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NHL should send its players to Olympics

The International Olympic Committee made compromises and the NHL should, too.
Members of the men's ice hockey team from the United States pose in front of the Olympic rings during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. [BEN JARY | AP]

It is universally acknowledged that Olympic hockey is better with NHL players. Everything after that gets complicated.

Players want to play in the Olympics — which they did from 1998 through 2014 — but the league skipped the 2018 Games in South Korea, saying the positives didn’t outweigh the negatives.

It was hard to blame the NHL at that point. The NHL said it was tired of taking a two-week break in its season without any profit share, on-site branding or marketing use of its players in the Games, and the International Olympic Committee pulled funding for things such as player accommodations and insurance.

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The 2018 tournament was predictably lackluster. So the IOC came back in advance of the 2022 Games in Beijing with a new offer: It would restore the funding and explore new partnerships in media rights, branding, etc.

Sounds great, right? The NHL is back in? Not so much.

The NHL isn’t negotiating only with the IOC. It has a bigger fish: the players association. The collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15, 2022, and the league appears willing to hold the Olympics hostage as leverage over the union.

The league offered the union a chance to participate in the 2018 Games in return for extending the collective bargaining agreement. The union declined. So now the issue comes up again. Tying participation in an event in February 2022 to a contract that would go into effect seven months later doesn’t make much sense.

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Commissioner Gary Bettman has called a two-week shutdown to go to the Olympics “extraordinarily disruptive,” but the league managed it for five Olympics. The shutdown seems more like an inconvenience, really.

The league wants to grow its influence in China (hence preseason games there the past two seasons). Featuring NHL players at the biggest athletic event on a global scale seems like a good way to do that.

Take a better deal from the IOC, use two weeks of media coverage to highlight your players, international prospects and sport. Make your employees and your customers happy. Bring the NHL back to the Olympics.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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