NHL says it will not participate in PyeongChang Olympics

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The NHL now considers the matter “officially closed.” It will not participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The league wanted a concession from the International Olympic Committee, International Ice Hockey Federation or the NHL Players’ Association to entice owners and officials to take a break in its season to accommodate the Olympics for a sixth straight time dating to 1998.

The NHL made clear for months its stance — it would not break for the Olympics if the status quo didn’t change.

Which led to Monday’s statement, in full:

“We have previously made clear that, 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 (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead, the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL’s participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And 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. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention 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.”

What did the NHL want in return for committing to PyeongChang?

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has cited “fatigue” among team owners about repeatedly taking a break during the season to send players to the Olympics. Owners have mentioned the risk of having their stars get injured away from their team in the middle of their seasons. South Korea, with its 14-hour time difference from New York, was also not as enticing a Winter Olympic host as, say, Canada or Russia, for the NHL to gain.

Other issues Bettman and other league and team officials expressed include a lack of exposure and benefit for the NHL, the league’s inability to use the Olympics for marketing due to sponsorship rules and money.

“If they [the IOC] don’t value our participation why are we going,” Bettman said last week, according to Reuters. “From our standpoint there may not be any next steps.”

Months ago, the NHL offered the NHLPA a deal allowing Olympic participation in exchange for a three-year extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Players turned that down, according to The Associated Press.

The NHLPA called the NHL’s decision “shortsighted”

“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 NHLPA said in a statement. “The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead, this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.

Moreover, it is doing so after financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF. 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.”

Four years ago, the NHL didn’t announce until seven months before the Sochi Olympics that it was participating in those Winter Games. But the NHL and Olympic officials had a handshake agreement one year before Sochi, according to Sportsnet.

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

The NHL’s statement Monday made no mention of possible rules or penalties that would discourage or prohibit players from playing in the Olympics, other than missing NHL games.

Who will make up Team USA and Canada?

USA Hockey would look mostly to the college ranks if it couldn’t field NHL players. Canada eyes a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor-leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA, according to the AP in February.

USA Hockey didn’t discuss roster specifics in a statement Monday evening.

“We respect the NHL’s decision and will examine our player pool options and plan accordingly,” assistant executive director hockey operations Jim Johannson said in a statement.

Hockey Canada said it wants NHL player participation.

“Today’s statement by the NHL is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players,” Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney said in a statement. “This does not change our preparation for the Games — we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward.”

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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Lara Gut-Behrami wins Killington giant slalom, and the overall title race may be on

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Swiss Lara Gut-Behrami rallied from third place after the first run for her 35th career World Cup victory, taking a giant slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Saturday.

Gut-Behrami, 31, earned her fifth World Cup giant slalom win and first in six years. She prevailed by .07 of a second over Italian Marta Bassino combining times from two windy runs. Sweden’s Sara Hector, the Olympic champion and first-run leader, ended up third.

“Last two years I’ve been getting better in GS again,” said Gut-Behrami, who won the GS at the last world championships in 2021. “Last year I was struggling with my health. I was all the time sick.”

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Gut-Behrami’s best events are downhill and super-G, so a strong start to the season in GS could put her on a path to winning the World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. She previously lifted that crystal globe in 2016.

Reigning World Cup overall champ Mikaela Shiffrin, who previously placed second, third, fourth and fifth in Killington giant slaloms, finished 13th after winning the season’s first two races, slaloms in Finland last week. It marked her lowest World Cup GS finish since December 2019.

“[Finland] was a spectacular weekend,” Shiffrin, who has not had much recent GS training, said after her 10th-place opening run Saturday. “Every race is a different story.”

Shiffrin won all five World Cup slaloms in Killington dating to 2016 and will go for her 50th career World Cup slalom victory across all venues on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC and Peacock).

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