Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has made it clear that he will play hockey for Team Russia in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, even if the NHL doesn’t send its players.
His owner, Ted Leonsis, has made it clear that he’s fine with Ovechkin or any Capitals player leaving during the 2017-18 season, even if the NHL doesn’t send its players.
“If Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby and Nick Backstrom tell us, ‘We want to go play for our country,’ how am I going to say no?” Leonsis said. “I might get fined. I might get punished in some way. But I feel I’m in partnership with Nick and Braden and Alex.”
The NHL has now made it official that it will not send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics. The cards are the table.
So what’s going to happen when it’s time for these players to stay in the NHL or leave for a chance at gold in PyeongChang?
The NHL ultimately believes that players under NHL contracts are being paid to play in the NHL. Because of this, the League office doesn’t anticipate a single current NHL player, under contract for the 2017-18 season, will compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
That said, you have owners like Leonsis making a lot of noise about allowing his players to go.
So the NHL is going to have two options, and is considering both: Leaving it up to individual teams to decide if their star players go to the Olympics, with some repercussions from a league level; or creating some league-wide legislation that would effectively “ban” players from leaving for the Olympics, with severe consequences.
“You see what’s happening with Ovechkin. It’s going to turn into a chaotic situation because if one team is letting a player go, then other players are going to want to do the same thing and other owners are going to say ‘I will do this’ or ‘I won’t do this’ and then it’s going to be a non-competitive league because some stars are going and some stars are not,” one player agent told Puck Daddy on Monday.
“The NHL’s going to have to do some crackdown, I don’t know. It’s going to be a big mess. The NHL is going to have to have some sort of mandate and say to the Capitals (or other teams) ‘we’re going to fine you $1 million if you let him go.”
That’s what, ultimately, we expect Commissioner Gary Bettman will do: What he does best, which is play killjoy on behalf of his Board of Governors.
None of these guys want to be the one to tell their star players they can’t go to the Olympics, just like none of these guys want to be the ones to tell their players they’re going to be locked out. They want to pass the blame, assign it to a loathsome lightning rod like Gary Bettman and wash their hands of it.
And so when it comes to an Alex Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom asking to leave, and the price to pay is the rest of their NHL season to suspension – and this is just a theory, as nothing punitive has been established yet – Leonsis can point to the NHL’s policy as the culprit. He can say yes, the League can say “not a chance,” and everybody’s still mad at Bettman, which his job.
The question is, in Ovechkin’s case: How much would the chance to win finally win gold (and, in a broader sense, win anything) in a diminished Olympic tournament mean to him? Enough to put those interests ahead of the Capitals’ if the punishment is that severe?
Additional reporting by Josh Cooper.
MORE FROM YAHOO SPORTS