The NHL's decision on whether to participate in the 2018 Olympics was made tougher by Alex Ovechkin's vow to play regardless of the NHL's decision. Now Capitals owner Ted Leonsis may have raised the stakes again by vowing to support his captain.
It's no secret that the NHL does not want its players to go to the Olympics. To do so, the regular season is put on hold for two weeks so star players can risk injury in a tournament in which the league gains no financial benefit. The World Cup of Hockey, which was rebooted by the NHL this summer, is the league's thinly veiled alternative.
Ovechkin, however, made it clear that he still intended to play in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018 in the next Olympic games, a claim which he also made prior to the 2014 games in his native Russia. If the NHL chooses not to particiapte, however, this will mean he will be walking out on the Caps for two weeks of regular season play.
In an interview with Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated, Leonsis was asked about the Olympics and Ovechkin's declaration.
To me, and this always comes up around Alex: When I first met Alex, and his mom and dad, they talked about the Olympics. The Olympics are incredibly meaningful to Alex and his family. So my commitment to them was, I will always do what’s in Alex’s best interest, and I said it 10 years ago, I’ll say it today: If Alex Ovechkin says this is really important to me to go represent and play for my country, I’m going to support him. What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll get fined or something. I hope it doesn’t get to that. But I’ve got to have my captain’s back, and I will.
It’s a players’ league. The fans come to see the players. They don’t come to see me play. But the players have to realize, is it good for the game? Is it growing the game? There’s the risk of injury. They have to weigh all of that. The union has to weigh all of that. The stakes get higher every four years. There’s more revenue. The players get paid more money. It’s a big business. And so I think it’s almost every four years, you have to have that gut check, and the union and the league and the players and the owners, we all have a voice. But to me, the overriding voice is of the players.
That is a strong endorsement from an owner.
Even if the NHL does not want to participate, if several high-profile players like Ovechkin choose to leave anyway, they may force the league's hand.