The NHL figuratively bent over backward in the new collective agreement set to be ratified by NHL players this weekend or early next week. Actually, if necessary, the owners may have literally bent over backward, too. The NHL owners made legitimate concessions to the players over the past few weeks, so the 24-team NHL return to play would happen. As a result, we’ll probably get to see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin battle for gold one more time.
Yes, yes, technically, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could play until they are almost 40-years-old and beyond. And, yes, if NHL players play in the 2026 Winter Olympics, Team Canada may add Sidney Crosby as a legacy, much like Team Canada did for Mario Lemieux in 2002. Crosby will be 34-years-old in 2022. Malkin will be 35.
But let’s be real. The 2022 Winter Olympics is an unexpected gift, perhaps the best or only gift COVID-19 has given us (unless you own Amazon stock).
Let’s realize the silver, er, gold linings which the new spirit of cooperation between the owners and players have given us. The new NHL CBA agreement will allow Crosby and Malkin to faceoff again as each is still a viable, world-class star.
Probably for the last time, too.
No matter the 12-hour time difference between Beijing, where the games will be held, and no matter that the 2021-22 NHL season will be shut down for weeks while star players make the trek across the globe to spread the gospel of hockey to a billion Chinese citizens (the ones who weren’t imprisoned or disappeared for sounding the alarm about COVID-19, anyway), and billions more via television.
NHL owners have stood in opposition to including players in the Winter Olympics. It’s been done. The novelty for North American fans peaked. The NHL season must stop for weeks, and owners don’t make a nickel from the Olympic hoopla. In short, there wasn’t any benefit to the owners beyond making players happy.
Players were upset, including Erik Karlsson, who fired off an angry Tweet.
“Whoever made that decision obviously had no idea about what they’re doing,” Karlsson tweeted.
Even 2010 and 2014, Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock expressed his disappointment publicly.
“All I can say about that is I’m disappointed,” Babcock said in 2017.
The owners held firm in 2018, and the Russian NHL players like Malkin, for whom a gold medal is a childhood dream, got to watch their countrymen win Russia’s first gold since 1992.
Players groused and wanted to address the Olympic participation for 2022 in the upcoming CBA talks, but their odds of winning that battle were not good. COVID-19 and the players assuming 100% of the health risks to return to play changed everything.
Owners had every reason to satisfy the players 18 months from now so the league could restart this month. NHLPA chief Donald Fehr probably gets a stick tap for this one, too.
The Olympics will forever be a defining moment in Sidney Crosby’s career. “Iggy!” Crosby screamed over 18,000 Canadian fans willing their country to gold in the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, just before Crosby received the pass from new Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla and buried the shot behind Team USA goalie Ryan Miller.
“The Golden Goal” immediately endeared Crosby to his country after a few years of battling public criticism from the hard-core hockey traditionalists who objected to Crosby’s on-ice complaining.
2022 Team Canada captained by Crosby, one more time, vs. Team Russia with a 36-year-old Alex Ovechkin and Malkin. Jack Eichel, the new captain of the (insert team here), will lead Team USA.
Who knows who will be the 2022 hero. Things have changed so dramatically in just a few months, it’s hard to imagine a return to normal. Perhaps the new swine flu, which reportedly has pandemic potential, will deliver a heavy dose of irony and shutdown those games which hockey players won by player during this pandemic.
But Crosby v. Malkin, one more time. It’s a nice consolation to this crazy season.