After lengthy negotiations (that spilled in and out of the media), the NHL announced Monday through a press release that it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Per the NHL:
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.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Olympic negotiations soured when the NHL asked the Players’ Association to guarantee it would not opt out of the current CBA to participate. The players declined, saying they believe they should not have to give up anything in exchange for Olympic participation.
NHLers first went to the Games in 1998 in Nagano, and continued to do so through Sochi 2014. But negotiations toughened following Turin in 2006. One week after those games, late Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider publicly said he didn’t see the value in attending overseas Olympics, since the time difference kept hockey off North American television in prime hours. The NHL is the only major sports league that stops for the Olympics.
That was not a problem in Vancouver for 2010, but there were intense discussions prior to Sochi. The NHL scored a victory when the International Olympic Committee agreed to pay the players’ insurance and travel costs, at a cost of approximately $14 million. That was a huge concession, but the IOC refused to extend that olive branch a second time.
Last fall, IIHF president Rene Fasel announced his organization would step up in the IOC’s place, but the NHL balked. The league didn’t want money earmarked for developing the game worldwide to be used for this. And, even more importantly, the NHL and many of its owners wanted the money to come from the IOC directly. After all, the Olympics are making money off hockey and the NHL felt very strongly the organization should pay.
Despite the NHL’s decision, the Capitals (and many other teams) will likely see many of its players participate regardless. In December, Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis spoke to ESPN and put his support behind Alex Ovechkin playing for Russia in 2018.
“He knows I have his back on this one,” Leonsis said to ESPN. “If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. … I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.”
NHL: No Olympics!
Alex Ovechkin: pic.twitter.com/sjtgV6gN5m
— Rachel L. Cohen (@kat326) April 3, 2017
In September, Ovechkin was adamant about his participation when speaking to ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun.
“It’s a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Ovechkin said. “But obviously I said I’m going to play. I will go there.”
Sources: NHLPA’s Don Fehr told agent meeting in Vancouver he expects NHL to stop owners from allowing individual players to go to Olympics.
— Rick Westhead (@rwesthead) April 4, 2017
Headline photo: Bruce Bennett
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