NHL will opt out of 2018 Winter Olympics
The presence of National Hockey League players in the Winter Olympics will be missed in PyeongChang next year. The NHL recently announced that after five consecutive Winter Games with the participation of the organization, the NHL would be opting out from the 2018 Olympics.
Discussions about the NHL allowing players to participate had started years ago and, in 2014, hesitance from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was apparent. Bettman’s argument has always been that the break is a “strain on the players, on the schedule and on fans”.
In an announcement the NHL echoed this argument: “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.” While the NHL was open to continuing the discussion, the organization also stated that “a number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized.” The statement concluded with, “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.”
With this decision, any chance of the NHL participating in the 2022 Olympics also seem slim. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) appears to have made participation in PyeongChang a precondition for participation in Beijing, according to the NHL.
In a statement, the IOC called NHL’s decision “regrettable” and shared that they felt sorry for the players who would have to miss the Games.
Several players have shared their anger or disappointment with the decision.
Henrik Lundqvist, the New York Rangers and Swedish national team goalie, called the decision “disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports” on Twitter and added that “a huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted.”
Patrik Laine, Finnish winger for the Winnipeg Jets, said that he thought it was “unfortunate to see that the NHL said no and I think that everybody that is playing here would want to go and represent their country.”
Alexander Ovechkin was much more vocal about his push against the NHL’s decision. Ovechkin, a winger and captain of the Washington Capitals, has played for Russia at the Winter Olympics in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He shared that he plans on playing for Russia in the 2018 Olympics regardless of NHL’s participation. In the past Ovechkin has said that he’d risk NHL suspension to play. “I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” he said. “Because it’s my country, I think everybody wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know, somebody [is] going to tell me ‘don’t go,’ I don’t care, I just go.”
There’s no official word if there will be any kind of repercussions for players who decide to join Ovechkin’s plans on participating in the Games anyways.