It’s been expected for a while, but today it became official: the NHL will not be shutting down its season next year to accommodate participation in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
For many years the league and its owners have considered the Olympics a necessary evil that served to disrupt schedules and risk injuries to key players all without allowing the event to be marketed by the organizations that were loaning a valuable core of their success. But for players participating, it provided an opportunity to represent their respective countries on the biggest stage.
What this leaves open is the possibility that players could defy the NHL’s decision and go to the Olympics anyway. Led by Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, a few players have made their opinion on the matter known, publicly announcing that they planned to participate regardless of the NHL’s official participation or lack thereof. Caps owner Ted Leonsis has previously said that he stands with his player in Ovechkin’s desire to play in the tournament.
In the last Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia in 2014, Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk (United States) and former Canes Andrej Sekera (Slovakia), Tuomo Ruutu (Finland) and Alexander Semin (Russia) represented their countries. Canes coach Bill Peters would have likely been a candidate to step behind the bench for Team Canada, after his gold-medal winning stints as an assistant coach at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and as head coach at the 2016 IIHF World Championships.
Two players represented their countries at the World Cup this past season, Sebastian Aho (who also played at the World Championships) and Teuvo Teravainen on Team Finland, and are likely affected by the NHL’s decision to skip the Olympics. Justin Faulk, who was somewhat bizarrely not selected for the United States World Cup team, likely would have participated, and Noah Hanifin, who played on the USA’s World Championship team at the 2016 tournament, would have been in consideration as well.
The league informed the NHLPA and Board of Governors of the decision earlier today and released the following statement.
We have previously made clear that while the overwhelming majority of our clubs are adamantly opposed to disrupting the 2017-18 NHL season for purposes of accommodating Olympic participation by some NHL players, we were open to hearing from any of the other parties who might have an interest in the issue (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA, etc.) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. 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 it has no interest or intention of engaging in any discussion that might make Olympic participation more attractive to the clubs. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 regular season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.
UPDATE 7:30 pm: As anticipated, the NHLPA is not in favor of the NHL’s decision and has also issued a public statement, indicating they feel the decision is shortsighted and without regard for the respect of the opinions of the players.
Get the popcorn ready. Sept. 1, 2019 will be here before we know it.
TORONTO (April 3, 2017) - The National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) released the following statement regarding the NHL's decision on the 2018 Winter Olympics:
"The players are extraordinarily 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 cause to next season's schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
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 owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead this impedes the growth of our great 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 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 opinions 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 loyal hockey fans."