Jonathan Toews has been vocal about playing in the Olympics, what it means to wear that national sweater and compete for the gold medal he's already won twice.
So his disappointment at Monday's news, that the NHL will not go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, was considerable.
"It just seems unfortunate that the players voice that it's something that they think is beneficial not only for them, but for the league and for our game as a whole, and it automatically turns into a negotiation. It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us when the next CBA negotiation rolls around. It's not about the long-term goals of our game and growing it and the bigger picture. [It's] not only for the players that are presently at the top of the game that want to play at the Olympics and represent their countries next year in South Korea, but it's obviously about the future, as well," Toews said on Tuesday. "Obviously I disagree with the short-sightedness of this whole thing, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that players can get that cooperation from the league. Tough bounce."
Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche were pretty unanimous in their thoughts on not attending the Olympics. It's a grand stage, the grandest of them all, and to have that opportunity denied is leaving a sour taste.
"I know Stanley Cup playoffs are competitive but when you get down to a single-elimination tournament, they don't get any more intense, any bigger games, especially if you're playing for a medal. That's disappointing," said Duncan Keith, who also won gold in 2010 and '14. "I understand the league's point of view, that they don't want to shut it down. It's just too bad there couldn't have been something that could've been worked out, because I think the fans like it and obviously the players like it."
As Keith said, the league has its reasons for not wanting to participate. Going to the games creates about a three-week shutdown in the schedule. While still competing with the NBA in February, the NHL does have more of a stage (the NFL is nearly done and baseball yet to start).
Avalanche center Matt Duchene still thinks the Olympics loom larger.
"It's a chance for teams get exposure for people looking to watch sports. I understand that perk. But I know everyone in Canada gets more up to watch Team Canada than even their favorite Canadian team for one of an 82-game schedule," Duchene said. "I think it'd be big for the US, too. Look at what T.J. Oshie did [his repeat shootout in the 2014 Games in Sochi]. It put American hockey on the map even more. It's a great thing for hockey to be grown at that Olympic level."
Patrick Kane agreed.
"They just announced some games in China. You have the ability to take the best players to South Korea to grow the game even more," he said. "Everyone has a different opinion on it but as players we definitely feel the pride and the excitement of wearing your nation's colors. It's another opportunity to grow the game and maybe help future players get involved even more."
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin made it clear a while ago that, even if the NHL didn't go to South Korea, he would. He reiterated that to the media on Tuesday. Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog said he wouldn't rule it out – "if I was to be part of Team Sweden and a part of that, it'd something I'd have to think about and would have to see which decisions could be made."
Toews and Kane said they'd respect the league's decision and stay with the Blackhawks. Keith was a little more on the fence.
"It's a tough position as a player. You want to be respectful of the team and your owner who pays you the money, but also you want to be patriotic every chance you can and play for your country," Keith said. "It's a tough decision. I think that'll be based on the individual. And the team."
Is there still a chance this is revisited and the league does OK a trip to South Korea? The league deemed the matter, "officially closed" in its statement on Monday but players are hoping is is not the end of it.
"Hopefully not set in stone; hopefully something could be reached. I don't know if this is posturing or what but it's great to have NHL players over there playing for their countries," Duchene said. "It's disappointing to see the decision but hopefully it can be salvaged."