Olympic training camps recently began for many hockey-playing nations. However, the chatter surrounding these camps kicked into high-gear a few weeks ago, via Twitter no less. Allan Walsh, a player agent who represents Martin Havlat among others, reported through his account that any player who was injured while participating in an Olympic training camp would be suspended and would not be paid under the terms of his National Hockey League contract. According to a tweet from Walsh, the collective bargaining agreement guarantees player contracts during the Olympics (and World Championships, under Article 24), but the league does not believe that the training camps are meant to be covered by the agreement. As one would imagine, this created quite a stir in hockey circles.
Walsh stated in another tweet, “NHL benefits w [sic] Olympic participation and players bear all risk!” It certainly seems that way. With varying degrees of success, the NHL is able to use the Olympic tournament as a showcase for the game. Although Gary Bettman and the owners say they dislike shutting the league down for two weeks in February every four years, the Olympics are quite a spectacle for the league. I don’t have any facts to back this up, but I have to assume that somehow the league benefits financially from the players participating in the Olympics. All 82 regular season games are still played, so there is no lost revenue from games not being played. The Olympic tournament is the ultimate display of skill, as the very best players in the world play against each other in a short, do-or-die format. From a fan’s perspective, it is probably the best hockey there is. How could the NHL not benefit from this?
A team’s fear that an injury may occur, though, is quite reasonable. In 2006, Dominik Hasek’s groin injury suffered during the Olympics quite probably cost the Ottawa Senators a shot at the Stanley Cup that year. However, is it really necessary for the NHL to suspend a player injured at one of these camps? Players train harder in the offseason now than ever before. They have to come to training camp in September in tip top shape. Would the same player be suspended if he was injured during an off ice training session or during a pickup game of ball hockey with friends? Some contracts may stipulate this, but I don’t know if the majority of them do.
Hockey Canada has secured extra insurance for players taking part in its Olympic Camp. The National Hockey League Players’ Association has also told participating players that they may want to purchase extra insurance on their own in case of an injury. While the likelihood of an injury is low (they aren’t going to be going full tilt at these camps), making sure that your client is protected (and his contract) is sound thinking for an agent.