“Some familiar faces will be absent at the 2018 Winter Olympics: NHL players representing their countries in the men’s ice hockey tournament.
“After months of negotiating with the ‘IIHF’, world hockey’s governing body, the NHL announced…that its players would not be participating in the Pyeongchang Games. The NHL is opposed to a 17-day break in the NHL schedule to accommodate the matches.
“The NHL said in a statement:
“In an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, our intention [is] 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.”
“Olympic participation has been a hot-button issue among fans and players. And even though a decision has been reached, that doesn’t mean the debate won’t continue.
“With last year’s gimmicky ‘World Cup of Hockey’ drawing mixed reviews, and the annual world championships still not bringing out the world’s best players, NHL players participating at the Olympics for a true best-on-best tournament has become a celebrated and anticipated event on the hockey calendar.
“So while hockey fans are definitely missing out, it’s possible that the NHL could end up suffering in the long-term as well.
–‘So, really: why aren’t players going?’
“Money, naturally. After Canadian and New York Islanders star John Tavares was injured at the 2014 Olympics and missed the rest of the regular season, team owners and executives realized they were putting their assets at risk.
“The IOC is not offering the same deal to the NHL that it did in 2014 in terms of travel and insurance costs – and this is at the centre of the NHL walking away. The NHL and its owners don’t profit from the Olympics the way they do the ‘World Cup of Hockey’.
“Unless, of course, you deem exposure of its stars and the game at its best as a profit. But that’s not the way this league sees it.
–‘Does the NHL need the Olympics?’
“Yes. The NHL is still light years away from being a globally-recognized league similar to the NBA, and the Olympics are the perfect opportunity to increase professional hockey’s exposure. These tournaments have routinely provided some of the best hockey we’ve seen in recent years and it’s exactly the type of hockey that the league is moving towards: fast-paced, all skill and no fighting.
“Since the 2014 Olympics, the NHL has welcomed a crop of generational players, including Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. These are players that the league will eventually try to make the faces of the game and Pyeongchang, would have been a perfect place for them to begin their ascent as hockey’s next Crosbys and Ovechkins.
“You see, many hardcore hockey fans know that some of the best players in the world have vanilla-type personalities, and shrug off the notion that any kind of league rivalry could be built between McDavid and Matthews. But nothing says rivalry in hockey like Canada-USA, USA-Russia and Sweden-Finland, all of which would feature the world’s biggest stars.
“That’s what you can sell, and that’s what third parties like those in South Korea and China would buy. But that’s not the way the league sees it.
–‘What’s all this about a schedule change?’
“In 2014, the NHL halted play between 9 and 25 February to allow their players to travel to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. They also had no all-star game.
“Had NHL players gone to Pyeongchang, similar changes to the 2017-18 season schedule were expected.
–‘Have there been any recent issues with the NHL’s schedule?’
“Big time. To allow for the NHL-sanctioned World Cup before the season, the latter-half of the NHL season has featured a cramped schedule. The Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, will have 11 games in their final 19 days of the regular season. In a league that’s skewing younger, this can be especially taxing on players who have not acclimatized themselves to the late-season grind.
“Furthermore, the NHL also gave each team a “bye week” this season to deal with the schedule changes, meaning no practices or games for five days. But even that was met with disdain from players, coaches and executives.
–‘How do players feel about not going to the Olympics?’
“Maple Leafs and Canada coach Mike Babcock and Buffalo Sabres and USA star Jack Eichel voiced disappointment on Monday night, while Canadian goaltender Carey Price and Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist said similar.
“Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson was blunt in his assessment:
“Whoever made that decision obviously had no idea about what they’re doing.”
“The NHL players’ union released a statement on Monday condemning the NHL’s “short-sighted” decision.
“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and disagree with the NHL’s short-sighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics,” it read. “Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
“The league’s efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”
“Alex Ovechkin, one of most vocal proponents of NHL participation in the Olympics, didn’t back down on Tuesday either, saying that he would still go to the Olympics regardless of NHL participation.
“I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” he said in Toronto. “It’s my country. Everybody wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity of my life to play in the Olympic games.”
–‘Does this mean NHL players won’t be participating in any future Olympics?’
“Tough to tell. The 2022 Beijing Games, in a market the NHL clearly has eyes on, was the bargaining chip the IOC had. Whether the NHL’s decision emboldens the IOC to not offer any financial assistance in getting players to China remains to be seen. Nevertheless, a serious lack of foresight by the NHL could hurt the growth of the game in market that seems prime for the taking.
–‘So, NHL players won’t go: there will still be a men’s hockey tournament, right?’
“I don’t see why not. There are hundreds of Canadian and American players playing abroad and in junior and amateur leagues, not to mention some of the best non-NHL players in the Kontinental Hockey League and Swedish Hockey League. This just won’t be a best-on-best tournament, and given the time difference to major North American and European markets, the ratings are likely to suffer.
