Yesterday afternoon the most famous man in hockey wasn’t named Crosby, Parise, or Ovechkin; it was T.J. Oshie. Outside of the immediate circle of NHL fans, it is safe to say the general public had never heard of T.J. Oshie and was likely unaware that he plays forward for the St. Louis Blues. Now Oshie is a household name and the latest United States Olympic hero (even if he does not want to be acknowledged as a hero).
TJ Oshie is hands down my favorite person that I’d never heard of 45 minutes ago.
— Kevin McElroy (@knickerbacker) February 15, 2014
The case of T.J. Oshie is just another example of how important the Olympic tournament is to the NHL. Sure, it may not directly result in dollars in the owner’s or league’s pockets, but it puts the very best the NHL has to offer on the world stage and turns them into even bigger stars.
The St. Louis Blues were scheduled to make 13 appearances this season the NBC networks (two on NBC and eleven on NBCSN). Normally, the Blues would not have the draw that a Pittsburgh, Boston, or New York would have. Now, NHL and general sports fans will have a recognizable figure that will want to tune in to watch. Because of the power of the Olympic competition, the St. Louis Blues have a star player over night.
As much as North American hockey fans try to argue that the Stanley Cup is the most important award in hockey, the response to success at the Olympics shows that national pride is still one of the most important things in sports. Oshie’s shootout performance gained more attention from non-hockey fans than it would had he just won a Stanley Cup.
Word on the street is that the NHL is considering now taking part in the 2018 Winter Olympics, and may instead decide to hold their own “World Cup of Hockey” in the near future. The World Cup of Hockey will provide immediate financial returns for the NHL and will garner interest from hockey fans, but the general public is not likely to tune in.
That’s the problem with abandoning the Olympics: everyone, even non-hockey fans, watch the Olympics. Olympic hockey to those people is like curling to me. I couldn’t name a single person on the US Curling team off the top of my head, but I can tell you I watch the sport every Olympics. If curling suddenly left the Olympics in favor of a “World Cup of Curling” tournament, would I tune in? Probably not.
If the goal of the NHL is to attract new fans to the sport, than the Olympics still remains one of the best ways of doing so. Team USA gets Americans watching hockey, and cheering for players who they potentially hadn’t even heard of before that particular game. If that isn’t worth putting the NHL season on pause for two weeks every four years, than I think the NHL is truly missing the point and only has short term financial goals in mind.