NHL Announces it Will Not Send Players to the 2018 Winter Olympics

The National Hockey League on Monday announced that they will not participate in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

The announcement ends the league’s run of sending its players to the Winter Olympics. During those five seasons in which the NHL sent its players to the Winter Olympiad they have had to suspend its season, for the two weeks of the games.

In a statement put out by the league, they said, “We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-2018 NHL season for the purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some players, we are open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue. (i.e. the International Olympic Committee, International Ice Hockey Federation the NHL Players Association) as to the reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in reevaluating their strongly held views on the matter.”

They continued, “A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. Instead the IOC has now expressed the position that the NHL’s participation in Beijing in 2022 is conditioned on our participation in South Korea in 2018. And the NHLPA has now publicly confirmed that is has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympics participation more attractive to the clubs. As a result, and in effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-2018 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.”

Commissioner, Gary Bettman has said previously that the main reason many of the owners have been against Olympic participation is due to the fact they must shut down the league for close to 17 days. The shutdown would also be right around the time when they no longer have any competition with the National Football League and Major League Baseball is still a few weeks shy of pitchers and catchers reporting.

During the NHL All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles this past January, Deputy Commissioner, Bill Daly said, “I think the realities of Olympic participation are more apparent to our Board now and I think it just leads to less enthusiasm about the disruption. Quite frankly, we do not see what the benefit is from the game standpoint or the league standpoint with respect to Olympic participation.”

In polls conducted by the NHL regarding the league taking a break during the Olympics, 73 percent of the fans in the United States were against the break and 53 percent of the Canadian fans were opposed to the league shutting down the season for 17 days.

At the Board of Governors meetings in Boca Raton, Florida last month, Bettman added, “I think the overwhelming sentiment of the teams is that it is very disruptive on the season and there is somewhere between fatigue and negativity on the subject.

During the previous five Olympiads, the IOC has been paying for the league’s participation costs, from travel expenses to insurance and accommodation expenses for the players and their guests. For the 2018 Winter Games the IOC told the NHL it would no longer pay for those costs.

IIHF President, Rene Fasel did say that they had the money to cover the costs, but Bettman was concerned the funds would have come from assets that would otherwise better help to grow the game at the grassroots level.

Bettman also added many teams were also concerned about their star players sustaining an injury during the Winter Games. During the 2014 Sochi Olympics, New York Islanders captain, John Tavares, Detroit Red Wings forward, Henrik Zetterberg, and Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky suffered season ending injuries. A few other players also had injuries that caused them to miss time when the season resumed.

The Commissioner added, “Having a compressed schedule can make the players more tired, more wear and tear, and the potential for injury is greater. I think after doing five of these, I do not know fatigue might be a word.”

In a statement released by the NHLPA on Monday night, “The players are extremely disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics. Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may have created to next seasons’ schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.”  

They continued, “A unique opportunity lies ahead with the 2018 and 2022 Olympics in Asia. The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC, or the players or both, for not giving the league some concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongCheong. Instead this impedes the growth of our game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide. Moreover, it is doing so after the financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and the IIHF. The league’s efforts to blame others for its decision, is as unfortunate as the decision itself. NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinion of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of hockey fans.”

Washington Capitals captain, Alexander Ovechkin told NBC Sports that he believes the league is bluffing on its decision to not send players to the Winter Games. He said, “Next year’s schedule is not out there yet.”

His teammate, T.J. Oshie, who was a shootout hero for Team USA in 2014, echoes the same sentiments as his captain telling, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet. “For some reason, for me I think it is going to happen.”

Ovechkin has continued to say that he plans on playing in the Olympics in South Korea regardless of whatever the league decides. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov also said he will be going to the Olympics as well.

Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks also show his displeasure in the decision even hinting it could lead to another lockout. He told the Chicago Sun-Times, “It just seems like it comes down to what can they get out of us the next time the CBA negotiations roll around. It is not about the long-term goals of our game and growing it and the bigger picture.”

Horst Lichtner, General Secretary of the IIHF, told the Associated Press on Tuesday, “We are continuing to find solutions.” Lichtner has spent much of the day in meetings with the IOC and other winter sports officials.

While Lichtner does not feel that the door is closed, he acknowledged that the IIHF needs to find a better offer. He added, “They can re-open the discussion, maybe not forever but to come back with some so-called game changers to the [NHL team] owners which would then probably help to find a better decision than we have now.”

After the IOC turned down its commitment to pay for the costs, the IIHF agreed to cover the insurance and travel expenses but did not want to concede a share of the marketing rights to a commercial league. As they lead up the to 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, Lichtner added that the IIHF is focused on their five-year plan for the sport in Asia.