–‘Is there the possibility that some players will go rogue and still compete in the Olympics?’
“I hope so. The NHL deserves to be publicly embarrassed on this, and if there’s a player that believes playing for his country trumps playing for his club, he should book his ticket to South Korea.
“Some NHL owners, such as Ted Leonis of the Washington Capitals, have backed his players desire to go, telling ESPN.com late last year:
“(Ovechkin) knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.”
–‘This all sounds bad for hockey.’
“That’s because it is. South Korea might not be China, but for a league and game that should be focused on overall growth, this is a serious missed opportunity.
“The NHL has further driven a wedge between themselves and their star players with this decision, the majority of who seem to want to go to the Olympics.
“It’s a league still drenched in a conservative mentality that has prevented proper player safety with regards to its backwards-ass prevention of headshots, fighting and concussions.
“The players lose because this is a tournament they truly love to play in. And those players who do go, NHL or not, won’t be given the proper fan attention, possibly out of spite. And finally, just when the visceral hate for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was slowly starting to subside, he will again become the punching bag for so many fans.
–‘OK, but does this mean someone other than Canada could win the gold medal?’
“Canada won the gold medal at the 1952 Winter Olympics and didn’t win again for 50 years. Most of those tournaments were played by amateur players.
“Canada has since won gold at the 2002, 2010 and 2014 tournaments.
“Given that this decision likely opens the door for professional players in the KHL and Swedish Hockey League to participate, arguably the second and third-best leagues in the world, I would wager Canada won’t add to their recent gold medal haul.”
–‘Why won’t the NHL allow its players to go to the 2018 Winter Olympics?’,
Joshua Kloke, The Guardian, 4 April 2017
“It appears the 2018 Winter Olympics will lack the star power of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews after the NHL announced Monday it will not interrupt next season to accommodate the Pyeongchang Games.
“Instead, hockey will likely be represented on the global stage by many players with unrecognizable names – think Brad Schlegel, David Harlock and Dwayne Norris from Canada’s silver-medal winning team at the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
“Disappointing news @NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018,” New York Rangers goaltender and two-time Olympian Henrik Lundqvist said on ‘Twitter’. “A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted.”
“It was the hope of superstars like McDavid, Jonathan Toews and Alex Ovechkin that the NHL would come around to the big picture appeal of the 2018 Games, but the league never found the answer it was looking for.
“What exactly might have swayed their opinion toward letting players attend isn’t clear. NHL owners never bought into the idea that shutting down the season for 17 days in February would benefit the league in the long run.
“Their angst was most certainly sparked by the International Olympic Committee’s insistence that out-of-pocket payments for players to attend in 2018 would no longer be covered.
“I think when the IOC said ‘You know what, we don’t think it’s worth it we’re not going to pay,’ I think that may have opened a whole can of worms,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at one point in the process.
“And from there, the owners dug in there heels and never moved – even when the International Ice Hockey Federation found apparent money to cover costs like travel, accommodation and insurance.
“But it was beyond just dollars and limited growth potential from South Korea. Owners were wary of the season disruption and impact of a compressed schedule, along with increased risk for player injury.
“Bettman said in March that
“there’s somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”
“In a statement announcing their decision, the NHL said “no meaningful dialogue has materialized”, pointing fingers at both the IOC and NHL Players’ Association.
“The league revealed a relatively new position from the IOC, suggesting that participation at the 2022 Beijing Games hinged on participation in 2018 and adding that the NHLPA had demonstrated
“no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs.”
“What the players’ association could have presented is unclear. Perhaps a counter-offer to a late-2016 proposal that swapped Olympic participation for an extension of the current collective bargaining agreement may have moved the needle.
“The NHLPA balked at that proposal, unwilling to hurriedly alter terms of an agreement reached to conclude the 2012-13 lockout.
“Asked in late March how players would react if the NHL opted not to let them go to South Korea, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said they wouldn’t be happy.
“They know we think it’s important,” Fehr said. “They know that we believe very strongly that players ought to have an opportunity to play. They know we think it’s in the long run good for the game. And it’s something that we ought to try and do.”
“Fehr suggested then that players might be able to attend the Games in 2018 regardless. He said the union thought it was “very probably an individual club decision” on whether players could go to the Olympics, an avenue that could conceivably allow those like Ovechkin to come to agreements on attending with their respective teams.
“Ovechkin has insisted that he’ll attend in South Korea no matter what the NHL decided and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has supported that stance.
“The NHL is sure to address that matter at a later date, but it’s worth wondering how the league would react if stars like Ovechkin suddenly bolted mid-season to play for their countries.
“The move also came as a blow to broadcasters and individual federations, with rights-holder NBC and ‘Hockey Canada’ both expressing their disappointment in statements.
“Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said that the organziation will resort to “Plan B”. A Canadian roster would likely be built using players from professional leagues in Europe and other minor circuits. ‘Team Canada’ is the two-time defending Olympic champion.
