Why the NHL Must Play in the Sochi Olympics

Steve SilvermanFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 14, 2017

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman takes in the season opening game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on January 19, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The NHL must send its players to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics.

Gary Bettman has every right to try to make the best deal for the league, but when push comes to shove he must alter the 2013-14 schedule and have it include a 16-day break so the NHL's best players can compete for their home countries.

The NHL made its bed with the Olympics long ago (source: sports-reference.com). When the NHL first sent its players to Nagano, Japan, in 1998 and then continued with that idea in Salt Lake City in  2002, it became part of the Olympic tradition.

Taking the attitude that it's a good thing this time around but a bad event the next time is not good for the NHL. It makes the league look as if it can't make up its mind and that it will only send its players when there is some short-term benefit.

There were certainly short-term benefits in 2002 and 2010 when the Olympics were held in North American cities. The 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver between the United States and Canada produced one of the most dramatic games (source: The New York Times) in hockey history and probably the second-most memorable Olympic hockey moment besides the triumph of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team in Lake Placid, New York.

That moment is perhaps the most recognized Olympic moment—no matter what sport—ever. When the United States beat the Soviet Union's brilliant hockey team that had toyed with the NHL All-Stars, it caught the entire country's attention, and the echo of that triumph has survived and thrived through the generations.

Mike Eruzione, the America who scored the winning goal in the 4-3 triumph over the Soviets, thinks that the NHL should send its players to Sochi next year.

"Look at the last Olympics in Vancouver," Eruzione told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview earlier this month, "that was hockey at its best. You had the best players in the world competing for their countries and it captured everybody's attention. That was sensational hockey."

"What makes Olympic hockey so enjoyable is that there are so many countries who are capable of competing. There are so many great teams out there and they should all send their best players."

That speaks to why the NHL should allow its players to compete. The NHL should play a role in allowing the best and most competitive hockey to be played on the world stage.

If it did not allow its players to go, it would be diminishing the sport's growth.

The NHL would like to get something for the sacrifice (source: The Washington Post) it is making. The NHL would like the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation to give it the right to reproduce and repackage Olympic highlights. The NHL reportedly would also like to be more involved with the tournament itself.

That would be nice for the league's honchos, but it really has nothing to do with the specifics on the decision-making process of allowing its players to participate.

Realistically, the decision has been made and the announcement should come shortly.

Bettman certainly knows how to get his point across. He may or may not get what he wants, but if the goal is building the sport of hockey and the NHL, he can't put a stop to the NHL's Olympic movement at this point.

It means too much to too many players, fans, coaches and to the sport itself.