Olympic Thoughts and Memories

Gary Bettman and the people who run the NHL couldn’t have asked for a better gold medal matchup than Canada vs. the USA.  Overall, the 2010 Olympics have provided outstanding hockey. 

In a between periods interview on NBC late last week, Bettman reiterated how good the quality of play was and tried to explain to viewers that this was NHL hockey with NHL players.  Well, yes and no. 

Sure the players are nearly all NHL players, especially on the contending nations.  But instead of filling in 30 rosters, the NHL is basically filling eight or nine All-Star teams and pitting them against each other in a playoff type atmosphere.

The intensity of the Olympics blows the NHL regular season away.  The players are hitting and being physical despite the fact that they are not allowed to fight.  Illegal stick work has been kept to a bare minimum. The best players from around the world are sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots and diving for loose pucks like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  The NHL won’t see this kind of intensity for another two or three months at least. 

There have been some big plusses in the Olympics:

1) Goalies played well without the trapezoid.  It’s long past time to ban it and let goalies roam and play the puck.  It’s exciting to watch them do it and the high risk, high reward results are fun to watch.  It addds an extra dimension and skill set to goalies which can either help or bury their clubs.  It’s time to do away with these artificial limitations on goalies in the NHL.

2) The Olympic scoring system is superior to that of the NHL.  Three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime or shootout win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss is fair and gives the proper points for the relative value of each result.  Most importantly, each game is worth the same number of points.  Under the present NHL scoring system, some games are worth two points (a regulation win) and some games are worth three points (an overtime or shootout win where the winning team gets two points and the losing team gets one). 

Sure it would make comparing teams from different eras more difficult and it would certainly look weird at first, but the NHL should adopt the Olympic style point awards to truly reward stronger teams for their superior play.  It would also make the third period of close and tie games that much more intense as teams try to get three points to gain ground in the standings rather than two or one. 

As for on ice observations:

Zach Parise has really shown the world what Devils fans already knew: he is one of the best players in the NHL.  Parise has great skills but he is also one of the hardest working and smartest players on the ice.  If he played in a major market in the US or in a Canadian city, he’d be mentioned in the same breath with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.  If he wins a Cup in New Jersey in the near future, he will be anyway.

Losing to the United States last Sunday was probably the best thing that could have happened to Team Canada.  Canada lifted its game up a notch after the loss and realized how important this tournament was to the nation.  In addition, the team got improved goaltending from Roberto Luongo who replaced a shaky Martin Brodeur.  

I indicated on “Inside the NHL” on AM-990 in Montreal last Saturday that Luongo should be starting over Brodeur. The Devils continue to overwork their starting goalie, playing him in 70 or more games season after season despite his advancing age.  In the long run, New Jersey is probably better off entering the playoffs as the sixth seed with a mentally and phsyically fresh Brodeur than finishing with the second seed and having a tired goalie between the pipes for the postseason.

It was great to see some former NHL players return to North America to play in the Olympics.  Sure, Jaromir Jagr and Peter Forsberg are the obvious ones but it was also nice to hear from players like Ziggy Palffy and Hnat Domenichelli.  Preds fans got to take another look at Alexander Radulov who would provide the team with much needed offensive punch and may yet do so in the future.

The biggest complain American fans have had about the Olympics is the coverage NBC has provided.  The quality of the announcers has not been a problem with NHL standouts like Doc Emrick, Kenny Albert and Ed Olczyk calling the games with Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury adding a little spice to the intermissions and pre-games.  The problem has been that he NHL’s network partner has relegated games to it’s cable partners, MSNBC and CNBC, and has missed the opening of games and periods to watch curling or other events or even just for commercials. 

For all the money NBC is paying to broadcast the games, you would think they could at least get one or two brief TV timeouts incorporated into the game.  That attitude at the network seems to be that hockey comes last and even the initial Canada-US game was not shown on NBC last Sunday.  The NHL can’t be happy with this.

The biggest remaining issue is whether or not the NHL will participate in the 2014 Olympics.  The games will be in Sochi, Russia, which will not provide even the opportunities for a large audience in North America as the games will likely be played either early in the morning or afternoon back home. 

I do believe in the end that Commissioner Bettman and company will use the threat of non-participation as leverage with the NHLPA and the KHL but in the end, the NHL will participate. Regardless of the final outcome, the next Olympics will have a tough time matching the Vancouver games for sheer excitement.

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