PyeongChang 2018 still hopes for NHL players despite no Olympic break

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PyeongChang 2018 president Lee Hee-Beom is not giving up on NHL participation at the Olympics, even after the league announced a schedule with no Olympic break on Thursday.

“I think the NHL is trying to take an upper hand in the negotiation,” Lee said, according to Yonhap News Agency, adding that he hoped to discuss the matter with IOC President Thomas Bach in person next Thursday. “It’s premature to say definitively that the NHL will not participate.”

The NHL schedule released Thursday includes games on every day of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. That cements the league’s stance since April that it will end a streak of participating in five straight Olympics dating to 1998.

“No talks with any entities regarding NHL player participation in the 2018 Olympics,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, according to Russian news agency TASS on Friday. “The matter is formally closed.”

In May, the IIHF said it was “exploring options” with the NHL Players’ Association and the IOC and still “keeping the door open” for NHL participation at the 2018 Olympics.

IIHF president Rene Fasel said he planned to call NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and hoped there was more time to convince Bettman to change the NHL’s opinion on Olympic participation.

Bettman said on May 29 that the deadline had passed.

The NHL previously announced an All-Star weekend in late January, less than two weeks before the Winter Games. It did not hold All-Star games in 2006, 2010 and 2014 due to the Olympics, but did have All-Star games in 1998 and 2002, the first two Olympics with NHL participation.

The biggest complication in the NHL not participating in the 2018 Winter Games is the situation of Alex Ovechkin, who has said he plans to leave the Washington Capitals to play for Russia regardless.

Capitals owner Ted Leonsis supported Ovechkin last year but backed off a bit in April, according to Sports Business Daily.

“We have an expectation that none of our players are going [to the Olympics], but I don’t want to get involved in the gymnastics involved in what that means,” Bettman said May 29. “There’s no reason to pick that fight right now.”

Men’s hockey during the Olympics runs Feb. 14-25. The Capitals play six times during that span.

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