NHL players vent frustration over Olympic decision

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Brad Marchand is not happy. Neither is Vladimir Tarasenko. And they are not alone.

A handful of NHL players are voicing their frustration over the league’s decision barring them from participating in the Winter Olympics in China in February. Even though the agreement between the league and NHL Players’ Association was contingent on pandemic conditions not worsening and disrupting the season, many say they are upset they were never given the choice to go.

Marchand, Boston’s top left winger who would have been a shoo-in for Canada’s Olympic roster, ripped the league and union for bringing back taxi squads to keep the season going but not to push through February with he and others given the option to go to Beijing.

“For all of you who want to pipe back about forfeiting pay while being gone, (yeah) not a problem,” Marchand said in a lengthy Twitter post. “Let the players make their choice.”

Letting players make individual choices to leave their NHL teams for the Olympics was never on the table. The possibility broached by Marchand and Tarasenko is more like soccer, which allows players to be loaned to national teams for international competition.

Tarasenko would have been one of Russia’s top forwards at the Olympics and said he would have left the St. Louis Blues to represent his country if given the choice.

“Of course,” he said. “You would be surprised how many people choose to go.”

Alex Ovechkin said he wanted to go to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games even if the NHL did not participate. The Washington Capitals captain relented before training camp in 2017, with he and other players begrudgingly accepting the Olympics would go on without them and hoping 2022 would be different.

A second consecutive Olympics without the NHL has some looking back with sharper anger to 2018, when the International Olympic Committee would not pay for travel and insurance costs as it did five times from 1998-2014. Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said players were “robbed” of the chance four years ago.

“Obviously this year with what’s going on in the world, it’s a little more understandable,” Stamkos said. “But the last Olympics where we weren’t able to go because of different issues with the NHL, now it just stings even more knowing that for some of the older guys, this is probably their last chance.”

This was probably the last chance for Stamkos, teammate Victor Hedman and a generation of NHL players. And while the extension of the collective bargaining agreement includes a provision for the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina, this year has shown there should be only pessimism and doubt until the puck is actually dropped at the Olympics with NHL players there.

With the next Olympics more than four years away, what about another World Cup of Hockey like in 2016? Marchand’s teammate, Taylor Hall, is in favor of that.

“Going forward I’d like to see a World Cup format again and try and make that just as important as the Olympics in people’s minds,” Hall said.

Only problem is it’s not at all the same in players’ minds. As Stamkos pointed out, “The Olympics are the Olympics, and there’s really nothing that can compare to that experience.”

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