Murph’s Musings: NHL Teams Should Respect Olympic Agreement With Players

Henrik Sedin
Henrik Sedin
Matt Kartozian USA TODAY Sports

The NHL roster freeze went into full effect Friday at 3 p.m. and there was not the flurry of trade activity many in the media were expecting. But while all was quiet on the trade front, the chatter around the league went into full Olympic mode. One of the big debates for years now has been whether or not NHLers should be participating in the Winter Olympics. But when the NHL and NHLPA ended the lockout of 2012-13 and agreed on a new CBA, they both agreed that the players would participate in the Sochi games and then reevaluate for South Korea in 2018. But as of late, it doesn’t appear that most owners and teams are upholding the spirit of that agreement.

On Thursday, Flyers owner Ed Snider didn’t hold back when asked what he thought of NHLers traveling to Sochi or any Olympic tournament mid-season.

“I hate them,” Snider said. “It’s ridiculous, the whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t care if it was in Philadelphia, I wouldn’t want to break up the league. I think it’s ridiculous to take three weeks off, or however long it is, in the middle of the season. It screws up everything. How can anybody be happy breaking up their season? No other league does it, why should we? There’s no benefit to us whatsoever. If anything, I can only see negatives.”

While Snider’s frustration is understandable as the owners don’t gain any money from the Winter Games and must hope their key players stay healthy, he is one of the owners that signed off on that CBA and successfully spearheaded efforts to get some major concessions from the players just over a year ago. And let’s not even get into the irony that Snider also owns Comcast Spectator a partner of NBC Sports who are a rights holder at the Sochi games.

But while Snider took some verbal shots at NHL participation at the Winter Games, the New York Islanders basically used a loophole and prevented their defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky from representing his native Slovakia in Sochi. Yes, if a player has been injured and does not get medical clearance from his team doctors, as was the case with Visnovsky, then the team has the right to prevent that player to participate at the Olympics. But it’s baffling, to say the least, that Visnovsky was cleared for the last six games heading into the Olympics and allowed to play for the Islanders. If he was healthy enough to do that then he should be allowed to represent Slovakia in Sochi.

Teams need to respect how much playing for one’s country means to a player and also respect the agreement they signed off on. We’re only a full calendar year into the current CBA and already there is some strife.

The Bruins didn’t seem to have any problem with Zdeno Chara missing the final two games before the Olympic break to carry the torch for Slovakia at the opening ceremonies and why should they? Obviously the Bruins missed him in those two games — more specifically when they lost in overtime to the Blues — but that as the right thing to do and it will only build more good will between not only the team and Chara but the team and other players too.

It was also quite refreshing to listen to Canucks head coach John Tortorella discuss the how he handled forward Henrik Sedin’s decision-making process leading into his final decision Thursday in Montreal to not represent Sweden in Sochi.

“To me – and I’ve been in these situations before – that is a family matter and that is the player’s matter,” Tortorella said before Sedin announced he wouldn’t be playing for Sweden. “That is his country and it’s a very, very delicate situation. Right now do I want him to go? Absolutely not! I’m thinking about our hockey club. But I am not having a conversation with him about that. That’s his call. That’s your country. So he’s going to have to work that out with his family and let us know what he wants to do.

Following his team’s 5-2 loss to the Habs and Sedin’s decision not to go to Sochi that night, Tortorella maintained that approach to the situation.

“Well quite honestly it’s none of my business,” Tortorella said. “That’s his call; that’s his family’s call. It’s for his country. But if you’re asking me as a hockey coach for a team he plays for after the Olympics, I think it’s the best thing for him to get him healthy. So we have had a number of conversations here for the last little while, him and I try to stay away from it. For me and for the big picture of this hockey club, it’s certainly good news because hopefully he’ll be totally healthy when he comes back.”

It’s not often lately that you’ll hear many in the media say that others in the NHL need to be like John Tortorella but that is exactly the case in this instance.

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James Murphy
Jimmy Murphy has covered the NHL in print, radio and television for the last 13 years. In addition to his work here at, he currently hosts The Top Shelf Radio Show heard every Monday-Friday 1-3 PM ET on and 2-3 PM ET on Sirius/XM NHL Network Radio.