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 the league’s main concern. But several players and fans have voiced disappointment and anger over the announcement. It seems schedule disruption is only one of the reasons.
Will NHL players face a participation ban from all Olympics?
NHL players have been allowed to represent their homelands in the last five Winter Olympics, dating back to 1998 in Nagano. The International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee financed the costly travel and accommodation expenses for not just the players, but their families too.
Thomas Bach, president of the IOC since 2013, stated that the organisation would no longer pay those costs. Which may have exceeded $20 million, according to a report by Helene Elliot of the LA Times.
No financial benefits
The Winter Olympics hasn’t had significant benefits for the NHL. Yes, the Olympics highlights the NHL through television exposure throughout the world, but the viewers it draws are mostly casual fans.
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.
The NHL has spoken
And yet, the NHL still state a schedule disruption as their main problem. 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.”
The players want to participate but could face consequences
Some NHL players are adamant about participating in the Olympics. Even if the NHL doesn’t take a break. Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin 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 players contracted for the 2017-18 season to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
NHL players speak out on social media
Even with a possible negative outcome for competing in the Olympics, disappointment was rife amongst players. New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist thinks missing the Olympics will be a waste of a marketing opportunity.
Disappointing news, @NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted..
— Henrik Lundqvist (@HLundqvist30) April 3, 2017
But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports..
— Henrik Lundqvist (@HLundqvist30) April 3, 2017
Anaheim Ducks right wing Corey Perry, a 2010 and 2014 gold medalist was hoping 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,” said Perry.
LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, also a gold medalist from 2010 and 2014, also spoke about the honour of playing for his country.
“Any time I could represent my country would be great.”
Fans’ opinions reflected the players’ views.
NHL: WE NEED TO GROW THE SPORT AND BRING IN MORE VIEWERS
NHL: Yeah, we’re not gonna do that Olympics hockey thing that had 27.6M viewers
— Kirky (@michaelkpeters) April 3, 2017
Team USA will be fine
USA Hockey remain optimistic. In a statement, assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johanssen said “In the end, we’ll have 25 great stories on the ice in South Korea and will go to the Olympics with medal expectations.”
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 for the pros shortly after. Just like the team Herb Brooks assembled for the 1980 Olympics. USA won gold.
Comments made by various parties suggest 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, will the situation be any different for Winter Olympics beyond 2018?
by Yvonne Hew – contributor