NHL says no to Winter Games in 2018: For the first time since 1998, NHL will not suspend season for Olympic play

Evin Hartsock, Sports Editor

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     In one of the most iconic moments in the history of both sports and the Olympic Games, the United States Men’s hockey team defeated the Soviet Union and captured the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Games. A United States team made up of college athletes and amateur players was able to emerge victorious over a Soviet team that was made predominantly of professional players with previous international experience.
As time expired, the Americans netted a goal that lifted them over the Soviets and caused ABC broadcaster Al Michaels to proclaim, “Do you believe in miracles?” Now, 37 years later, the United States hockey program might need to start believing in miracles once again.

     The NHL announced on Monday that for the first time since 1998, the league will not put its season on hold to allow players to compete in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea in 2018.

 

     This decision by the NHL will deal a large blow to international hockey as the provision of the league’s talent has produced some of the world’s best hockey that’s been played, while also strengthening the talent pool for various countries that compete in the men’s tournament.

     Prior to 1998, most of the players that participated in the Olympics were amateurs, with some professionals sprinkled in here and there. But, once the NHL opened its doors to the Olympics, the quality of play significantly rose, similar to when the NBA allowed its players to compete in international play in 1992 with the “Dream Team.”

    The league’s announcement did not come as a surprise to many as various NHL team owners have expressed displeasure with their players’ participation in the games over the last few decades. Owners have felt that sending their players away for weeks in the middle of a season has been more of a hassle than an investment as it has not produced significant benefits for them. However, this issue is just the tip of the iceberg.

   

 
Washington Capitals’ star center Alex Ovechkin has said that despite the league refusing to go on hold for the Olympics, he would make the trip to South Korea in 2018 anyway.

 

Negotiations between the International Olympic Committee and the NHL began to take a turn for the worse when the IOC refused to pay the costs associated with the league’s participation. Since 1998, the IOC had paid for things such as travel, insurance, etc., but told the NHL they would not continue that tradition in 2018. So, in an effort to keep the NHL around, the International Ice Hockey Federation came up with the funds to pay those costs but the NHL was still hesitant to send its players.

     This move by the NHL caused the IOC to strong-arm the league by adding that if they did not agree to participate in South Korea in 2018, then the league’s players may be restricted from participating in the 2022 Winter Games as well. That seemed to be the tipping point for the NHL as they then decided not to allow their players to participate.

     The NHL might however want to keep some chips on the table for the 2022 Winter Games, which will be in Beijing, as the league has had long-term plans to stir up business in what they believe is fertile ground in China.

     But despite that, now that the league has taken the Olympics off the table completely, the problem the NHL now faces is the possibility of participating in South Korea anyway.  

     Many players around the league, such as Edmonton Oilers’ center Connor McDavid, are very disappointed that the league could not reach a deal with the IOC, but are still optimistic that things might change before next year. A large portion of players are also unsure if they will make the trip in 2018 despite the NHL’s restrictions and many will probably make that decision closer to the arrival of the games.

     Washington Capitals’ star-scorer Alex Ovechkin said in an interview with ESPN.com that he will participate in 2018, despite the NHL’s decision.
“I think everybody wants to play there,” said Ovechkin. “It’s the biggest opportunity in your life to play in the Olympic Games. So, I don’t know, somebody is going to tell me, ‘Don’t go,’ I don’t care, I just go.”

     It has not been determined yet what punishment the league would dish out for a player leaving for the Oympics, but termination from the NHL could be possible as well as fines.