There is exactly one year and one day before the opening ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and still there is no word on whether NHL players will be participating on that world stage.
If the season does shut down for the Olympics in 2018, as it has every four years since the Nagano games in 1998, there will undoubtedly be some Sharks that will play for their respective countries. Several have participated in the games before, including Patrick Marleau, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and perhaps some others would be in line for their first Olympics.
The consensus among some of them polled is that they think the NHL players belong in the games, a message echoed consistently by other players throughout the league.
“Yeah, I think for our sport and everything, for the players, it’s a cool event [and] special,” said Pavelski, who served as captain of Team USA in the World Cup last September. “It means a lot. Players want to go.”
Couture said: “It would be weird without the NHL players there, obviously. I grew up watching NHL players playing in it, so for me, it would be weird to not see some NHL guys there.”
Marleau won a pair of gold medals with Team Canada, including the most recent games in 2014 in Sochi.
“It’s hard to imagine [players not going] now that we’ve been going there for awhile,” Marleau said. “You want the best playing against the best, and you need NHL players in order to do that.”
From the league’s perspective, though, the indications are it would be just fine skipping the games this time around.
At the All-Star Game less than two weeks ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman questioned whether it’s worth it for the NHL to shut down in the second half of the season, thereby forcing another condensed schedule and risking injuries to players whose NHL teams are in the midst of a playoff push. The Islanders’ John Tavares, for example, missed the rest of the season after hurting his knee in an Olympic quarterfinal game in 2014.
"The focus from the club standpoint is, what does the disruption to our season mean and how do we deal with it and how problematic has it become?” Bettman said, via NHL.com.
"It's particularly been highlighted this year with some dissatisfaction with the schedule, which was a combination of, to some extent, the [World Cup in September] and, to some extent, the five-day [bye weeks] that the Players' Association insisted on. So the clubs are very concerned about the competitiveness of our season, the health and well-being of our players, whether or not there is fatigue. From our standpoint, we are very focused on the disruption to the NHL season."
Vlasic – never one to hold back his opinion when it comes to league matters – wondered why it’s acceptable for the NHL teams to risk injury and have a condensed schedule for a league-generated tournament like the World Cup, but not for the Olympics, of which there is really no financial benefit to the NHL other than exposure.
“Condensed schedule, we had it this year because of the World Cup. So, it’s OK for the World Cup and not the Olympics?” Vlasic asked.
“We’re hockey players that play in the NHL, but as the best athletes [we] should have the right to go to the Olympics. I was fortunate enough to experience it once, and would love to go again. If guys that haven’t experienced it get a chance to go, they should. We should. Hopefully, they reach an agreement.”
On Wednesday, TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted that he believes the drop dead date for a final Olympic decision is “still likely a full month away.”