe Public isn't going to watch second-tier pros play against each other, even when it has the Five Rings attached. That's why Major League Baseball wised up and created its own tournament.

It's not about what you think might happen over the next 5 1/2 years. It's about what you would like to see -- all pros, young pros or minor pros.

A true Olympic junkie in Canada would perhaps argue that maybe men's hockey should get dropped from the Games entirely. It would be nice knowing that our best and brightest sportswomen would not get squeezed out by the attention lavished on the hockey players who command the media spotlight the rest of the time. But go tell that to Dick Pound, who might be about the only one who would listen.

NHLPA looks to Olympic participation beyond 2010 (David Shoalts,


Duane Rollins said...

I missed this one 'till just now....

There is no way that an Olympic tournament works without pros. None. And, since it's pretty much the biggest show at the winter games, and about the only time hockey gets S1 treatment in the Great Republic, the NHL would be beyond idiotic to drop out (which means they probably will).

I suspect the IOC and IIHF will find a way to make this workable. The biggest question is whether the deep thinkers in hockey can get over themselves and not play some stupid powerplay because they are pissy about the KHL.

A u-23 tournament might work, and it might be what the NHL pulls out of its ass, but I can't see the IOC being OK with it. And, you can bet that if they are forced to pull men's hockey the IOC will take the opportunity to pull women's as well (out of spite).

As a Olympic junkie I can understand how the removal of the sport would provide more attention to the ski jumpers, but I can't say as it would make me happy. The Winter Games need a big team event to centre it. There is nothing else out there to replace hockey.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

The U-23 idea isn't bad. The problem I see with it is that it takes away a unique event. Unlike soccer, where the Olympics are always going to be a sideshow to the World Cup even if they have full squads (and thus, differentiating the Olympic version is a good move), there is no equivalent tournament where the best players compete for their countries. The reason I think the World Championships haven't caught on in North America is they don't have the best of the best competing: it's the second-string of stars who didn't make the playoffs. If we take the best NHL players out of the Olympics, it becomes a lower-class tournament that's nowhere near as exciting and we also lose the chance to see the best players go at each other for their countries, which I think is a loss for hockey.

Duane Rollins said...


It wasn't the IOC's idea to go u-23 with soccer. FIFA insisted on it because it didn't want anything taking away from the World Cup. The only reason the IOC allowed it was because FIFA essentially told them that it would take its ball and go home if it didn't get its way.

Since FIFA is the likely the only sports body more powerful than the IOC it got away with it. I don't think hockey would be so lucky.