Erik Karlsson

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Sweden’s top skater rules out defying NHL for Olympic place

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Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson, the only player to make the NHL’s First All-Star Team each of the last three seasons, will not be going to the PyeongChang Olympics.

The Ottawa Senators captain said he will not follow the lead of Russian Alex Ovechkin, who has said he plans to play in PyeongChang despite the NHL not taking a schedule break to send players to the Winter Games.

“You can have guys go and ask their owners if they can go and play,” Karlsson said on Sportsnet on Thursday. “Am I going to do that? Would I like to do that? Yeah, I would like to go to play in the Olympics. But am I going to? I’m not. I’m not going to leave in the middle of February, leave my teammates, go and ask if I can go do something on my own. So yeah, the door is completely shut, unfortunately, for NHL players to go and play in the Olympics.”

Not exactly. Ovechkin could still go, though the NHL hasn’t yet announced what punishments — if any — players and teams would face for Olympic participation.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said his organization and the NHL have a verbal agreement to respect the NHL’s decision and not allow NHL players in PyeongChang, according to Sport-Express in Russia on Friday. That would mean that if Ovechkin is under contract with the Washington Capitals come February, he wouldn’t be allowed to play in PyeongChang.

Another Russian superstar, Evgeni Malkin, recently said he’s still holding out hope to be an Olympic exception.

Both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada are moving on, saying their 25-man Olympic teams will be made up of players not in the NHL.

Karlsson led Sweden to silver in Sochi, tying for the tournament lead with eight points and being named the best defenseman at the Winter Games.

Karlsson had previously declined to discuss whether he would try to play in PyeongChang back in April, when the NHL announced it would not send players to the Olympics for the first time since 1994.

Sweden’s longtime starting goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, has expressed disappointment (like many players) about the NHL-Olympic situation but hasn’t announced whether he will try and go the Ovechkin route. Neither has Sidney Crosby.

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As NHL stars react to Olympics, who will follow Alex Ovechkin’s lead?

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NHL stars expressed disappointment, of course, after the NHL announced it would not participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, but an important question remains largely unanswered.

Who will follow Alex Ovechkin‘s lead and declare they intend to defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway?

Capitals teammate and U.S. Olympic star T.J. Oshie would not answer that question Tuesday.

“When it comes down to it, I’ll make a decision about that, but as of right now, I’m staying positive, hoping we can figure something out,” Oshie said, according to ESPN.com.

Sidney Crosby won’t say, either. Nor will Connor McDavid.

Star Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators declined to answer the question Monday, according to Postmedia News in Canada, but still criticized the NHL.

“Crap, pretty much,” Karlsson said of the NHL decision, according to the report. “I don’t understand the decision. It’s very unfortunate for the game of hockey around the world that they’re going to do this to the sport. I think it’s going to hurt a lot if we don’t end up going.

“Whoever made that decision obviously has no idea what they’re doing.”

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos is also taking a wait-and-see approach. Stamkos memorably missed the Sochi Olympics due to a fractured right tibia.

“Yeah, you can certainly have that attitude [of going to the Olympics anyway], but we don’t know exactly what the rules and regulations will be regarding that topic,” he said, according to ESPN.com. “Until you know that, you can make an informed decision at that time. Personally, there’s some time here to maybe let things settle down a little bit and reflect. Hopefully, something can change their mind.”

Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both said they would not leave the NHL club midseason to play in the Olympics, according to Chicago media.

Likewise, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said he will not push for a Canadian Olympic team spot if the NHL’s decision is final.

“I wouldn’t be able to go away from my team here,” Holtby said. “I couldn’t do it. That’s just personal. Everyone’s priorities are kind of different.”

Another star Russian forward, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues, reportedly said he would think about the situation in the summer.

The Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, the No. 1 goalie for Canada’s gold-medal team in Sochi, wasn’t convinced the NHL’s decision was final.

“I think there’s maybe a little bit of tactics involved,” he said. “We’ll see. The Olympics aren’t here yet.”

Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped Sweden to gold at the 2006 Torino Olympics, was one of the first stars to comment, doing so via Twitter:

“Disappointing news, NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted,” he said. “But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports.”

The most tenured active Swede, four-time Olympian Henrik Zetterberg, said the NHL “probably wants something from” the NHL players, “as always,” likely referring to a bargaining chip.

Auston Matthews, who was in line to become the youngest U.S. Olympics men’s hockey player since 1992, dismissed a question about the NHL decision but said he would have wanted to go to PyeongChang.

Buffalo Sabres leading scorer Jack Eichel echoed the disappointment sentiment.

“Obviously, as a league, we’re trying to grow our game all over the world,” he said. “I think the Olympics is a good way to do it. … To be able to play the game in other continents, other places, and allow them to see how exciting and the type of game we play, I think it’s a good opportunity.”

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Senators owner on Erik Karlsson at Olympics: Maybe, if he was Canadian

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Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk reportedly said he would not let star Swedish defenseman Erik Karlsson play at the Olympics without NHL participation, unless, maybe, Karlsson was Canadian.

“So I’m going to give Sweden my best player at the risk of him being injured, beating our Canadian team,” Melnyk said on Sportsnet. “That doesn’t make sense. Maybe if it was a Canadian going to play for Canada. Maybe. But right now it doesn’t make any sense for our franchise, or it’s not fair to our fans if we were to lose him [to injury], God forbid.”

Karlsson, 26, helped Sweden to a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics, tying for the tournament lead with eight points, and was named the best defenseman at the event. A year later, Karlsson earned his second Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.

The NHL hasn’t announced whether it will take a break in its season to participate in a sixth straight Olympics in PyeongChang. NHL officials have said that if the status quo doesn’t change, they will not be going.

That stance has led owners and players to be asked if they would consider going against NHL policy and playing in the PyeongChang Winter Games anyway, at the risk of possible punishments.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has said he plans to play for Russia no matter the NHL’s stance. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has supported Ovechkin.

“Good, go ahead, wait until you’re going into the Stanley Cup final, or you’ve got a hot team or you’re favored for the Stanley Cup and Ovechkin is gone,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News. “Go to [Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey] Price. He gets hurt. What happens to the Canadiens?”

Karlsson said that he really wants to go to the Olympics, according to Sportsnet, but thus far has not come out with an Ovechkin-like declaration that he would hope to go even if the NHL doesn’t participate.

Which brings us to Melnyk.

“No, no, it would be no, a flat no,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News.

Part of Melnyk’s thinking comes from 2006, when his then-star goaltender Dominik Hasek injured himself at the Torino Winter Games. Hasek didn’t play another second for the Senators, who went on to lose in the second round of the playoffs.

“I had a Cup in 2006 parked for me and waiting for me,” Melnyk said, according to Postmedia News. “We were arguing about whose name was going to go on the [Cup]. We were there and what happens? Hasek. I’m not going to do that.

“Can you imagine if [Karlsson] goes and he gets a permanent injury? You know what I’m saying? That’s my view.”

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