Gary Bettman has never been popular among hockey fans. The commissioner of the National Hockey League is routinely booed every time he makes a public appearance. But Bettman has outdone himself with the decision to keep NHL players from playing in the 2018 Olympics.
To be fair, Bettman does have a few good points. The NHL should be allowed to use footage of its players playing in the Olympics. After all, the NHL is stopping its season to let the players play. And there is no doubt that more people will watch Olympic hockey with Alexander Ovechkin than with somebody they’ve never heard of. The IOC is a bit greedy in that regard and should do a little more for the league.
Now, PyeongChang is not a hockey hotbed, nor is the league hoping to turn it into one. But the 2022 Olympics are in China, where the NHL is making a push. If the NHL doesn’t come in 2018, the IOC may not let them come in 2022.
Even if the NHL doesn’t have a good deal, it’s obvious the players want to go. Ovechkin has already said he will be in the 2018 Olympics regardless. Erik Karlsson called it “crap.” “Way to ruin the sport of hockey even more,” Brandon Prust Tweeted to Bettman.
The NHLPA also voiced its displeasure with the decision with a statement.
“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics,” it said. “This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”
Fans were also vocal about the decision, with a vast majority of them in favor of letting the players play.
Bettman could reverse himself here and come out looking like the good guy. All he would have to do is say after listening to the players and fans, the NHL has changed its opinion. It would go a long way in creating some good will with both the players and the fans. That’s never a bad thing.