After collectively catching our breath after a wonderful international ice hockey tournament at this years Olympics, their seemed to follow a little outrage at Gary Bettman's comments regarding the NHL's participation at the next winter games, being held in Sochi, Russia in 2014. While Canada celebrated and parts of America licked their wounds, Bettman was in his usual form, essentially telling everyone to calm down about the prospects of NHL players particiapting in Sochi.
This doesn't surprise me, as this has been the song and dance we've been hearing with every Winter Olympics that doesn't take place in the Western Hemisphere. Salt Lake City and Vancouver were no-brainers, but Torino was in doubt until the NHL negotiated it's new CBA and came back from their work stoppage. With a new CBA on the horizon in 2011-12 it looks like we may be playing the waiting game again, with a decision not expected to come until after that. A big part of those CBA negoatiations will be the American T.V rights, which will ultimately include the 2014 Olympics if they choose to go. This will be a little bit of a sticky situation, with any live hockey games from Russia being played in the middle of the night, something Bettman's not thrilled about.
This is where I start to sense some hypocrisy on Bettman's part. I try to be fair to him throughout this whole process, because the bottem line is that his job is to make the league money. But for a man who so aggresively persued global recongnition for his brand back in the early nineties upon his entrance as commissioner, he's now dialed it back some, leaving fans and international ice hockey communities scracthing their heads. In Nagano, you had similar live TV issues as Sochi, not to mention the logistical issues of sending NHL'ers around the world in their debut at the Olympics. I'm also sure fans in other countries are taking notice to this approach as well, and most likely not to happy with Bettman all but saying: If your not in North America, we really don't want to go.
This is also not surprising though, with the dynamics of the NHL financially changing, Bettman is going to alter his gameplan to suit those. The economy doesn't help, and sending players to Sochi just may not make sense for business.
The Olympic hockey tournament is an awesome event, of that there is no doubt. Hockey countries unite for two weeks out of the year and go absolutely crazy for their teams, and some of the best hockey games are played with the best players in the world. No other hockey tournament compares and to not have the NHL players there would be a shame.
None of this matters to Bettman though, it's not his job to put on a compelling tournament if it doesn't bring him a handsome return economically. It's understandable to get annoyed at his comments, as I do on a daily basis. And who knows, maybe when it's all said and done the NHL players will be in Sochi.
But if the NHLPA and Bettman agree they don't want to go, would I be upset? Sure. Would I be shocked? No.