x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

NHL owners need to show some Olympic spirit

For the past four Winter Games, the league embraced the Olympic spirit. During the recent labour negotiations, however, owners appeared ready to douse the flame.

Russia's Alexander Ovechkin, left, has said he woud rather leave the NHL than not represent Russia at the Olympics.
Russia's Alexander Ovechkin, left, has said he woud rather leave the NHL than not represent Russia at the Olympics.

The Sochi Olympic Games begin one year from this week and the National Hockey League remains noncommittal about letting its players participate.

No matter. Fans can be confident of seeing NHL stars playing in Russia.

For the past four Winter Games, the league embraced the Olympic spirit. During the recent labour negotiations, however, owners appeared ready to douse the flame.

Their complaints are not minor. The schedule shuts down for two weeks in the middle of the season. All-Star weekend is lost. Some of the league's most expensive talents risk injury while going all-out for their respective national teams. NHL teams are affected disproportionately, sending differing numbers of Olympians to get beat up and worn out.

Not surprisingly, the players union is still all-in. It isn't just about the national pride of a few dozen medal-chasers. It's about a two-week break for hundreds of other players.

The issue was left hanging when the two sides hurried to reach a labour agreement last month. Both sides acknowledge the need to resolve the matter soon. Unofficially, it has taken care of itself. Alexander Ovechkin, the outspoken Russian, has long been insistent that he would quit the NHL before missing his own country's Olympics. The Washington owner Ted Leonsis recently granted his star player permission to go, regardless of league policy.

Sounds like precedent. Policy can't be far behind.