More and more, it’s looking as if National Hockey League players will not have involvement with the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“It would take a miracle [for the NHL to fully participate],” International Ice Hockey Federation President René Fasel told Inside the Games.
In April, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated that team owners were against players participating in the Games for several reasons, including a 17-day break in the schedule during February. “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,” Bettman said at the league’s general managers meetings in March in Boca Raton, Fla.
According to Inside the Games, Olympic officials appear to remain in a “wait and see” mode. The news site reports that Russian Alexander Ovechkin, captain of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, “has expressed his hope players will still be given the opportunity to compete.” So has Evgeni Malkin, a Russian who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Canadian IOC member Richard Pound has also called on the NHL to accommodate those who wish to compete,” Inside the Games added.
“It will be actually an even more competitive tournament,” Fasel said, when asked about the potential absence of NHL players from the Olympics. “The last Games in Sochi were so good, but here nobody can really say who will win the medal. It’s a very wide-open tournament. This is the good thing about it. But our message is that the door is wide open for everybody.”
And honestly, there are plenty of options to use other athletes, should countries wish to field a national team. 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 lack of players who could make up a national team for the U.S., if need be.
And those possibilities could lead to increased interest in other levels of hockey leading up to team selection time, since enthusiasts could start building the buzz about possible contenders for spots on Team USA.
SDM will continue to cover the issue.