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The NHL Can't Handle The Winter Olympics

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- I don't think we were able to drive the point home when we took the diplomatic route with an earlier story titled The NHL Needs More Than A Miracle On Ice from the Olympics, so here it is more bluntly: The National Hockey League needs to stop sending its players to the Winter Olympics. Now.

It doesn't have to stop doing so indefinitely and this isn't a matter of amateurs vs. professionals -- especially not during games in which U.S. athletes need tons of sponsorship money to pay their own way. It has everything to do with the NHL's current state and the realities that its fans have to deal with.

Since the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, the NHL has sent players to the Olympics with its blessing. During that same period, the NHL saw its ratings decline during the dark, defensive "trap" era, saw labor disputes erode any goodwill it had built up with fans and saw its game fall from respectable "fourth-sport" status on Fox and ESPN to esoteric fodder for hard-to-find channels like OLN and Versus.

It's a world in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who is almost unanimously booed during Stanley Cup presentation ceremonies, sacrificed 2,100 games and a generation of future growth to work stoppages based largely around revenue and player compensation. It's a world in which the league's Southern migration has produced nearly as many trouble spots (Florida, Phoenix and Nashville) as success stories (Carolina, Anaheim, San Jose, Dallas). It's a world in which the NHL hitched itself to Olympic ice hockey history that awarded gold medals to only five nations since 1948. Only eight nations have won any medal in the sport during the last 17 winter games.

In an ideal world, the Winter Olympics would be an ideal time for the NHL to show off its goodwill and be rewarded with tons of new casual hockey fans and lots of international growth for its efforts. The world described above is not that world. In the NHL's hockey dystopia, every step forward is greeted with a huge shove backward.

Tampa Bay gives Florida a Stanley Cup? Cancel a season. The Winter Classic gains traction in the U.S., Sidney Crosby gets a cup and the Original Six teams return to form? Lockout. Sign a 10-year, $2 billion broadcast deal with NBC and finally have a calendar year in which the Stanley Cup Finals draw more eyes than they have in 20 years, the Winter Classic matches a viewership record and more cities embrace outdoor games? Shut it down for a few weeks for the Olympics.

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