Sharks

Players unhappy after NHL decides not to participate in 2018 Olympics

Players unhappy after NHL decides not to participate in 2018 Olympics

The NHL announced Monday that it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, refusing for the first time in 20 years to halt its season for three weeks so its stars can chase gold for their home countries.

From Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews to Connor McDavid and Henrik Lundqvist, the world's best players called playing in the Olympics important. The league decided otherwise.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly informed the NHL Players Association that the matter was "officially closed" after weeks of speculation. The NHL had allowed its players to participate in the last five Olympics dating to 1998, giving the Winter Games pro-level star power akin to the NBA players who participate in the Summer Olympics.

The league said no meaningful dialogue had emerged in talks with the NHLPA, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation. Even after the IIHF had agreed to pay for players' travel and insurance costs when the IOC refused, the NHL had been looking for more concessions that were believed to include marketing opportunities tied to the Games. The league wanted the matter resolved before the playoffs begin April 13.

Players immediately blasted the decision.

"Disappointing news, (the NHL) won't be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted," tweeted Lundqvist, the New York Rangers goaltender who won the 2006 Olympic gold medal with Sweden. "But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can't be part of the most special adventure in sports."

Former NHL forward Brandon Prust, who's now playing in Germany, tweeted: "Way to ruin the sport of hockey even more Gary #Olympics."

"Good to see the NHL and Gary Bettman always looking out for the good of the game," prominent agent Allan Walsh tweeted. "So much for that grand partnership with the players."

The NHL and NHLPA teamed up on the return of the World Cup of Hockey last fall and had made strides on growing the sport internationally, including games in China and Sweden later this year. The NHL has not ruled out participating in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, though the IIHF and IOC had indicated that could be conditional on the NHL going to South Korea. For now, the league is making its 2017-18 schedule without a break for the Olympics.

"We have previously made clear that, while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue," the NHL said. "Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL's participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs."

The IOC and IIHF did not immediately respond to the NHL's decision.

The league has cited the 13-hour difference from Pyeongchang to the Eastern time zone as one of its concerns. There was 13-hour difference to Nagano in 1998, six to Turin in 2006 and nine to Sochi in 2014. Team owners have long complained that stopping the NHL season every four years wasn't worth it and they have been wary of injuries to star players.

Still, many players expressed a strong desire to go, and Ovechkin has said he plans to go regardless of NHL participation.

"I think the players know it's very important for us to represent our countries," the Washington Capitals star said last month. "Everybody wants to go there."

The NHL has not decided whether to allow teams to make decisions on a case-by-case basis about players participating in the 2018 Olympics.

"If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, 'We want to go play for our country,' how am I going to say no?" Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said in February. "I might get fined, I might get punished in some way, but I feel I'm in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex."

It was not immediately clear how the United States, Canada and other countries will fill Olympic rosters, though national federations have already begun planning for this possibility. Hockey Canada said Monday that the NHL's statement was not what it was hoping for but will not change Olympic preparation.

"We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. "The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal."

NBC Sports, which televises both the Olympics and the NHL in the U.S., said it was "confident that hockey fans and Olympic viewers will tune in to watch the unique style of play that occurs at the Olympic Winter Games when athletes are competing for their country."

Months ago, the league offered the NHLPA a deal allowing Olympic participation in exchange for a three-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Players turned that down . Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, who represented the United States in Sochi, said he didn't think players should give up anything to go in 2018.

"We're not going to give up something ridiculous," Faulk said recently. "I'm sure they would take anything that's ridiculous for the Olympics. It's kind of like making a bad trade, and they would do it and we're not going to do it."

 

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

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AP

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 4-3 shootout win over Red Wings

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE -- Another night, another Sharks’ win.

San Jose certainly didn’t make things easy on itself against the Red Wings at SAP Center on Saturday night, and although the Sharks jumped out to an early lead, Detroit bounced back from two deficits and forced the contest into overtime. Kevin Labanc, though, played the hero with the lone marker in the shootout to clinch a 4-3 victory and extend Team Teal's winning streak to six games.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday's exciting win:

Jones comes up big

Martin Jones deserves credit for his solid play throughout the month of November, and San Jose's goaltender had another good start against Detroit. The Red Wings picked up speed over the course of the game and outshot the Sharks, but Jones was a steady presence throughout. Taro Hirose's second-period goal that tied the game 2-2 wasn't his fault and, frankly, he didn’t get much help from the defense when Andreas Athanasiou tied it up 3-3 late in the third period either.

One of Jones' best saves of the night actually came just before that Hirose goal when he made a huge kick save on Brandon Perlini that narrowly missed dribbling into the net. Although, to be fair, his blocker saves when San Jose went on the penalty kill in overtime were equally impressive.

If Jones continues making big saves like that on a nightly basis, the Sharks' fortunes will continue to turn for the better. 

Still in search of that four-line game 

The Sharks have been an improved even-strength team since the start of the month, but against the Red Wings, the forward attack didn't look as deep as it has on other nights. Labanc and Logan Couture did their fair share of the heavy lifting on the top line, as evidenced by Labanc's first-period goal and Couture's three assists on the evening. 

But other than that, San Jose's lines didn't generate much against a Red Wings team that doesn't have much forward depth itself. With two big divisional games coming up next week against the Oilers and the Golden Knights, the Sharks need more players to start producing on a regular basis. There's no way around it.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

On a positive note ...

Keep the big hits coming 

One of San Jose's top concerns heading into Saturday's game was being able to contain Detroit's speed. When the Wings did manage to break into the Sharks' defensive zone, San Jose did a good job of imposing its physicality and breaking up plays. Through the first two periods, the Sharks out-hit the Red Wings 10-5.

While San Jose still needs to work on taking more of the center of the ice away from the opposition, that's the kind of heavy game the Sharks must play regardless of how fast or physical the opponent is. If they can build off that performance, the wins will keep on coming.