“Fehr noted recently that the Olympics might have to be worked into future CBA negotiations, with opt-outs for the current agreements in September 2019 now looming large.
“This might not be the end of the story, though.
“While the NHL insisted that it considered the matter “officially closed”, the NHL has been working on two separate 2017-18 schedules for months – one that includes the 2018 Games and one that doesn’t. And given the bigger potential implications, it wouldn’t be surprising if an already-bumpy process took another turn.
“NHL players should be there and I certainly hope they are there,” McDavid said back in January. “I can’t picture an Olympics without (NHL players) to be honest.”
–‘NHL won’t participate in 2018 Olympics; league says matter ‘officially closed’’,
Jonas Siegel, Associated Press, April 3, 2017
“The NHL Players’ Association has formally rejected the league’s offer to allow players to participate in the 2018 Olympics in exchange for an extension to the current collective bargaining agreement.
“NHLPA executive director Don Fehr says that the players, primarily the executive board, showed no interest in the idea…
“The NHL proposed the idea to the players’ association in the course of discussions last month.
“Under the plan, the NHL would green light participation in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games if the players agreed to extend the current contract by three years, eliminating a potential opt-out clause in the fall of 2019.
“Had the players agreed, the CBA would have been extended to 2025, transforming it from an eight-year pact with an option, to 10 years with three added on top of that.
“Fehr said there was no appetite among players to extend the agreement for nine more seasons (including this one) in what would effectively be the career lifespan of most players in the league today. There were elements of the agreement, he noted, that the PA wanted to further examine before it got into bargaining.
“League officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
“NHL players have participated in the last five Olympics…
“Concerns have bubbled this time around, partly as a result of policy changes under ‘International Olympic Committee’ President Thomas Bach.
“He has been resistant to continuing to fund (along with the ‘International Ice Hockey Federation’) out-of-pocket payments for NHL players (insurance, travel, accommodation, primarily) to attend the Games.
“The IOC and IIHF have covered these costs, upwards of US$10 million according to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, since 1998 when the NHL first began attending the Games. Bach recently told the Olympic channel that
“it is in the interest of both (the IIHF and NHL) and also of the IOC to have the best players at the Olympic Games”, noting that “all the rational arguments are speaking in favour of participation”.
“NHL owners are wary of shutting down their season for two-plus weeks in February to accommodate the Olympics, what with the requisite scheduling changes and potential for injury. There’s also a considerable time change in South Korea, which could hurt North American viewership.
“I can’t imagine the NHL owners are willing to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days,” Bettman told attendees of the ‘PrimeTime Sports Management Conference’ in Toronto last month. “I just don’t see that.”
“IIHF president Rene Fasel said recently that the federation could find the money to fully cover the out-of-pocket payments, somewhat dulling the NHL’s stance regarding the money issue…”
–‘NHL Players Association rejects deal for participation in 2018 Olympics’,
Jonas Siegel, Canadian Press, December 2, 2016
“The NHL says it will not allow league players to participate in the ‘2018 Winter Olympics’ in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“Well, that’s a relief.
“I was worried that Olympic hockey might interrupt the Canucks during another exciting race for a high draft pick… Now, they’ll be fresh for the 2018 stretch tank.
“Some people aren’t taking it well, though. The Olympic hockey tournament is a very big deal across this country.
“It’s not that we aren’t thrilled if a Canadian wins Olympic gold in the biathlon. But like it or not, for many Canadians the rest of the Olympics are like all the Oscars that precede ‘Best Picture’. Now Gary Bettman has just strolled onstage and eaten the envelope.
“To his critics, this is just one more example of the ‘Bettman Touch’. The NHL commissioner is like ‘King Midas’ except that instead of gold, everything he touches turns into something that responsible dog owners would pick up with a plastic bag and place in the nearest bin. Whatever interests Bettman represents, they rarely seem to coincide with those of ordinary fans.
“Canadians want NHL players at the Olympics. Team owners do not.
“The result? As predictable as a Russia-France preliminary round match-up. If Gary Bettman had invented hockey, it would likely involve guys in suits chasing hundred-dollar bills that are being dragged around the ice on fish hooks.
“Bettman’s Olympic ban will give Russia a serious advantage, since they can still draw on a large ‘KHL’ player pool…
“Still, even without NHL players, 2018 could provide an interesting Olympic tournament. Although Canada will suffer most from the NHL ban, every major hockey country will be hurt, including Russia. 2018 won’t bring back the golden Olympic ideal of amateur athletics but it will certainly reopen the Olympic hockey tournament to players for whom the experience will be the undeniable highlight of their careers.
“I have always considered the Stanley Cup to be the ultimate pro hockey prize. The Olympics, while exciting and fun, exist in a different world.
“It’s not necessarily a bad thing if different players pursue Olympic gold.”
–‘Olympics exist in a different world than NHL’,
Steve Burgess, 24Hrs Vancouver, April 4, 2017
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