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Team Russia unsurprisingly leads 1st 2018 Winter Olympic hockey gold medal odds

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The presence of the dominant KHL will likely give the Russians a boost come February.

Slovakia v Russia - 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are less than four months away. While we know where the NHL and their players will be come February, that leaves a lot of speculation to come as to how well the 12 countries participating in the upcoming Olympics will fare.

On Wednesday, we got our first look at the opening odds for the men’s ice hockey tournament where, unsurprisingly, Team Russia is favored to take home the gold.

Russia’s last team gold medal in men’s hockey was at the 1988 Calgary games when the country was still known as the Soviet Union. They’ve been shut out of the medal podium the last three Olympic games, as their last medal in men’s hockey was a bronze in 2002.

It’s not a shock to see Russia lead the medal odds this early in the game. Russia is bound to get a boost from the KHL for the upcoming tournament, a professional asset the United States and Canada won’t receive due to the NHL’s absence. Former NHL players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Nikita Nesterov will likely get their chances to play on Team Russia next year as spots open up.

That, along with the abundance of talent that comes along with being the second-biggest hockey league in the world, is the reason Team Russia is the leading favorite for the gold.

It is hard, however, not to feel just a bit for Alex Ovechkin. The 32-year-old forward is off to an incredible start to the 2017-18 season, but he’s already resigned himself to toeing the NHL’s line of skipping the upcoming Olympics. Team Russia’s odds at winning the Olympic gold have never been better, and yet Ovechkin isn’t allowed to participate.

As for the United States and Canada, the latter’s high odds are a testament to the country’s talent pool even outside of professional leagues. Team Canada won’t have the help of Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid next year, but the country is routinely the best in the world for a reason.

Team USA, on the other hand, has released the names of their national roster for the Deutschland Cup in November, including Ryan Malone and Brian Gionta.

As we move closer to February, the odds for the upcoming Olympics will likely change. Team Russia’s status at the top, however, will almost certainly stay the same.