PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- T.J. Oshie is the second-leading scorer on the third-best team in the National Hockey League, which meant absolutely nothing to most U.S. viewers of this year's Winter Olympics.
He'd been sent to the line six times during the game-ending shootout portion of the U.S. men's hockey team's opening-round matchup with Russia. He scored four times for Team USA and netted the game-winner. Still, Oshie's name elicited little more than a "Who's that" from casual fans. Oshie is one of the NHL's top scorers on a rising St. Louis Blues team, and his performance drew a record 4.1 million viewers on average for NBC Sports on Saturday, including 6.4 million who tuned in to the last half-hour just to see the shootout.
That should be great for the league and Oshie, but it's disappointing when compared with the average TV audience of 4 million people who watched Game 3 of last year's Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. That was the highest-rated broadcast in NBC Sports Network history and drew an audience that actually wanted to watch hockey. The NHL is seeing diminishing returns on its Olympic contribution, and not even another Miracle On Ice could help it regain the Olympic spirit.
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For the past five Winter Olympics, the NHL has sent its players to the Winter Olympics with its blessing. Each year it did so, it closed up shop within the one portion of its calendar when it faces no competition in the U.S. from football or baseball and minimal encroachment from either college or professional basketball.
Each time, it's seen interest in the league either level out or dip immediately afterward. Some of that is the NHL's own fault, with multiple work stoppages erasing games, eliminating an entire season and shaking fans' faith in the league. But even the NHL's owners are reaching the conclusion that the time, lost revenue and multimillion-dollar human resources they're expending for the sake of the Olympics are a bad investment.
Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider broke protocol before the Sochi Games and, via the Flyers' own website, ripped into the decision to break up the NHL season every four years and send its athletes off to games that not only hold little to no benefit for the league, but could result in injuries to players considered valuable commodities to their teams in the U.S. and Canada:
"If I had my way, we'd never go to the Olympics. We're the only league that breaks up our season. Basketball plays in the winter, but they play Olympics in the summer. It's ridiculous. The whole thing's ridiculous.'
Snider is certainly not the only NHL owner who feels this way. During an appearance on TSN 1050 Radio in Toronto last week, TSN reporter Darren Dreger implied that NHL owners had absolutely no interest in sending their players to the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the reasons Snider stated.