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Heinrich: How NBC could kill the NHL

In my humble opinion, Ice Hockey is the marquee event in the Winter Olympics. NBC and the International Olympic Committee have other ideas on what is the biggest draw in the Olympics. As evident by Sunday night’s choice of programming, NBC decided to run with Ice Dancing in prime time, choosing to relegate the United States versus Canada hockey game to MSNBC. This decision by the peacock could have significant ramifications on the future of the National Hockey League.

The NHL isn’t benefiting from having its players play in the Olympics. There are always injuries to key players for teams in the NHL, not to mention the NHL shuts down everything for two weeks. This year’s games are the last the NHL has dedicated its players to the Olympics. If they don’t allow their players to play in Sochi Russia in 2014 it could ruin the NHL. Hear me out on this, there a few ifs, but they all easily could happen. Here is a quick little timeline:

Sunday – USA versus Canada is shown on MSNBC and many people miss a fantastic game.

End of the 2011 Season – The current collective bargaining agreement for the NHL expires and new CBA is written that does not allow current NHL Players to participate in the Olympics.

Sometime before the start of the 2013-2014 Season

– Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin decides he would rather win gold in Russia than try for a second Stanley Cup (the Capitals will win a Stanley Cup in the next three years). Ovechkin decides to forfeit his multi-million dollar salary for the season and play for Team Russia getting ready for the Olympics.

After Ovechkin announces his decision – Evgini Malkin (Russian teammate and Penguins star) wants gold as well, and chooses to go to Russia with his NHL rival.

After Malkin leaves – Sydney Crosby, after not getting Gold in the Vancouver Games of 2010 (a very high possibility considering Canada has to go through Russia and Sweeden to get to the gold medal game), wants to cement his legacy as the greatest player of all time and takes the year off.

After Crosby – A few dozen other stars decide to take the year off to help their country go for gold.

Start of the 2013-2014 NHL Season

The season starts without three of its biggest stars for the entire season. Versus drops them because no one is watching and the NHL goes in the tank. Thanks NBC.

I know it is a little far-fetched that all of these players would leave millions of dollars on the table to play in the Olympics for two weeks, but if Ovechkin (who has already said he is going to play in Russia in 2014) decides to go why wouldn’t, at the very least, his Russian teammates follow him? It would be a huge hit to the NHL to loose Ovechkin alone, not to mention all of the other Russians who might follow suit.

All of this might become reality simply because NBC (who carries the NHL on their network on Saturday afternoons) would rather play ice dancing and downhill skiing than the biggest game of the tournament (ice dancing is worse than even figure skating. At least in figure skating there are jumps and lifts and stuff. Ice dancing is ballroom dancing on ice. I heard one of the commentators on NBC Monday night proclaim one of the couples the “future of the sport!” um I’m sorry but there is no way anyone considers ice dancing a sport. They are dancing. Are we going to get breakdancing into the summer games now? This is ridiculous.) The only LIVE game that will be broadcast on NBC is the Gold Medal game on Sunday the 28th. They are showing the quarter finals and the Semi-finals tape-delayed.

(The thing that got me about the game was that NBC didn’t even show anything prior to the start of the hockey game to let everyone know the game was on MSNBC. No preview, no disclaimer, nothing. They didn’t even run a program alert during ice dancing to let everyone know where the game was being shown. I only know this because my friend and his wife were trying to find it and ended up just watching ice dancing hoping for updates. All they got was the last minute of play as the USA scored and empty net goal to seal the win.)

The NHL needed the game between the US and Canada to be on network television in prime time. This was the highlight game for the NHL. Every single player on both teams is from the NHL. And, more importantly for the NHL, both teams, especially the US squad, have a ton of young up-and-coming stars. Jack Johnson (Kings), Patrick Kane (Blackhawks), Zach Parise (Devils) for the US and Sydney Crosby (Penguins) Jonathon Toews (Blackhawks) and Ryan Getzlaf (Ducks) for Canada. All of those players are under 25 years old. They are the future of the NHL and the league needed them to be showcased. NBC took all that exposure away from the NHL.

There is no reason the NHL needs to send their players, close their arenas and force three-fourths of their league to take a two week vacation so they can be put on the back burner. Especially when next time the break will have to be longer to account for travel. I don’t blame the NHL for not wanted to go forth with this.

But, as I said earlier, if the NHL thinks that it might lose some stars to the Olympics anyway, it will be in the best interest of the league to allow its players to go, even if NBC doesn’t want anyone to see them play.