By Ashley Dunkak
JOE LOUIS ARENA (CBS DETROIT) – Detroit Red Wings associate coach Tom Renney understands the conflicting agendas that exist when it comes to whether the NHL should continue sending its players to the Olympics.
“It is a tough one. It’s a really tough one,” Renney said Thursday. “If I’m an owner and a general manager in this league, I am real skeptical of whether or not our guys should participate in this, quite honestly.
“But if I’m a player, I want to go,” Renney added. “And having been there, I can relate to that.”
When the NHL allows its players to compete in the Olympics, it hits pause on its own season for more than two weeks. Closing shop for that time period means the NHL does not get to take advantage of a rare span during which it does not have to compete as much for attendance, viewership and overall attention with football (already over), baseball (not yet started), and college basketball (“March Madness” still to come).
Sending players to Sochi also means, inevitably, that those players could get hurt in Olympic games and end up unable to compete for their NHL teams, possibly diluting the league’s product if the player is a star or fan favorite.
That latter fear has already been realized. In Wednesday’s game between Canada and Latvia, John Tavares of the New York Islanders suffered a torn MCL and meniscus. Tavares is out for the rest of the season.
The injury issue has also touched the Red Wings. Swedish star Henrik Zetterberg had to withdraw from the Olympics after suffering a herniated disk and will likely be unavailable to Detroit for a while. Zetterberg had missed much of December with back problems but had returned to the ice for the Red Wings before heading to Russia.
Ultimately, the NHL will decide whether its players will participate, and it has not yet made a decision. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said the topic will not be discussed during the current Olympics in Sochi. The tide may be turning, though, and it has been suggested that Olympic hockey could return to the amateur status it had before 1998.
“Maybe the time has come with through the progression of, in Canada the Program of Excellence, and [in] the United States the National Development Program, where that now becomes an under-23 event,” Renney said, “and you re-engage the World Cup and have that on the quadrennial, let the young great players in our game, if that’s where they are, play at the under-23 level, if you will, and it still becomes an exciting and outstanding event.
“But maybe as the players get on, it doesn’t put them in such a precarious position in terms of injuries and fatigue and those types of things to come back to their club team and do what is expected of them as most likely leaders and all that kind of stuff on their teams,” Renney continued.
Some have suggested a feasible alternative could be playing hockey at the Summer Olympics, which would not interfere with the NHL season. For Renney, that idea brought to mind the 1990 Goodwill Games that took place in Seattle. While Renney did not know how the specifics of that event turned out, he remembered that it did not command much fanfare. More than anything, the coach said he thinks hockey in the summer just feels wrong.
“It just doesn’t seem right to play hockey in the middle of the summer,” Renney said, “especially when you’re trying to convince hockey leaders and parents that it’s not such a bad idea to grab the soccer ball or the ball glove or the football, maybe give hockey a rest. It’s a great sport and the greatest sport we play, in my mind, but there is an opportunity to do other things for young people, and if you hold an event like that in the middle of the summer, it’s kind of an oxymoron.”