Losing Tavares hurts Isles, but NHL’s Olympic participation pays off in other ways

Adam Proteau
John Tavares

The post-Olympics portion of the New York Islanders’ 2013-14 schedule begins tonight when they host the Maple Leafs – and conspicuous by his absence will be Isles superstar John Tavares, injured at the Sochi Games en route to winning a gold medal with Team Canada. Via GM Garth Snow, the team has made clear its dissatisfaction with the NHL sending its best players to the Olympics.

“Are the (International Ice Hockey Federation) or (International Olympic Committee) going to reimburse our season ticket holders now?” Snow told New York’s Newsday. “It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt.”

While Snow’s sentiment certainly is understandable – any NHL GM who lost his franchise player would be irate – the notion the IIHF and IOC aren’t paying any of the freight for NHLers at the Olympics simply isn’t true. That much was apparent this week when the league reiterated the two international organizations paid for insurance that will cover Tavares’ contract for as long as he’s injured, which in this case is for the rest of this season. This was a contentious issue for the NHL, IOC and IIHF as recently as last April; although the governing bodies had paid for player insurance at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the NHL had to fight to retain it – and retain it they did.

So the Islanders do get relief on their business bottom line and aren’t altogether helpless victims in this scenario. But even with Tavares still in the lineup, they were going to be Hail Mary long-shots for a playoff berth. Is Snow suggesting fewer people will buy tickets with Tavares on the sidelines than they would have with him healthy? Doubtful.

And there’s another element of “payoff” and “reimbursement” at play with Olympic participation that Snow isn’t respecting here: The exposure of the Games pays off in the NHL attracting (a) more fans to attend Isles games; and (b) more amateur players to the pool of talent that one day could be part of an Islanders Stanley Cup-winning team. Are the Isles planning on giving any cut of the money on long-term higher TV ratings and better ticket sales to the IOC and IIHF? I think we all know the answer.

Of course it stinks that Tavares was hurt. But that injury could’ve happened just as easily at any IIHF world championship (a tournament at which Tavares participated in from 2010-2012) and been more severe than his current injury. Should the NHL bar its players from participating in future world championships as well? Should we allow them outside their homes in the summer? A player can be adversely affected at the gym, in their car, or walking down a flight of stairs. Should we force any hosts of parties they attend to sign waivers making them liable for any accidental injury an NHLer suffers on their premises?

In Tavares’ case, even the player himself recognizes the importance of NHLers going back to future Olympics and said he’d do so again. And he’s right. The benefits of continued participation aren’t going to show up at the ticket window immediately – or appear on your team owner’s door with a giant fake check in hand – but they are there if you want to see them.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you’re a team like the Isles that’s desperate to emerge from a painfully stubborn fog of ineffectiveness. But sometimes you need to look past a few fallen trees if in the process you know you’re planting the seeds for a more vibrant forest.