The NHL has dispatched its own doctors to watch over its players in Sochi, and the league is operating under the assumption that the Russians will try to gain access to its medical data to get a leg up in the Olympics.
It's a fascinating, only-in-Russia story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that examines some of the unique challenges facing Flyers surgeon Peter DeLuca and internist Gary Dorsheimer as they prepare to butt heads with national team doctors while trying to keep their communications with the NHL secret.
The two are tasked with informing NHL teams about the injury status of their players at these games. But the NHL is concerned that the Russian government, which can easily read Olympic visitors' communications, will intercept these medical reports and pass them along to the Russian national team to give it an edge.
Their countermeasures will be twofold. First, no names will be sent. All NHL players will be referred to by code numbers, the key for which is possessed only by the two doctors and by team executives back in North America. Second, the physicians have new, separate phones to be used just for transmitting injury information.
"The owners were very concerned about that," said DeLuca. "They said any kind of personal account or anything with a password could be hacked by the Russians in a minute. So we left everything home, and they issued us these 'clean phones.' "
Paranoia? Maybe. But the entire communications infrastructure in Sochi was built and designed to give the government immediate access to data flowing in and out, and it appears that devices are being hacked the second users log on to public wi-fi.
The two doctors might be the least popular people at Sochi. Whereas the national teams' doctors are trying to keep players on the ice, the NHL reps could find themselves trying to keep the tournament's stars on the bench. Owners don't want their players risking further injury by playing through pain or head injuries—they want their million-dollar investments home safe and sound, national pride be damned. Said DeLuca: "We're here to supersede if the national doctor thinks a player can play and we think he can't."
NHL owners hate the Olympics. Beyond the risk of injured players, the Olympic break means the frustration of keeping arenas dark for nearly a month during a lull on the sports calendar. Here's what Flyers owner Ed Snider had to say last week:
"It's ridiculous, the whole thing is ridiculous. I don't care if it is in Philadelphia, I wouldn't want to break up the league. I think it's ridiculous to take three weeks off…in the middle of the season. How can anybody be happy breaking up the season? No other league does it, why should we? There's no benefit to us whatsoever. If anything, I can only see negatives."
NHL participation in the Olympics is a frequent bone of contention between owners and players, and an agreement to send them to Sochi wasn't reached until this past summer. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he expects a decision on 2018 to be made within the year, but observers believe the league is pushing for a return of the NHL-organized World Cup of Hockey, which would take place during the offseason—and perhaps more importantly, bring in money for the league.