Monday, July 14, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Sochi Olympics a waste of time for NHL

You won't read this many other places, but the bottom line truth of the matter is that the 2014 Olympics were a waste of time for the National Hockey League.

Sochi Olympics a waste of time for NHL

Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick of the United States skate off the ice with their team after losing to Finland 5-0 during the bronze medal game. (Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick of the United States skate off the ice with their team after losing to Finland 5-0 during the bronze medal game. (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

The often incoherent, grammatically challenged ramblings of a man who has watched too much sports, listened to too much music and devoured too many club sandwiches.

You won’t read this many other places, but the bottom line truth of the matter is that the 2014 Olympics were a waste of time for the National Hockey League.

In addition, the presence of the NHL not only diminishes the quality of hockey in the NHL and the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it also diminished the achievements by other athletes at the winter games.

This is not sour grapes because the U.S. hockey team found itself outside of the gold medal game, and outside of any medal at all when they were swamped by Finland on Saturday. The feeling from this seat was that the top teams were all so very close, and the pre-tourney pick was Sweden-Canada-Finland. However, there would have been no real upset if it had gone USA-Canada-Sweden, or many other combination -- the competition was that close.

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And for the most part, the hockey was great. It was not nearly as physical as a first round series in the Stanley Cup quest, but it was fast and furious.

The real story here is that the Olympic ideal was far more evident in the dejected faces of the USA women when they lost the gold medal game to Canada than when the men lost to Canada. In fact, the faces on the USA women spoke more to the value of he Olympics than even the embarrassed look on the Russian men, who are still getting torched for their failure to even reach the medal round.

The Russian men lost at home? So what?

For many of those players, all a loss means is that they go back to being multimillionaires in the National Hockey League, or some league in Europe. It might sting for a bit, but for Alex Ovechkin and Gino Malkin the world starts over on a train to riches when the NHL cranks up again in a few days.

The Olympics?

It was indeed a nice visit for great players. They got to play for the glory of country and a medal truly looks nice in the trophy case. For many others it was an even nicer semester break to vacation on an island, sip tropical drinks, and rest up for the final push toward what really matters – the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the meantime, while a whole generation of true Olympic athletes got their moment to shine in Sochi, the NHL players hogged a great deal of the spotlight. On the night a Canadian won bobsleigh, all the talk in Canada was about the hockey game.

You have to get some sense of reality here. These are not the summer games where most of the sports get at least a touch of attention while training. These are the winter games, where most of the sports are largely ignored by the world at large. But there surely was attention on the NHL players in Sochi. They were the stars.

And did it really help the NHL?

Well, did you see all of the Canadian high school students packing gymnasiums to watch the game against the U.S. on Friday afternoon? It was impressive, but the NHL and hockey hardly need to be sold in Canada.

As for growing the game in the United States?

Let’s get real here: the biggest game of the tourney was played against Canada on a Friday afternoon at noon. And if you lived in the growing hockey state of California, it was played at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.

Does anybody believe the NHL would ever schedule a game on a weekday at noon? We’re not talking a Stanley Cup playoff game here. We are talking about any game in any city, at any point of the season.

It would make no sense, just like the NHL’s presence in the Olympics makes no sense.

Remember T.J. Oshie? About a week ago, he was being hailed as a national hero. One week later, for most of America he is the answer to a trivia question.

The Olympics, especially the Winter Olympics, are a time for athletes to rise to the top of their game, a time to make all of the hard work pay off, a time to bask in the results of all that work. On the flip side of that, the drama occurs on both a personal and public level when all those years of work lead to the true agony of defeat.

You could see that agony on the faces of the U.S. women after the loss to Canada, but there was no need for such agony for the men, because the charter flights and big paychecks were awaiting them on their return to the NHL.

So, now we are supposed to see the huge payoff for sending players to the Olympics. Maybe the gamble was that the U.S. would play Russia or Canada and win a gold medal, or at least come back with silver.

Didn’t happen.

What did happen is that the league was dark, a star player was seriously injured when the Islanders John Tavares suffered a knee injury, the games were played at bizarre times, and when the NHL resumes in a few days the whole thing will be forgotten by most casual hockey fans in America.

The people at the NHL offices and NBC can pat themselves on the back all they want, but Sochi was a disaster.

Nuf Ced

Al Morganti is a member of the WIP Morning Show (94.1 FM) weekday mornings from 5:30 til 10 and a hockey analyst for Comcast SportsNet. His twitter handle is @nufced.

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About this blog
Al Morganti is a contributor at Philly.com and writes about sports and entertainment.

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