After weeks of speculation, the NHL closed the book on the 2018 Olympics on Monday declaring the league would not be participating in PyeongChang.
The NHL released this statement regarding 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 (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. 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. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 Regular Season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.
Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, also released a statement on Monday saying, "We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL. 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."
Despite the NHL’s recent rhetoric regarding participating, Monday’s announcement is still a rather stunning development.
So how did we get here?
At issue is the fact that, after participating in the last five Olympics, a majority of the NHL owners do not believe the benefits out-weigh the risks. By participating in the Olympics, teams are risking the health of their best players in a tournament in which the NHL has no financial stakes in. Play also suffers in a condensed schedule as has been evident at times this season thanks to the new bye week and preseason World Cup Tournament.
The two biggest questions now are what does this mean for players like Alex Ovechkin in 2018 and what does this mean for Beijing in 2022?
Ovechkin has made clear his intentions to represent Team Russia regardless of whether the NHL participates or not. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has also said he will support the captain. How the league will handle these issues remains to be seen. Ovechkin will certainly not be the only player who wants to leave to play in PyeongChang. What can the league or teams do to prevent it? Will others (Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby, etc.) follow suit?
This also potentially puts the NHL’s participation in 2022 in jeopardy. The league has made no secret of its hopes to extend the reach of the game through China even going so far as to put a two-game preseason series in there in 2017.
As the NHL’s statement details, the IOC basically told the league participating in the Beijing games in 2022 depended upon its participation in 2018. Which makes sense. So the Olympics are totally unimportant and not worth participating in…until 2022 because that’s a market you’re interested in? Yeah, no thanks. You can do both or neither.
Obviously the NHL is calling the IOC’s bluff. This all sets up another staring contest for 2022. The quality of competition will suffer without the world’s best players, but everyone knows the NHL wants to participate in 2022 so why would the IOC make any concessions?
So who will be playing in the Olympics? No doubt there will be a significant number of players from the KHL. Team Canada and USA will likely have to use junior and college players to fill the ranks as well as veterans playing overseas.
While the NHL hoped to put an end to the speculation before the playoffs, Monday’s announcement has raised more questions than it answered. But, it did answer the biggest question of all and answered it emphatically.
“We now consider the matter officially closed.”
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