Part of the blame falls on the International Ice Hockey Federation, which devised the format, but more blame goes to the NHL, which touts diversity and the game's international flavor yet refuses to extend its break. In addition to Slovakia, seven other nations among the eight in the qualifying field have national team players on NHL rosters.
Here's hoping that by 2006, the NHL excuses players for all Olympic rounds, even if it requires a shortened league schedule. That concession would allow the world's top skaters to compete for the gold on an equal footing.
Scoring Dips Again
The Reason for The Plunge
Commissioner Gary Bettman is fond of saying that 70% of NHL games are decided by two goals or fewer, but a number that's less adduced is 5.17—the average number of goals per game through Sunday. If this stat were to hold up for the season, it would be the lowest since 5.07 goals per game were scored in 1955-56. This year's figure is curious because scoring, which had been decreasing at an alarming rate for most of the 1990s, rose in each of the previous two seasons, reaching 5.51 in 2000-01.
Explanations for this year's dip are a dime a dozen—familiar cries ranging from improvements in goalie equipment to conservative coaching systems to the dilution of talent wrought by expansion are heard—but one of the best theories comes from Avalanche center Joe Sakic. "Because of the compact schedule necessitated by the Olympics, guys are tired," he says. "Every year is long, but you have breaks, time to recuperate. In an Olympic year, you play every other day, a lot of back-to-backs."
Sakic's analysis makes sense. In 1997-98, a season in which the league's 17-day Olympic break necessitated a similarly compressed schedule, goals per game declined precipitously, by .55 compared with the year before.