Action Sports 1 year ago

NHL players, fans angry: will they compete in the Winter Olympics ever again?

  • NHL players, fans angry: will they compete in the Winter Olympics ever again?

Is this the end of NHL participation in the Olympics? | By Yvonne Hew

The NHL were firm in their decision not to allow a break to accommodate players’ participating in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. “Disrupting” the 2017-18 schedule was their main concern, but several players and fans have voiced disappointment over the announcement. It seems schedule disruption is only one of the reasons NHL players may not compete in the Olympics again.

There are no financial benefits

NHL players have been allowed to represent their homelands in the last five Winter Olympics, dating right back to the 1998 Nagano Olympics. The International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee financed their costly travel and accommodation expenses for not just the players, but their families too. Thomas Bach, president of the IOC since 2013, was vehement when stating the organization would no longer pay those costs, which may have exceeded $20 million, according to a report by Helene Elliot of the LA Times.

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Yes, the Olympics highlights the NHL through television exposure throughout the world, but the viewers it draws are mostly casual fans who won’t follow the NHL when the Games are over. Participation hasn’t reaped substantial financial benefits for the league or the teams. Adding to the lengthening list of reasons against, are the restrictions placed on promoting players’ Olympic achievements. The NHL and its players simply can’t rake in any marketing-related income.

And yet, the NHL still state a schedule disruption as their main issue. In a news release, they said, “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 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… this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 Regular Season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games.”

Expenses and lack of monetary benefits are not mentioned.

Possible consequences for players and clubs?

Some players are adamant about participating in the Olympics, even if the NHL doesn’t take a break. Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechin, indicated as much. The league has yet to determine how to handle situations like this – issuing a blanket rule prohibiting participation or on a team-by-team basis.

The NHL believes that players under NHL contracts are paid to play solely in the NHL. In a report by Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports, a league-wide legislation would ban players from taking a break to compete in the Olympics -- with severe consequences such as a suspension for the player and/or a fine for the club allowing this to happen. Because of this possibility, the NHL doesn’t anticipate any current NHL player contracted for the 2017-18 season to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

A player agent spoke to Wyshynki, explaining the implications. “It’s going to turn into a chaotic situation because if one team is letting a player go, then other players are going to want to do the same thing and other owners are going to say ‘I will do this’ or ‘I won’t do this’ and then it’s going to be a non-competitive league because some stars are going and some stars are not.”

Even with a possible negative outcome for competing in the Olympics, disappointment was rife amongst some players. New York Rangers goaltender Henrick Lundqvist thinks missing the Olympics will be a waste of a marketing opportunity.

Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry, a 2010 and 2014 gold medalist had hoped to play in 2018. “Guys have the drive to go and play for their country, and that’s kind of what you want to do.”

LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, also a gold medalist from 2010 and 2014, also spoke about the honor of playing for his country. “Any time I could represent my country would be great.”

Fans echoed their sentiments.

USA Hockey remain optimistic. In a statement, executive director Dave Ogrean said, “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.”   

It’s no wonder USA Hockey has a positive outlook. If no NHL player participates, Team USA will likely consist of college all-stars aspiring to play in the pros shortly after, much like the team Herb Brooks assembled for the 1980 Olympics. USA won gold.

Comments made by various parties indicate NHL players won’t participate in the 2018 Olympics, or will face dire consequences if they do. But with the desire to represent their home countries still burning, will the situation be any different for future Winter Olympics beyond 2018?

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