The hockey world is suddenly engulfed with question marks after the NHL announced that it wouldn’t be attending the 2018 Olympics.
Here are five questions answered:
1. Is this really over?
Probably not. While the NHL said it considers the matter closed, there’s still plenty of time for the league, the International Olympic Committee or NHL Players’ Association to change course towards a deal. It wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that the league committed to going to the Sochi Games. The IOC also told the NHL that the vastly more appealing 2022 Beijing Games are off the table if the league won’t commit to 2018. It’s difficult to envision the NHL passing up China, but maybe equally as unlikely is the IOC actually moving ahead for two Olympics without the best product hockey has to offer. No Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews hurts viewership. The NHL has been murky about what it actually needs to sway the minds of resisting owners, but many players seem to believe the NHL is bluffing and remained hopeful things could change.
2. Can NHL players still attend in 2018 without the league’s blessing?
Maybe. Alex Ovechkin has already said he’ll go whether the NHL allows him to or not. It’s likely the league crafts a rule to prevent such a thing, but the NHLPA would also presumably fight that. Donald Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director, has said the union considers the matter “an individual club decision”. It’s unclear what would a potential rule would look like and whether teams would really enforce it for their superstar players. Hard to imagine the Washington Capitals voiding their captain’s contract.
3. Will players not named Ovechkin actually leave their NHL teams to go?
In most cases, probably not. Ovechkin’s countryman and Washington Capitals teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov said if Russia needed him he would go, but most others said they hadn’t yet considered it. It’s hard to envision Jonathan Toews ditching the Blackhawks mid-season to play for Team Canada or Erik Karlsson leaving the Senators to play for the Swedes. It’s also safe to assume players who aren’t in the Olympic conversation may not be thrilled with their star teammates bolting for a couple weeks while they stay behind to carry the load.
4. Who will represent Team Canada if the NHL holds out?
No stars that’s for sure. Does anyone remember Wally Schreiber, Greg Parks and Ken Lovsin? We didn’t think so. They were among the players to represent Canada at the 1994 Olympics â€” the last time NHL players did not attend. Team Canada would likely be a mish-mash of overseas pros, college kids or even some juniors. Anyone not affiliated with an NHL team is potentially up for grabs. Canada’s Olympic squad might look something like a Spengler Cup team, which recently featured former NHL players Mason Raymond, Drew MacIntyre and Nick Spaling.
5. Why is the NHL so resistant to letting players go?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says there’s fatigue and negativity among the league’s owners about attending another Olympics. At first it was a money issue with the IOC insisting that it wouldn’t cover out-of-pocket costs for players to go. Then when the IIHF said it could find the money to cover things like accommodation and insurance, the NHL said it didn’t like the idea of disrupting the season again. The owners also aren’t convinced, evidently, that the league stands to benefit from the stage in South Korea.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press