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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