HARRIS: NHL keeping players out of future Olympics would win gold for stupidity

USA forward T.J. Oshie is greeted by treammates after scoring a goal during a shootout against Russia in overtime of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)USA forward T.J. Oshie is greeted by treammates after scoring a goal during a shootout against Russia in overtime of a men’s ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s start with a question: Is the NHL stupid?


SEE ALSO: Sochi Olympics: Unbeaten preliminary mark hasn’t been path to men’s hockey gold


OK, that’s rhetorical. Don’t answer. The NHL is pretty much answering for itself by actually debating whether it will endorse its players participating in the Olympics when they roll around again in 2018.

A television report Monday morning said the league hoped to have an answer in six months.

It should take about six seconds, or less. Enough time to shout YES at the top of its collective lungs ought to be plenty of time.

Take this to the bank: The NHL needs the Olympics a lot more than the Olympics need the NHL. To deny its players the opportunity to play would be remarkably stupid and possibly damaging to the league.

It may not want to admit it, but hockey is a niche sport in the United States and that’s where most of the NHL franchises are located. Yes, the NHL is one of the big four of professional sports but it is clearly fourth among those four.

Attendance may not be a problem in most arenas but making the big bucks goes beyond fans in seats. You want your sport to be so popular the numbers on the TV contract make your eyes hurt. You want merchandising sales to be off the charts.

The Olympics expose hockey to a lot of people who might not otherwise watch. Will they remain fans? Not all of them, but some of them. Over time, that adds up. To deny your sport the exposure of the Olympics would be absurd. And to deny the Olympics bring extra exposure is even more absurd.

Let’s take a quick look at T.J. Oshie. How good is it to be Oshie right now, after his four goals in the shootout Saturday enabled Team USA to beat Russia in a preliminary game? His money is likely no good for years to come. He won’t have to buy his own meals or drinks.

Before that shootout, Oshie probably wasn’t very well known beyond the St. Louis area where he plays for the Blues, Minnesota where he calls home or among diehard hockey fans. He isn’t close to a star, like Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby. He’s a solid, working-class type of player who in five-plus seasons with the Blues has never had more than 19 goals or 35 assists in a season.

For a local comparison, he’s a Brooks Laich or a Troy Brouwer. That’s not a knock on any of those men, they’re just not household names nationally.

Now Oshie is a national hero, for something he did in a game that didn’t even earn the U.S. a medal. The 27-year-old can expect huge cheers every time he skates onto the ice in an American arena the rest of the season.

His Twitter handle, @OSH74, was up to 235,270 followers as of Monday afternoon. That’s an increase of about 150,000 since his shootout performance.

Yeah, he’d get that without the Olympics.

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