The winter Olympics have come and gone, and it was once again a proud time to be Canadian. Canada finished second in the medal standings with 11 gold medals, three shy of the record breaking 14 gold medals Canada won in Vancouver. But none-the-less it was a remarkably successful Olympics for Canada, becoming the first country to win gold in both men’s and women’s curling and hockey in the same Olympics.
For many Canadians, hockey is the most important event at the games, and Canada certainly lived up to expectations on the ice. Canadian women won their fourth straight gold medal in a dramatic fashion. Meanwhile, the men defended their gold medal from 2010, while also becoming the first Canadian men’s hockey team to win a medal since the NHL began to allow its players in the Olympics in 1998. Canada had gone without a medal in the other two games held on European soil. Now with the Olympics in the rear view mirror, and the NHL season back in full swing, I want to talk about the four things that Olympic hockey left me thinking about.
We’re the best at our own game.
What stuck with me the most while I watched the Canadian men dominate Sweden at five in the morning was how well the Canadian team was playing. Canada may not have been the offensive powerhouse everyone thought they should have been, but that was some of the most dominating hockey ever played. Canada played great defense, fore-checked hard, kept their shifts short, and supported the puck amazingly well. Canada may not have run up the score on any of their opponents, with the exception of a 6-0 thrashing of Austria, but they were seemingly never in any danger defensively. Canada’s 1-0 victory against the USA in the semifinals has to go down as the most one-sided 1-0 game in hockey history; they were not in trouble defensively in the entire tournament.
Enjoy the best hockey while it lasts.
Not only do I find it to be a bit of a letdown watching an NHL regular season game after watching the intense Olympic hockey, where every game means something to an entire country, but I’m left with the feeling that Sochi may have been the last time that the NHL stops its season and releases its players to take part in the Olympic Games.
Fans love watching the best players in the world compete against each other, and players love playing for their country, but that might not be enough to ensure continued NHL participation in the Olympics. No matter how much the players want to take part in the Olympics, the decision ultimately comes down to the NHL’s board of governors, who are significantly less enthused about players participating in the games.
Although there are the obvious positives of letting NHL players compete in the Olympics, there are also some very real risks that come with letting professionals go overseas to compete. The most obvious one is the risk of injury—any injury sustained while a player is playing for his country could have a devastating effect on that player’s NHL team. A number of key players suffered injuries playing in the Olympics, including Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler, who hurt his hand blocking a shot against Russia. Montreal Canadiens goaltender and Team Canada starter Carey Price suffered a lower body injury in the tournament and has yet to return to action. New York Islanders forward John Tavares also suffered a season-ending injury while playing for Canada, and I’m sure we would be hearing a lot more about the importance of that injury if the Islanders had any chance of making the playoffs this season.
So take an extra moment to enjoy Canada’s defense of men’s hockey gold medal. It might be the last time you see Sidney Crosby play in the Olympic Games.
Bigger ice is better ice.
While scoring in the Olympics may not have been any higher than it is in the NHL, it is still apparent that the NHL needs to expand the width of its rinks. NHL rinks are 200×85 feet wide, while international ice sheets are 200×97 feet. This leads to more room for players to move around and makes positioning more important in the defensive zone.
Changing the size of NHL rinks has been talked about for years. The NHL will probably never do it due to the potential loss in revenue from elimination of the first four rows of seats in each stadium (which the league says it would have eliminated to expand the ice sheets). But after watching all the players move around on bigger ice sheets, it seems apparent that the NHL needs to expand their ice sheets a little bit, even if it isn’t the full extra 12 feet; it will certainly give players more room to maneuvre An expansion of the NHL ice surface is certainly in order; players are bigger, faster, and have longer reaches than ever before. It might not directly increase scoring in the NHL, but it would force teams to be more responsible defensively and would give teams more room to pass the puck around, which would be fun to see in an age where throwing the puck to the net with traffic in front has become the standard way to create offense.
Time to introduce a three point system.
The way points are awarded in the NHL has been the same since the introduction of sudden death overtime in the regular season. A team gets two points for a victory, whether it’s in regulation or overtime. A team that loses in overtime or a shootout is given one point, and a team that loses in regulation time is awarded no points. This means that if a game goes into overtime, a total of three points are given away to both teams, and in a regulation game, only two points are given away.
Meanwhile, in Olympic hockey rules, every game is worth three points. Teams that win in regulation are given three points: two for a win in overtime, one for an overtime loss, and zero for a regulation loss.
The time has come for the NHL to adapt so all games use the three point system that is used in the Olympics. Adopting this system would make it easier for teams to either separate themselves or make up ground in the NHL standings. As it is right now, it’s very hard for teams to catch up in the standings, because whenever a team loses a hockey game they normally lose it in overtime. If every game was worth three points in the standings there would be less overtime games. There would be more teams who would take chances trying to get the extra point instead of teams playing extremely conservative hockey in an attempt to drag the game into overtime and steal a single point, which is a common occurrence in the current NHL. It would be nice to see some teams take risks to try and win a hockey game, unlike now, when it’s almost guaranteed that if two teams are tied in the third period, they’re both just going to play it safe until overtime. Instead, teams have a reason to take chances and be aggressive.
With so many things to enjoy about Olympic hockey, I hope this isn’t the last time the game’s best players will grace the biggest international stage. The NHL allowing its best players to take part in the games is a great way to showcase the talent in the game today. Hopefully the NHL can allow a good thing to keep going, and maybe copy a few things we see in the tournament while they’re at it.