Schedule takes its toll

BARRY MACDONALD -- 24 Hours Vancouver

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

As the Vancouver Canucks head into Nashville tonight, for their first of 15 games this month, please resist the temptation to moan and groan about their lot in life.

Yes, they got hammered by the Olympics and yes, those defensive pairings they used Tuesday night in Calgary might have been exposed in the East Coast Hockey League.

But this just in, folks: The NHL and its players association did not have a gun to their collective heads when agreeing to participate in the Winter Olympics.

The idea was to promote the game on the world stage and I endorse that.

I do not, however, endorse the idea of making world-class athletes cram an 82-game schedule around the Turin Games.

You compromise the NHL product and you expose the people that play to greater chances of injury. And in the end, what the hell does that accomplish?

Back to my first point. The NHL knew what it was getting into with regards to the Olympics. They knew they were sending more than a few NHLers over to Italy. They knew they were sending their best. If a player got injured, chances are it was going to be someone of marquee value.

Hasek, Jagr, Ohlund, Salo all have varying degrees of aches and pains. Without Hasek, the Senators' cup hopes take a serious hit. Jagr is the NHL's leading scorer and the juice behind the rejuvenated Rangers. Ohlund and Salo are part of a defensive corps that already is without Jovanovski? Robson Street merchants rejoice, you are safe for another year.

Injuries are part of the sport. The NHL could have played a 20-game schedule and the aforementioned four could still have got nicked in Turin.

But the point is this: Do everything possible during Olympic years to mitigate the chance of injuries. Do not cram the 82 games in. Do not have the players travel half the planet and play 24 hours after arriving. And if need be, shorten the bloody Olympic schedule. I'm not sure Italy, Germany, Latvia, Kazahkstan and the Dominican Republic need to be on there as fodder for the big boys. Those are unneccessary games with more chance of injuries.

In the end you have the best players in the world, looking tired and spent by the end of the Olympic tournament. Regardless of whether Canada was in the final or not, was the Sweden-Finland game really that compelling? It may have been wonderful theatre for our Scandinavian friends, but it wasn't exactly the Oilers and Flames from the mid-'80s.

We have exposed our very best to not only the world stage, but to fatigue, injury and quite possibly a forgettable NHL post season.

And for what?

The exposure of the game?

I am all for it, even if it is being exposed to those who already love it anyway.

Don't just do it again in 2010, do it right. Shorten the NHL regular season and if that means starting in late September, so be it.

The best way to grow the game is to grow it within the best league in the world. Don't compromise the product to fit it into the Olympics. Get it into the Olympics on your terms. Do a better job of protecting your investments, not exposing them.


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