Olympics, NHL do not mix

PITTSBURGH – Several of the Pittsburgh Penguins are coming home from Russia empty-handed.

Then there’s defenseman Paul Martin, who is coming home with one of his hands in a cast because of an injury sustained in one of the Olympic games.

There’s no medal, and no real sense that anything was gained in the two and a half weeks lost so the NHL could send highly-paid stars on all nationalities to participate in the Olympics.

Pending the result of the gold medal game, some of the Penguins will come home with medals, but what does it really mean?

The next time the Olympics come calling, the NHL should slam the door.

Send regrets, not players. It isn’t worth interrupting the season, and it isn’t worth the wear and tear on players.

Preliminary reports indicate Martin will miss a month because of his injury. He’ll fare better than John Tavares, the New York Islanders’ best player. He’s done for the season after sustaining a knee injury during the Olympics.

Islanders general manager Garth Snow, a former goalie who spent some time with the Penguins, was upset.

“Are the [Olympic ruling bodies] going to reimburse our season ticket holders now?” Snow said. “It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from the NHL players playing in the Olympics, but they don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt.”

Snow is right. He’s protecting his own interests, of course, but he’s fundamentally correct. NHL millionaires have no place in the Olympics.

Last week, some of the successful non-hockey Olympic athletes were making the talk show rounds. They were proudly wearing their gold medals.

For the snowboarders and skiers, this is the highlight of a lifetime. Olympic competition is what drives their sports. How can it be as meaningful for hockey players, who earn millions competing for the Stanley Cup every year?

Teams regularly write clauses into contracts that prohibit players from engaging in risky activities. There’s no water skiing or sky diving allowed. Naturally, NHL teams wouldn’t let their players play for another hockey team. So why make an exception for the Olympics?

Back to work

The Penguins resume the NHL schedule with a home game against Montreal on Thursday.

How long will it take the NHL to get back up to speed? While the Olympic participants are dealing with their jet lag, the rest of the team will contend with re-starting after a long vacation.

The Penguins started practicing late last week, so players should have a pretty good chance to get re-acclimated. But games may be a little ragged until everyone settles back into a rhythm.

So it starts

Clint Hurdle of the Pirates was among several MLB managers who attended a recent tutorial on the procedures for the new replay policy.

This is going to be interesting. It’s going to be a much bigger change to the culture of the game than some may anticipate.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.