September 21, 2009
If you've not read Dmitry's interview with Evgeni Malkin(notes) that ran this morning (and excuse the blog self-reference), there's one passage that really blew me away the first time I read it, regarding participation in the 2014 Sochi Games:
Q. What if the NHL tells you that you can't go? What if there will be some sanctions?
I would rather pay fines and still go. If there is something serious like a disqualification for a couple of years in the NHL, if there is something like this I will probably still go because I can even leave to Russia to play. It is very difficult to say right now. But I can give you 100% that I will go [to Sochi].
Emphasis mine. What he's laying out here, according to Dmitry, is a worst-case scenario: That if NHL players are banned from participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, yet Malkin still plays in the Games and is subsequently suspended by the League, he's got options. Like the KHL, for example.
What makes Malkin an interesting case study in this Olympic debate is that 2014 is his walk year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, assuming there's no contract extension before then. (Alexander Ovechkin(notes) is signed through 2021). He'll be 27 years old and, barring something unforeseen, will still be one of the NHL's biggest names.
So if he leaves for Sochi against the NHL's wishes, what would they do? Fine him? He'll pay them and stay in the NHL. Suspend him? He'll get fitted for an Omsk or Metallurg sweater. And then, if he's a free agent, what does he do?
As Malkin said, it's all yet to be determined in the next CBA, so this is just doom and gloom talk. But as we've written before, this is one of the single most important issues in the next negotiation. At best, it encourages players like Ovechkin and Malkin to take a more active interest in the direction of the NHL. At worst, it's a bloc of the League's brightest stars abandoning the NHL in 2014 to represent their country, and unwavering in their enthusiasm to face the consequences.
The NHL should avoid this mess, extend the participation for one additional Olympiad and then reevaluate after that.