by Tyler Roaix
The National Hockey League made waves with commissioner Gary Bettman’s announcement that the league would not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
There are several factors that leave the NHL and its owners reluctant to allow their players to compete in the Olympics. The first is simply that the players could get hurt. In reality, if a player suffers an injury requiring them to miss an extended period of time, the NHL team ultimately has to face the brunt of that burden.
Another major hurdle in the way of a deal, is that the NHL wants the International Olympic Committee to somehow compensate the league to essentially rent out its players. The two sides have fiercely debated over who should pay various expenses, such as travel and insurance.
One final concern for the NHL is a unique one. Whenever the Winter Games come around, the league puts its season on hold while its players are overseas. Typically the break is roughly two and a half to three weeks, but it makes it difficult to schedule the rest of the season. It forces teams to have more back-to-back situations that players are accustomed to. In a physical sport like hockey, that kind of wear-and-tear can take a serious toll on a player’s body.
Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin was quick to show his displeasure in Bettman’s announcement, stating that he didn’t care what the league had to say. He still plans to take part and play for Russia. Several players have also expressed their dissatisfaction. Some are also following Ovechkin, saying they will compete regardless of what the league thinks.
As a hockey fan, it’s hard not to be disappointed in the NHL’s decision. The Olympic Games are when we get to see the very best from each country go at it. It adds another layer to the idea of competition. There is something special about fighting for the title of “Best in the World” that a regular NHL season could never give.
Bearing this in mind, what this means for the NHL next season is also worrisome. The league stated they are moving forward as if they won’t be participating. This means that when they generate the schedule, there won’t be any break or layoff as there normally is in an “Olympic year.” So what happens if a player, like Ovechkin, decides to go anyway? What would that mean for the Capitals? Would the NHL reprimand him in some fashion? These are all questions that have to be troubling fans, players, owners and even Bettman himself.
If both sides are unable to come to an agreement before the games get underway in South Korea next winter, it would be the first time since 1998 that the NHL doesn’t participate. Although it sure seems like the NHL will stand its ground, nothing is definite.
After all, there was a similar situation before the 2014 Games until the sides came together months before the start. As a fan, you have to hope that some sort of deal can be made. Because if not, it could get very ugly.