Pens must deal with Olympics this year

PITTSBURGH – Dan Bylsma had a day off last week, but he didn’t get a break from coaching.

Bylsma used the day to cram for his high-profile moonlighting job as coach of Team USA in the upcoming Olympic games.

Bylsma is among the many who will be heading to Russia in February while the NHL shuts down for two and a half weeks.

In order to clear that much time, the NHL has compressed its 82-game regular season. That creates clusters like the Pittsburgh Penguins recently had with 15 games in 25 days.

That kind of breakneck pace isn’t good for the players or the quality of play, but that’s the price the NHL is willing to pay to be in the Olympics.

It’s just another reason why the NHL’s participation in the Olympics is a mistake.

The prospect excites the players. Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal for Team Canada in the last competition, and he counts it among his biggest thrills.

That’s great for him, but how good is it for the Penguins, who pay Crosby close to $9 million a season? He’s as well-conditioned as any NHL player, but how much of a burden is it to play a busy NHL schedule, then travel more than 11,000 miles for two weeks of high-intensity hockey, then come back to finish the regular season and prepare for a playoff run that might last another two months?

Do Penguins fans, who pay a premium for tickets, really have a vested interest in rooting against Crosby or Evgeni Malkin if they face Team USA? If you’re spending thousands to watch the Penguins, you want to see Crosby with the Stanley Cup, not a gold medal. With a nine-hour time difference between here and Russia, how much of a TV audience will there be for hockey games?

And if this sentiment isn’t too hopelessly corny and naive, how about the Olympic ideal of using amateurs? That went out the window when we started assembling NBA dream teams to stomp the likes of Cuba and Venezuela.

The reason people remember the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” USA hockey team so fondly is the players were underdogs. They were college kids who went up against Russia’s pro-laden squad and beat immense odds.

Most of them weren’t prime NHL prospects, and it didn’t matter.

Mike Eruzione, the 1980 Olympic captain, never spent a day in an NHL camp. Yet he’s still probably better known than two-thirds of the current NHL players.

Maybe Crosby wins another gold medal. Maybe Malkin or Bylsma gets that prize.

No matter what, a lot of people are going to be more interested in seeing if they can beat the Bruins this spring when they return to their real jobs.

Mehno can be reached at