In what many fans and athletes have found to be a questionable move, the National Hockey League (NHL) has decided not to take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The announcement was released on April 3 and immediately received backlash from analysts and players, which can potentially result in a major issue.
According to Gary Bettman, the Commissioner of the NHL, the main reason behind the lack of participation in the Olympics is timing. While hockey season officially commences in October and the regular season ends in April, the Olympics takes place in February for nearly three weeks, creating some overlap between the two. In the official statement from the NHL, Bettman said, “I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it’s very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.”
In addition, the NHL seems to have found issue with the funds for them to play. While the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) offered to pay for the league’s participation in the 2018 Olympics, Bettman and some of the owners feared that the money would take away from starting lower-level hockey organizations that required the funds. There was also argument between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee about possible earnings to the hockey organization.
Ben Shpigel of the New York Times said, “They [NHL owners and officials] have argued that they deserve a portion of the revenue that the International Olympic Committee receives from the tournament and they do not like the injury risk.”
Although Bettman and the NHL may see no significance in this refusal to participate, multiple professional hockey players have stepped forward to demonstrate their disgust. Henrik Lundqvist, an integral part of the New York Rangers and the Swedish national team, and one of the most prolific goalies of the century, took to Twitter on Monday immediately after the announcement. The Swedish goaltender’s numerous tweets stated, “Disappointing news, @NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted. But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports.”
Probably the most well-known dissenter, however, is Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin said, “It’s my country. You know, I think everyone wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know. Somebody going to tell me, ‘Don’t go,’ I don’t care. I just go.”
He even received agreement from the Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who revealed an unwillingness to stop Ovechkin, among other Washington players. However, there are major issues with this. The Capitals, among other hockey clubs that have players who leave to participate in the Olympics, can be severely punished.
Frank Seravalli of TSN said, “Bettman can impose a fine on a team owner for as much as $1 million and revoke draft picks…In other words, Bettman could issue a decree that any breach of contract by a player not pursued by his club would be subject to a fine of $10 million.”
It will be interesting to see what happens to these players, especially since these disagreements have the potential to become a lockout.
While the league refers to discussions as closed, there is still time to strike up a deal with the International Olympic Committee.