PITTSBURGH — The National Hockey League will not participate in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. That was the emphatic statement made by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during his annual state of the league address and media availability before Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. The IIHF and the Players Association had not yet closed the door. But on Monday, Bettman slammed it shut.
“It is not and has not been,” Bettman said regarding what the idea that NHL letting its players go was an “open issue.”
“I hope that was definitive enough,” he added.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had expected this day would come. As a proud Russian and huge national celebrity in the motherland, he wants to compete in the Pyeongchang Games. If you go over his many of his past statements, Bettman’s comments Monday will not alter his decision.
“I didn’t change my mind and I won’t,” Ovechkin said last month. “Because it’s my country. I think everybody wants to play there. It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know, somebody going to tell me ‘don’t go,’ I don’t care, I just go.”
On Sunday, however, Ovechkin was coy — and annoyed — when faced with the same queries from reporters yet again.
“Guys, I’m tired of answering that question,” he said in Russian. “Let’s just wait and see, and make it so we can go, rather than creating conflicts.”
When asked specially about Ovechkin’s remarks, which Caps’ $113 million man has reiterated on numerous occasions, Bettman said that the league has “an expectation none of our players are going.”
The league’s decision comes after concerns by teams regarding potential injuries and lost revenue from a break in the season. Ovechkin, however, is backed up by Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis.
“He has given a lot to our team and he doesn’t ask for much in return and whatever he likes to do in this one, I’ll support him,” Leonsis said in December of last year. “His mother was an Olympian. It’s a part of the tradition in the family and it is meaningful to him and he’s kind of the ambassador and captain of the team. We don’t sit and talk about this all the time, but he needs to know, and he does know, that in this one instance I’ll have his back.”
But in an off-camera scrum after the main show, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said one team shouldn’t be able to go off script and do something the majority of owners are against. Bettman did not go into detail about what punishments the league may levy.
“We’re not anti-Olympics, we’re anti-disruption to the season,” Bettman said.
Headline photo: Bruce Bennett
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