The NHL’s announcement that it will not shut down for two weeks to go to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics was not seen as a surprise in hockey circles.
Those involved with NHL teams specifically viewed the choice as something that makes the most business sense, despite scrutiny from some players that quickly followed.
“I actually think the league and our players are being judged pretty unfairly,” a team executive said to Puck Daddy. “No other league shuts down in the middle of the prime time of their season for international competition. And I say that as someone that loves it and I think everyone making these decisions loves the idea of it. But I really don’t understand why so many people have trouble wrapping their heads around this.”
Said a team management source, “This does not surprise me. There was zero positive on the business side for the owners to want to go. The previous plan to expand interest in the game using the Olympics never came close to materializing, therefore unless the union was going to give something back there was no chance.”
Still, the decision to not go stung some players – especially those who likely would have partaken in the event. The NHL started its run of Olympic participation with the Nagano Games in 1998 and the tournament has become ingrained in the league’s recent culture.
“The Swedish players in the NHL are very disappointed,” said Gunnar Nordstrom, who covers the NHL for Expressen. “I’ve already got responses from Erik Karlsson, Filip Forsberg, John Klingberg and Anton Stralman, to name a few. They all think it is a bad choice by the league. Stralman says ‘Feels like (crap)’ and Karlsson texted me ‘An absolute disaster.’”
NHL player agent Allan Walsh pointed out to Puck Daddy that he was not enthused with how Olympic participation and a proposed possible international calendar were roped into CBA negotiations.
“(Commissioner) Gary Bettman and NHL owners attempted to blackmail the players into a CBA extension with onerous escrow provisions for at least the next five seasons in exchange for Olympic participation in 2018,” Walsh said via text message to Puck Daddy. “The NHL announcement today shows no regard for the good of the game, no concern for a best-on-best Olympic Games and no regard for the players and their wishes. This decision by the NHL flies in the face of common sense and I predict will come back to haunt Bettman and the owners for many years to come.”
Said another agent, “(The players) would all want to play for their country. It’s as simple as that.”
This decision also has a great impact on national teams and the quality of players they can select. Both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada tried to point out that though they’re disappointed, they’ve been readying for this for some time.
“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,” said Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney 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. However, for the next month, our priority is the 2017 IIHF World Championship, and we will be ready to advance the required plan following that event.”
Said USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean in a statement, “We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL. The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal.”
No matter what the league announced Monday, there is some belief that when the dust settles an agreement will be hammered out. The players seem angry and willing to fight this decision. There’s also the unresolved issue of players going to the Olympics even if the NHL doesn’t shut down for those two weeks. Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis has said he would be OK if captain Alex Ovechkin goes no matter the NHL’s decision on participation. What if other players defy the league and go?
Said another agent, “I still believe, despite what the league says, that there’s the possibility they still would go.”
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