Could Russia be once again thrust into the middle of a hockey controversy similar to what was going on with the Olympic boycotts surrounding the 1980 Olympics? With the World Junior U20 Championships in Ufa, Russia, and the 2014 Olympics to take place in Sochi Russia, it appears the NHL wants to ban international travel for their players, keeping their stars at their home away from home and only playing in NHL games.
A deal in the near future between the NHL and the NHLPA could put the Russian’s and Sabres at odds over Mikhail Grigorenko who is positioning himself as a stud in the OMJHL and looking to add to his resume along with Neil Yakupov. The Sabres are thinner than ever at center because of injuries and could need the Russian to play pivot immediately.
But what is in the craw of the NHL minds that taking international play away from the best players in the world? Up until the Nagano Olympics – NHLers were ineligible for the Olympics as International Olympic Committe clung to its archaic methodology of only allowing amateur athletes competing in the competition. Only boxing and wrestling still require amateur status at the Olympics as a safety precaution to the participants.
There are only three tournaments that this effects, the U20 World Juniors, which takes place right around Boxing Day; the Olympics which only appear on the calander every four years, and the IIHF World Championships which is in May.
For the U20 squads, unless the guy is playing for the big club at the AHL or higher level, the junior club is going to give them the time off to represent their country. If they are not a huge name and relied upon at the AHL level – organizations will typically grant the leave of absence. If a guy is in the NHL – he is playing for a bigger prize than what the U20 tournament has to offer.
For the IIHF World Championships in May – I can’t recall in my lifetime any NHL player abandoning hopes of the playoffs for the chance of playing in the abbreviated world tournament. NHL players that do participate join their respective national teams after their teams have been eliminated from playoff contention.
For the Olympics – your only affected once every four years, and the culture of the game is different than the game you are playing in North America – you don’t have the clutching, grabbing, and dirty play you have in the NHL – the international game doesn’t allow for that. So the chance of injury is reduced.
From a marketing stand point, the NHL should not pidgeon hole itself into ignoring International Play at a time when you are trying to grow your sport and show other markets your product. That is why we have the NHL Premiere series to start the NHL season off every year. Winning the Stanley Cup is a momentous occasion for a player, but so is playing for your national colors, especially on home soil.
The NHL will kill itself at the bargaining table if they take international tournaments off the table.