The 2018 Winter Olympics will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next February, which, unfortunately, is right in the middle of the NHL season. Even worse, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said “people should assume” the NHL will not be involved in the Games.
“Well, you kind of felt that coming,” former Stanley Cup champion and two-time Olympian Bret Hedican said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “If he’s dropping the hint, I would imagine that’s probably what’s going to happen.”
Hedican has mixed feelings about that.
“You’re making it so difficult for these athletes to perform 82 games – and people really don’t have a grasp of how many games that is and what toll that takes on your body – so I’m torn here,” Hedican said. “I love the Olympics Games and the Olympic spirit. I’d love to see the best players all the time play in the Olympic Games, but I also see the flip side and what it takes for some of these athletes to have to play 82 games of hockey in the NHL (and) fly over to another side of the world and play in the Olympic Games.”
In 2006, Hedican flew to Torino for the Winter Olympics. Team USA arrived in the afternoon, took their team photo, had a practice and played Latvia the very next day. Latvia had already been in Torino for several weeks.
“That was really unfair, in my view,” Hedican said. “So if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right: give these athletes a chance to have success and maybe cut the games down in the NHL, which obviously probably will never happen. That’s why you’re getting the hints from Gary Bettman.”
Of course, it is possible that a player, or several players, could insist on playing in the Olympics and ask ownership for permission. That, however, could create tension within an organization.
“I think if an owner is willing to risk his multi-million-dollar athlete to get on a plane and go play in the Olympics with the potential of them getting hurt – and other athletes are going – yeah, that’s a big risk to take,” Hedican said. “But you want to keep your top-end athletes happy, and if they really want to play in the Olympic Games and it’s something that they feel they need to do and the owners are supporting them, that’s pretty great for the ownership to do so. I don’t have any problem with it. I think it’s a very difficult decision for everybody to make, and I see both sides of the coin. Sorry I’m on the fence on that one, but I’ll leave it for other people to make that decision.”
Hedican, 46, said playing in the Olympics – first in France in 1992 and later in Italy in 2006 – was life-changing.
“Oh, to have the opportunity to go back and play in a second Olympics as a professional, to play against other countries and the best players in the world at the time, it was a dream come true,” he said. “That’s why I played the game of hockey – to become an Olympian. Obviously you want to win a Stanley Cup after, but my first goal was to become an Olympian and that’s what happened in ’92. I met my wife there originally, and having an opportunity to go back in 2006 was a dream come true.”