Olympic hockey needs integrity

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:28 PM ET

The National Hockey League is guided by a simple credo: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing wrong.

There are dozens of examples, from scheduling to media access to expansion, and on and on. The latest example is the Olympic fiasco.

The NHL agreed to participate. But then some governors, most notably Ed Snider of the Philadelphia Flyers, said he didn't want his team's players to take part.

As far as some NHL teams were concerned, the Olympic break was inserted into the schedule not to stage the Olympics, but to give their players a chance to rest, recuperate or undergo surgery.

They didn't want to risk injury to their players, they said. This from the people who then forced players to alter their body clocks by nine hours and play hockey after spending only one day in the new time zone.

RIDICULOUS SCHEDULE

Worse still, they were to embark on a schedule that would see them play six games in eight days and as many as eight games in 12 days. That's a ridiculous schedule, even by the standards of those who stage the NHL's annual marathon.

Then when someone like Dominik Hasek gets hurt, the NHL people opposed to the Olympics say: "See? That's what we were worried about."

The issue that they neatly sidestep is that Hasek was merely making a routine save. He could have strained his abductor muscle just as easily in an NHL game. Furthermore, if Hasek hadn't been forced to play so soon after spending 10 hours on a plane in a trans-Atlantic flight, perhaps he wouldn't have strained that muscle.

The issues of national pride, integrity, honour, and similar matters are best left aside. The NHL doesn't care about such mundane concepts. The NHL cares only about money.

All the NHL wants to do is pack the maximum amount of NHL games into the shortest possible amount of time and shut down the league for a minimum Olympic period.

The Olympics should be a true best-on-best national-team tournament, akin to soccer's World Cup. But the World Cup lasts more than a month, not 12 days.

If the NHL ran the NCAA, the March Madness tournament would be staged on a long weekend.

The NHL seems to have lost sight of the goal here. The whole premise of Olympic involvement is that it puts hockey on a world stage and builds interest. If that's the case, why not leave it on that stage a little longer and insert some integrity into the process?

The Olympics occur only once every four years. Is it too much to ask that the 82-game season be shortened to 80 games once every Olympiad? Apparently it is. That's what the NHL brass says when asked about the concept.

Fine. Then shorten the exhibition season by two games and start the season a week earlier.But commissioner Gary Bettman says he doesn't like the idea of starting earlier. He doesn't think the fans will accept it.

But it's not as if this is a regular occurrence. Is the NHL not sufficiently committed to the Olympics that it can lose, on the average, half an exhibition game per season to fulfill its commitment properly?

Already, the excuses are being made for 2010. "That one won't be as bad because it's in North America." That is, of course, a tacit admission that this one is bad.

And there is no promise of a change in format. What other major tournament has no day off between the qualifying round and the playoff round?

Oh, one more thing. We've got to get the most important game in the whole fiasco -- the gold-medal game -- finished in a hurry so that it doesn't overlap a song-and-dance extravaganza in another venue.

And furthermore, the NHL players have to hurry to get the late-Sunday flight back to North America. Some of them have NHL games on Tuesday.


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