By Jake Shoemaker

With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament officially here, we, as fans, must take the time to savor the quality of Olympic hockey as it stands because this could be the final year that NHL players are allowed to participate.

During the NHL’s most recent work stoppage, Olympic participation was a hot-button issue amongst owners and players. The owners, who invest incredible amounts of money into both their NHL franchises and the players who play for them, want their players to have no part in the Olympics for a variety of reasons. They fear risk of injuries to their investments (the players) and they detest the loss of revenue during the two week Olympic break. But, although these arguments are valid, the owners are failing to recognize one thing: fans love Olympic hockey and the NHL must respect its fans.

After the NHL cancelled the 2004-2005 season, public interest in professional hockey decreased dramatically. No doubt, one of the major contributors to this decrease in “popularity” was the split between the NHL and ESPN. When the league returned from a year of invisibility, the world’s most powerful sports network no longer had any vested interest in promoting the NHL. As a result, the NHL had to slowly work it’s way back into favor with its viewers.

Over the past decade, the NHL has steadily gained popularity in large part due to its phenomenal partnership with NBC, a network that has been committed to developing its presence in the sports world. And guess what? NBC owns the rights to all Olympic coverage.

So, here you have the Olympic hockey tournament. A chance for the NHL and NBC to subtly “advertise” their product to the world. A chance for the NHL to remind the casual hockey fan how exciting the sport is. A chance for NBC to remind the sports fan who blindly watches ESPN for their sports coverage that there is another network out there – one with a different product. A better product.

NHL fans don’t lose interest over the Olympic break. They root for their country and they track the successes of their home-team stars. People who love hockey will continue to love hockey.

The Olympic break is a pause in NHL consumption but not hockey consumption. And the hockey consumption occurs on the same television network as the NHL. In the end, the more people the NHL can get watching high quality hockey, the more people the NHL will draw to its product when play resumes.

The NHL and NBC need the best players in the world to participate in the Olympics. And that is what the fans want.

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