NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin made a profound statement Wednesday to ESPN.com about going to the Olympics: "I don't care... I'll go play in the Olympic Games for my country. If somebody says to me, 'You can't play,' see ya."
The skilled Washington Capitals winger is referring to the NHL's proposal to suspend players for going to play for their respective countries in the 2014 Olympics, which will be in Sochi, Russia in order to discourage NHL players from interrupting their seasons with the NHL to go to the Olympics.
One reason many owners and NHL executives are concerned about their players and the possibility of injuries that affect their playing status when they return to the League. The risk of injury in the Olympics is possible and it has occurred before.
The most recent and crucial injury suffered in the Olympics by an NHL player was former goaltender Dominik Hasek when he was with the Senators. Of course, as NHL followers know, Hasek never really recovered from that injury and the goaltending duties were eventually handed to Ray Emery, while Hasek left the team and retired.
However, major injuries from the Olympics are not common, and players often come back and after a game or two get back to regular season action. As for Alex Ovechkin, tough as he is, he would probably come back to the Capitals first game back.
The other concern is the break that the NHL takes in the middle of the season. Games are stopped for about two weeks in February for the Winter Olympics and teams are concerned about the mindset of teams after that break. Also of course, there is the concern over time lost in gaining money from games.
But if players, especially at the caliber and celebrity status of Alex Ovechkin, want to play for their country, and make statements like Ovechkin did, it would not be wise for the NHL to go through with suspending players for wanting to represent their country of origin. Considering the next Olympics take place in Russia, and the number of players that are originally from there, it would be a BAD look for the NHL to do that.
If the NHL were to seriously suspend or discourage players in any way for wanting to win their country a medal in 2014, I see it happening like this: Alex Ovechkin could very well go ahead and play in the Olympics. The NHL will suspend him, along with a couple of other players. What happens then is that not only do fans get angry, but players get angry. It's also a possibility that other leagues will take note, and all those international players the NHL get will transfer to those leagues for more personal freedom.
Therefore, the NHL needs to be smart about this one. Do they really want to lose fans and players over a couple of weeks in the season? The NHL already suffers from poor decisions made by executives and the commissioner Gary Bettman. They do not like to focus on the correct way to make business. But if they want to remain a league, they will have to refrain from suspending players for being patriotic. You don't want Ovie to ruin you. The loss from suspension is greater than the gain.
Note to NHL: get it together.