The news that the NHL players would not be participating in the Beijing Olympics was hardly a surprise, but it is very disappointing. Instead of watching Alex Ovechkin pursue gold for Russia or John Carlson and T.J. Oshie don the red, white and blue for Team USA, we will instead see a few makeup games as the NHL tries to recover for all the games lost in December.
As disappointing as it may be for hockey fans to lose a best-on-best tournament for a medal, Capitals fans should take comfort in the fact that this is undeniably a good thing for Washington.
In addition to Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov (Russia), Lars Eller (Denmark), Carlson and Martin Fehervary (Slovakia) would all most likely have been included in their respective national teams. Players like Tom Wilson (Canada) and countrymen Michal Kempny and Vitek Vanecek (Czech Republic) would also have garnered consideration. Oshie and Backstrom (Sweden) would both most likely have been in without some injury issues during the season and both still likely would have been considered regardless. Evgeny Kuznetsov is technically suspended from international play, but Russia is appealing that suspension in the hopes that he would be able to participate as well.
That's a significant number of significant players for one of the oldest teams in the NHL.
The best-case scenario would have been that every player who participated would manage to avoid both injury and a positive COVID-19 test and be available to the Caps immediately after the Olympics ended, playing at the exact same level they all were before the Olympics. That's the best-case scenario.
Given the way the season has gone, did anyone really expect these players to all go to the Olympics and not have a single one of them test positive? That, by itself, seemed like a remote possibility. A positive test in China would have potentially meant that player being stuck in that country for three-to-five weeks based on Chinese COVID protocols.
Even if, somehow, the Caps managed to avoid any positive tests and any injuries, we are still talking about multiple players fighting for Olympic medals in a two-week, intense tournament on the other side of the world in the middle of the NHL season.
Anyone who has done any overseas traveling knows that jet lag is very real and that's true if you just spend two weeks laying on a beach, not two weeks of intense hockey.
Ovechkin has declined his last two NHL All-Star invitations in order to rest for the second half of the season. That's one exhibition game over one weekend. This is two weeks of high-level hockey playing for something second only to the Stanley Cup in terms of prestige.
In 2021, the Caps flat-out ran out of gas in a first-round playoff matchup against the Boston Bruins. The same thing happened in 2019. In Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes, they were running on fumes once overtime hit and it seemed like only a matter of time when Brock McGinn scored in double overtime.
Of the 11 players listed above who would gain at least consideration for the Olympics, seven of them are at least 30 years old. At the age of 36, Ovechkin is averaging 22:03 per game. That's his highest average since the 2008-09 season when he was 23. At 22:01, Kuznetsov is averaging the most ice time of his career, as are Eller (17:55) and Tom Wilson (19:19).
Even without the Olympics, you would expect this to catch up to the team at some point. Now add in a two-week tournament in China. What were the odds the Caps would somehow emerge from the Olympic break a better team than they were before? Somewhere between slim and none.
No Olympics will likely rob us of our last chance to see Ovechkin play for gold. That stinks. But in terms of the Caps' goals for the 2021-22 season, they are better off with the players not going.