The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea begin in less than 11 months, and it appears one of the main events will be without the best in the world.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told fans to ‘assume we aren’t going’ (to the games) in a report on Reuters.
BREAKING: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on 2018 Olympics: "Assume we're not going."
— Tom Harrington (@cbctom) March 21, 2017
The NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation as well as the International Olympic Committee have met recently but talks have stalled and an agreement to send NHLers to South Korea appears like it won’t come.
Bettman’s stance on the issue makes perfect sense. Why should the NHL pause their operations in the middle of their season for nearly 3 weeks so its stars can participate in a tournament halfway across the world? The exposure simply doesn’t make sense. Hockey is hardly played in Asia, and the games would occur when most of the NHL fan base is asleep, as Korea is 12 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone. It’s also a time where there’s little to no competition in the sports world. The NFL season has concluded, MLB is in winter mode, and the only real competition is basketball (NBA/NCAA). That combined with the risk of injury just doesn’t make sense for the NHL to send it’s players to the Games.
The issue now is that players want to go. Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has already stated he intends to play for Russia with or without the NHL/NHLPAs consent. Will other players follow? The overwhelming majority of players want to play for their country. It presents an interesting problem for the NHL and it’s soon-to-be 31 teams.
For the record, the NHL didn’t decide until July of 2013 whether to play in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Expect the NHLPA to get involved as we edge closer and closer to the opening ceremonies.
More details as they become available.