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Decision on NHL Participation in 2018 Olympics May Come in March

22 Feb, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Face-Off Between IOC and NHL Could Result in Other Leagues Being Called to the Ice

At last check, the NHL was considering keeping its players on home ice and out of Pyeongchang, South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, something that could have a ripple effect for planners of ice hockey events at everything from the U-18 age group and above. Since that time, there has been a lot of talk, but no action. However, within a few weeks, all that could change.

According to an article in Inside The Games, a decision is likely to be made next month, according to International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel.

The participation of players from the league became a point of contention when the IOC announced it would no longer cover the cost of transportation and accommodation fees (something it previously had paid for.) Insurance would also have to be paid for by the NHL.

Other issues the NHL found hard to swallow regarding the use of NHL players in the Olympics:

  • Disruption: With the Olympics on, the NHL is forced to shut down. In 2014, play stopped between February 9-24 for the Sochi Games.

  • Financial Loss to Cities Fielding NHL Teams: Having key players out, and having the NHL on hiatus, has been shown to cause financial stress in affected markets, according to the NHL. In addition, they noted, fans can quickly grow out of the habit of attending games and just make the decision to catch them on TV (or online) when play resumes.

  • Injury: Every player at the Olympics is critical to his NHL team. In a parity league, an injury can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. Failing to advance to the postseason can cost a franchise millions of dollars in lost revenue.

In an announcement published on the IIHF website, Fasel stated that it is likely a decision would need to be made by the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) in March, but he would not give them a firm deadline.

“Yesterday we held a conference call with the IIHF Council and representatives from each of the participating teams in the men’s tournament,” Fasel stated. “The majority of this group felt that the NHL will likely need to decide during the month of March because of their scheduling needs for next season. We also know that the European leagues and clubs need clarification as well on that important question before the end of the current season. However, we do not feel at this time that it would be constructive to set a hard deadline for the NHL and NHLPA to confirm their participation.”

Inside The Games also noted that Alan Ashley, the United States' Chef de Mission for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, says the country has a "Plan B" in case NHL players don't participate in the men's ice hockey competition.

There was no word on what exactly constituted ‘Plan B,’ but fielding a national team could certainly be done without the NHL. In the U.S. alone, there are the American Hockey League (the NHL’s farm team), college hockey at both the NCAA and the American Collegiate Hockey Association levels, as well as junior leagues and those who play pond hockey at higher levels. There are also USA Hockey’s U-18 teams, which have done well. In other words, there’s no shortage of players who could make up a national team for the U.S., if need be.

At this time, there is no love lost between the IOC and the NHL, either. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed his indifference (that might be the most polite term) toward the IOC, accusing them of opening a "can of worms" by refusing to pay. Bettman has also voiced his opposition to plans from Fasel to source the required finances to help send NHL players to the Games.

Players from the NHL have participated at every edition of the Winter Olympics since 1998.

And while the current state of affairs might set hockey planners on edge, this is not the first such disagreement. A deal for NHL players to compete at Sochi 2014 was only agreed seven months before those Games.

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