The NHL announced on Monday afternoon that it will not be sending players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, saying that “no meaningful dialogue has materialized” in negotiations with the International Olympic Committee, the NHL Players’ Association, and the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The NHL first sent its players to the Games in 1998, and 2018 will be the first Olympic Games since 1994 in which NHL players will not participate. Team owners have long been opposed to interrupting the NHL season to send players to the Winter Olympics, but in previous years, including for the 2014 Sochi Games, the IOC offered to pay insurance and travel costs for NHL players as an appeasement for the league interrupting its season.
That offer was not on the table this year, and it’s the main sticking point from the league’s perspective.
NHL players, meanwhile, won’t be happy with this decision. Several players are on the record saying that they will play for their countries regardless of the league’s stance, most notably Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. Caps owner Ted Leonsis has said that he would allow Ovechkin to go play for Team Russia, creating an awkward situation for other big-name players and their team owners. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has said he would not support star defenseman Erik Karlsson should the Swede want to play for his country.
How many players will decide to go anyway? Which NHL team owners will support them? Will national teams — particularly Canada and the United States, where the NHL wields the most power — accept players who decide to break with the NHL’s decree? What kind of punishment will be handed down by the NHL to players who leave their teams midseason to go to the Olympics? These are all tough questions with no clear answers.
Here’s the league’s full 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) 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.”