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What we know so far about the NHL deciding to forgo the 2018 Winter Olympics

The NHL’s bombshell decision on Pyeongchang leaves more questions than answers.

Venues And Townscape Ahead Of PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The NHL announced on Monday that they will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The writing’s been on the wall for months now with each stalled negotiation, but the league finally pulled the plug just a week before the end of the 2017-18 season.

Yet, this announcement has brought up a lot more questions than answers. We’ve known for a while now that the Olympics were in doubt. Now that they’re off the table, we’re in a bit of a holding pattern. No one really knows what’s going to happen to the ever-growing list of players who want to go, or what this means for the future of the NHL with the Olympics.

You’ve likely got questions. Probably a lot of them. We’re just as clueless as you, but let’s try to figure it out together, shall we?

What will this decision mean for the players who want to go and their owners who may or may not support them?

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question mark of them all with this decision is: What will the players do? There’s an ever-growing list of NHL players who have spoken out in support of professionals attending the Olympics. They include: Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, and Connor McDavid, just to name a few.

Now that the Olympics ship has sailed officially for the NHL, that puts players and owners in a rough spot. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said he supports Ovechkin’s decision to go play for Team Russia. Players like Erik Karlsson will have a rougher time, however, as Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk would only have allowed the Ottawa defenseman to go if he was playing for Team Canada.

Just after the news broke, the NHL sent out a memo that teams are not allowed to comment on individual player-by-player cases and that the league will “deal with it.” Reportedly, the NHL will block owners from giving permission to individual players.

So, what happens if some players do go?

World Cup Of Hockey 2016 - Team Europe v Canada Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

No one knows what the penalty would be for players who do defy the NHL and head to Pyeongchang in the middle of the 2017-18 season. It could range from fines — for the players themselves and/or the owners — to suspensions, much like how players sit out a game if they miss the All-Star Game.

And if players do get “permission” from either the league or their owner, will the national teams even accept them? The European teams might, and Russia no doubt will, but the catch is a bit more for the United States and Canada. The NHL has the most sway over Team USA and Team Canada as the countries are the league’s center of power, and it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the league would attempt to come down on the national teams as well.

Where will the players come from?

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-Quinnipiac vs North Dakota Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There will more than likely be a few NHL players who make the trip to Pyeongchang, but the majority of the players will likely come from the collegiate level like they used to. But that throws a whole new dimension into the mix, as college kids would have to forgo two and a half weeks of their school schedule in mid-February. Add that in with the run up to the NCAA tournament in March and you’ve got a lot of wrinkles to be ironed out within 10 months.

Also in play are the Canadian major junior leagues, but mid-February also brings challenges. Much like the NCAA, the month of February is the run up to the finals for each of the three leagues in the CHL before the league-wide championship in May.

It’s also uncertain if the AHL counts under the NHL’s restriction, but it’s unlikely considering the players are under NHL contracts.

What does this mean for future NHL participation in the Olympics?

Around the Games: Day 11 - 2014 Winter Olympic Games Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The knee-jerk reaction would be to question the league’s involvement with the Olympics in the foreseeable future. I know I did, and it’s a valid point.

The NHL’s talks with the International Olympic Committee clearly have been stalled for months. Just take a look at these few sentences from the NHL’s statement on the matter:

"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.”

In the past, the league has made it clear that their real driving force in agreeing to a 2018 Winter Olympics was to get to Beijing in 2022. The NHL has wanted to put a foothold in there for years, and the announcement just last week that the Kings and Canucks would be playing two preseason games there only confirms it.

So, why would they risk boxing themselves out of 2022? The Olympics aren’t some pick and choose buffet where the NHL only goes when it benefits them alone. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, the league doesn’t fear they won’t get a seat at the 2022 Olympic table.

There’s good reason for it too. Amateur hockey players won’t net the Olympics a lot of money and the NHL will be more inclined to meet the IOC’s demands before Beijing.

Is there anything else we need to know?

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Semifinals-Europe vs Sweden John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • NBC is “disappointed” with the NHL for forgoing the Olympics. It’s good to remember that NBC holds the NHL’s national television rights and the Olympic television rights.
  • The lack of NHL participation also is a big boost to the KHL, who could see Russian players return next season to get a shot at the Olympics.
  • Current NHL players aren’t being silent about the news either. Henrik Lundqvist has tweeted his disappointment. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic also put out a cryptic picture of the Pyeongchang Olympic logo on his Twitter account. It’s likely many more NHL players will express their displeasure with the league in the coming days, and we’ve listed them all for you right here.
  • The NHLPA has a catch-all statement about their feelings on the matter. Players “adamantly disagree” with the NHL’s “shortsighted” decision.
  • The IOC released a statement on the NHL’s ruling and there’s some serious shade happening in the opening sentences.

This must be a huge disappointment for the players who definitely wanted to play at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. The IOC feels very sorry for the athletes.