The NHL has to be creative to solve its Olympic dilemma.
The league can't just keep skating awkwardly into the Winter Games, nor can it just abandon such a beneficial concept as this international tournament.
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Maybe the league could play its regular schedule and at Christmastime issue a video game with the U.S. playing Canada and Canada playing Russia and Russia playing Sweden …
OK, that won't solve the problem.
So what to do?
First let's acknowledge that the league's participation in the Olympics is a good thing but does have downsides.
It's insane to forsake for three weeks in the middle of the season all those NHL fans who pay the league's bills.
These fans might agree if the league sliced a dozen or so games off the schedule and by extension the cost of a season ticket … ah, but that isn't going to happen.
It's just as insane for teams like the Blackhawks to scatter their players around the globe and then expect them to hit the ice blurring when they reassemble.
Who knows where the non-Olympians are these days, risking broken legs skiing in Aspen or sunburn on a beach in Aruba or back injuries shoveling front walks in Lincoln Park?
Overall it's insane to turn the National Hockey League into Major League Soccer and interrupt the flow of the season for extracurricular tournaments.
What's next, allowing players to participate in "Survivor" and then come back for the Stanley Cup playoffs?
The NHL is positioning itself as doubtful participants in future Olympics.
Here are a couple of reported exchanges between International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at a news conference in Sochi, Russia.
Fasel: "Our door is wide open."
Bettman: "Shocking. I never would have guessed."
Fasel: "There is nothing like an Olympic gold medal in the life of an athlete. Nothing,"
Bettman: "Except perhaps winning the Stanley Cup."
The NHL has to know that an international tournament like the one currently being contested is good for the game. That U.S.-Russia thriller last weekend had even non-hockey fans talking hockey for a few days.
The Olympics provide the league with a global presence that every major North American sports league needs to help sell jerseys outside of its borders.
So we have here a yin and yang in search of a middle ground.
The league always is looking for a way to make January and February relevant, a series of outdoor games being the latest concoction.
Here's the solution: Bah-bah, Olympics, bye-bye.
Then set aside six weeks in the dead of winter and make the break more useful by annually or every couple of years playing an Olympic-style tournament in cities around North America.
The first week would be to gather players for practice. The final week would give them an opportunity to unwind.
The middle four weeks would feature a compelling international tournament at home.
Players who want to represent their native lands -- though not enough to enlist in the military, by the way -- still would be able to wave their flags.
Fans in places like Chicago who are addicted to attending hockey games would get rivalries like U.S.-Canada instead of Blackhawks-Blues.
NHL owners would lose revenue from maybe a dozen fewer regular-season games but get it back in more lucrative TV contracts and bloated ticket prices for the tournament.
Televised games would come on at a reasonable time … let the Europeans wake up early or stay up late to see their countrymen compete.
After the international tournament ends, the league and players could ease get back into the business of determining a Stanley Cup champion.
Overall the NHL would have two terrific tournaments under its own supervision.
This idea is so creative that not even the NHL could mess it up.