NHL players disappointed in decision to forego Olympics

NHL players disappointed in decision to forego Olympics

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."

[RELATED - Why the NHL won't send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics]

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."

Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team


Alex DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks All-Decade Team

Throughout the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Chicago will be unveiling its Blackhawks All-Decade Team. The roster will feature the 14 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders that made the biggest impact on the franchise from the 2010 through 2019 seasons.

Less than two and a half seasons was all we needed to see from Alex DeBrincat, a highly-skilled and crafty winger for the Blackhawks, who's usually looking to shoot instead of pass. 

DeBrincat was one of the biggest steals from the NHL Draft in recent years. The Hawks taking him in the second round, No. 39 overall, of the 2016 draft changed the way teams selected players.

There's been less hesitation for GMs to pick forwards around DeBrincat's height (5-foot-7) if they're point-producing machines with strong vision and skating. Right out of the gate, the 21-year-old recorded 28 goals for his rookie campaign during the 2017-18 season and followed it up with 41 last year.

"The Cat" has seen a dip in production tallying 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 32 games so far this season, but expect that to pick up.

DeBrincat has utilized his size in being able to sneak by defensemen and find open areas in the offensive zone like the left circle, where he's rifled in a lot of his goals with the Hawks. The Farmington Hills, Michigan native has 151 points (77 goals, 74 assists) in 196 games with Chicago.

He hasn't hoisted the cup or even played one playoff game yet with the Blackhawks, but if/when he does reach the postseason in his career, he'll be a reason why his team got there and will surely be a difference maker.

Alex's chemistry (and interesting friendship) with old Erie Otter (OHL) pal Dylan Strome, as well as with Patrick Kane, amplify the forward's strengths and make him even more fun to watch. 

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Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward


Struggling Blackhawks still trying to find a path forward

ST. LOUIS — One year ago today, the Blackhawks were enjoying an off-day after snapping their second eight-game losing streak of the season with a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Adjustments were still being made under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, but there was at least some optimism that light would be at the end of the tunnel once they all got on the same page.

The Blackhawks have an off-day on Friday, but they’re in a much different place this time around. And not in a good way.

After losing for the ninth time in 12 games (3-7-2) and third straight (0-2-1), the Blackhawks are making standings watching irrelevant in Chicago in a year where it shouldn’t be. Their playoff chances are slipping away quicker than an odd-man rush and nobody wants to start looking ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft class because they shouldn’t be in this position again.

The inconsistency issues are real, the injuries continue to mount, the losses are getting uglier and the schedule is only getting tougher. The Blackhawks aren’t just losing hockey games. They’re not even giving themselves a chance. 

In their last six losses, the Blackhawks have been outscored 29-11 for a minus-18 goal differential. They’ve given up at least five goals in four of them and have one regulation win since Nov. 17.

And it’s hard to see how it can get better.

The easiest in-season change to make when a team with playoff expectations is underperforming is to change the voice and message the players are listening to. But the Blackhawks played that card last season.

In 2015-16, the Blackhawks deservedly earned a pass for running out of gas in the first round after coming off a season in which they captured a third Stanley Cup in six years.

In 2016-17, the Blackhawks called being swept in the first round by Nashville as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference a "wake-up call" and promised changes.

In 2017-18, the Blackhawks pointed to Corey Crawford’s season-ending injury in December as a reason for their second-half spiral.

In 2018-19, the Blackhawks preached patience after making a coaching change for the first time in 10 years.

In 2019-20, there is no excuse. The Blackhawks had another long offseason to get it right and Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were coming off career statistical seasons at age 30. The roster is better but the product on the ice hasn’t changed.

The tide eventually might turn for the Blackhawks, but right now it's difficult to see a path for how it will.

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