Top Shelf: Catching Winter Olympics fever in July

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Updated: 7/25/2013 3:14 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This summer's free agent market wasn't great to begin with and most of the big names that were available have long since found their new homes.

With little action on the free agency front to occupy its time, the hockey world has instead turned its attention to an event that is more than six months away -- the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

It was always a foregone conclusion that NHL players would be allowed to participate in the upcoming Olympics, but the official announcement last week has set off a flurry of interest in the ice hockey tournament at the next Winter Games.

In many ways it seems hockey fans are more excited for the Olympic tourney -- a competition that lasts less than two weeks -- than they are for the actual start of the NHL regular season in October.

Even the announcement of individual countries' Olympic camp rosters (not the final Olympic rosters, mind you, because those won't be revealed for several months) have created tremendous buzz. Sure, it's fun trying to sort out which players will play for your home country come February, but the power-brokers of the NHL would rather fans focus on their own product instead.

The excitement surrounding NHL players' involvement in the Winter Games has always been bittersweet for the league and its team owners. From a business standpoint, the Olympics offers some benefits for those financially invested in the NHL, but the cons outweigh the pros.

Being businessmen first and foremost, the NHL and its owners must find it difficult to get excited about an event that doesn't directly benefit them financially. Still, on some level they can be happy about how the Olympics generates tons of goodwill for hockey as a sport.

The problems lie in the potential havoc this quadrennial event can play on an NHL season. There is, of course, the fact that the All-Star Game -- an event that wasn't staged last season due to the lockout -- is scrapped in order to fit the two-plus weeks of time off needed in February to make NHL involvement in the Olympics possible.

Then, there also is the fear of individual owners that one of their star players could get injured while representing their country instead of the team that pays their bills. Considering the guys who actually get to play in the Winter Games are usually the best of the best, this is a very real concern.

But, when it comes right down to it the NHL can't afford to actively oppose the league's involvement at the Olympics due to the possible public relations nightmare that could follow.

If the league lobbied to stop its players from competing at the Winter Games, there would be a tremendous backlash from both fans and players alike. It would look like the NHL valued a few weeks of profit over something that means so much to the people who play in the league and the folks who pay those players' salary.

Rather than stand in the way, the league wisely chooses to grin and bear it while the hockey world counts down the days until the NHL closes up shop for a few weeks to make way for Olympic hockey.

To the true money-makers of the NHL -- the guys who make players like Sidney Crosby look like a peasant -- the Winter Games has become a necessary evil. It may have helped the sport grow back when NHLers were first allowed to compete at the 1998 Nagano Games, but these days it's probably not moving the dial much in terms of actual dollars and cents.

So, if you're a hockey fan who wants to get back at the NHL and its owners for last season's lockout, just keep on mentioning how excited you are about the Winter Games.

It beats holding your breath waiting for free agency news to happen.

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