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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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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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