As you likely have heard, the NHL announced that they will not be inserting a break in their schedule for the 2017-18 season so that the NHL players can participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. This is the first time since 1994 that the NHL players will not be attending the Winter Olympics. From a business standpoint, it makes some sense. It protects the players from sustaining injuries overseas. But moreover, since there’s no three week break in the season, the money keeps pouring into the owners’ pockets; which is what this primarily comes down to.
As expected, the NHL community lashed out on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL owners alike. Fans, players, and coaches alike completely disagree with the NHL’s decisions. When asked, players like Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Tarasenko, and others refrained from making comments, saying they’ll wait until the summer to look into it. Others however, voiced their opinions. Montreal Canadiens and Canadian goaltender Carey Price commented “”I feel like it’s very disappointing. You can’t replace the Olympics. I feel like we’re short changing some of the younger players that haven’t had that opportunity.” Price also added “I think there are maybe some tactics involved. It’s dollar signs, I get that. It’s security against injuries and whatnot. But at the same level, at a human level, this is a big worldwide event that the world takes part in. We want to shine our light, too. We’ll see. The Olympics aren’t here yet.”
Price was not alone in his stance, as various current and former players also spoke against the NHL’s ruling. These players include Henrik Lundqvist, Alexander Ovechkin, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Marc Savard, Brandon Prust, and Teemu Selanne to name a few. The NHL Players Association issued the following statement:
According to the majority of general sports fans, the NHL is the least popular of the four main sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). Of course, to a lot of us, it’s number one. But this decision to refrain from Olympic participation is truly odd because the NHL is always supposedly trying to grow the game of hockey. Recently, the NHL announced that the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks would play a two-game series during the preseason next season, with the games taking place in Beijing and Shanghai in an attempt to grow the game worldwide. Wouldn’t showcasing the best players in the world and having them pinned up against each other on a worldwide stage in the Olympics grow the game even more? Not according to Gary Bettman. He says the Pyeong Chang Olympics wouldn’t help grow the game at all.
It is an absolute shame that the NHL doesn’t want its players to participate in the Olympics. The opportunity for someone to play for their country is one of the greatest honors one can have in sports. It brings a sense of high patriotism and nationalism to each individual country’s players, coaches, and fans. They’re proud to see their country compete for the coveted gold medal.
As an American, absolutely nothing beats the USA-Canada rivalry in hockey. The opportunity for each country’s best players to go up against one another. The rivalry is always truly a spectacle to witness, even though USA’s all-time Olympic record against Canada is 2-9-1 (via USAHockey.com). Most recently, Team Canada defeated Team USA 4-2 in group play of the World Cup of Hockey back in August. Despite the record, USA vs. Canada is one of the best things about the game of hockey.
With the NHL’s ruling, we won’t be able to see young stars like Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, or Cam Atkinson represent the red, white, and blue on the Olympic stage. Connor McDavid, the young Oilers star, won’t be able to represent Canada. Another rookie phenom, Patrick Laine, won’t be able to represent Finland. The list goes so much further.
Players can still participate in the Olympics, but they would be absent from their NHL team during the time. Alexander Ovechkin has already stated that he will be playing in the Olympics regardless and has received the support from Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis. It’s expected that several other players will follow Ovechkin’s lead. Let’s hope that before the Winter Olympics in 2018, the NHL will hopefully change its mind in regards to this ill-advised decision (I’m talking to you, Gary).