Alex St. Peters
Since 1998 in Nagano, Japan, the National Hockey League (NHL) has allowed their players to participate in the Winter Olympics, but that is not the case for this upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The NHL has decided to not let it’s NHL players participate in the Olympics because the cons are just too large to make it worthwhile for the league. There has been a large disappointment from fans and players because of the NHL’s decision, but there has also been a large amount that are positive about the decision.
In order to allow players to play for their countries in the Olympics the NHL has to take a huge chunk out of the season to accommodate for the large loss of players. In order to do this, the season is condensed which means players are playing more games a week with little to no breaks between games. This increases the risk of injury because players are not allowed time to recoup between games like the would in a non-condensed season.
Also, players playing in the Olympics have a higher increase of injury due to the level of play and the number of games they have to play. In the 2014 Winter Olympics, four players sustained season-ending injuries during the Olympics. New York Islanders captain John Tavares, Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, and Florida Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky all sustained a season-ending injury.
Since it’s the Olympics all of the players participating are the best of their respective countries, which means they are also the best players on the NHL team they play for. The NHL doesn’t want to lose their top players to a tournament that does not benefit the NHL at all.
“It all comes down to protecting the players and the interest of the league”, said LC student Blake Beeman “ The league doesn’t want to worry about losing players due to injury or paying for the travel they have to do. I don’t necessarily agree with the NHL’s decision, but I can understand why they made their decision. I think it should be up to the players to participate or not.”
According to the NHL, from the past five Winter Olympics, they have not seen any positive impact on the league or sport from sending NHL players to the Olympics. They were even considering not sending players to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics but went anyway. The NHL had talks with the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHL Players’ Association from 2016 to 2017. Despite these talks, they couldn’t reach an agreement the NHL found benefiting to them and the NHL made the decision not to send their players.
One problem with the Winter Olympics for the NHL is the time of the event. The Winter Olympics happen during February, which is a time the NHL doesn’t have to compete with the MLB or NFL. The league is basically losing money and TV views because they shut down the league for a whole month during a time they don’t compete with the two major sports in the country.
Not having NHL players in the Winter Olympics is definitely going to be different for most young hockey fans because it’s always been something that happened during their lifetime. Even for many of the NHL’s current young stars like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, and Clayton Keller it’s going to be different. Young players like them grew up wanting to win a gold medal almost as much as winning a Stanley Cup.
“I’ve always been alive in the days where the NHL teams allow their players to go to the Olympics,” Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel said. “I’ve had a lot of good memories watching the Olympics and seeing a lot of great players play, so it’s something you’ve always looked up to.” Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin initially said he would compete regardless of the NHL’s decision, but recently he has retracted that statement.
In a written statement from the Capitals Ovechkin wrote “NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!” St. Louis Blues Forward Vladimir Tarasenko has also voiced his frustration with the NHL’s decision. He said “players get pride playing for their country” and that he also felt cheated because his and many others Olympic opportunity was taken away.
Even though the NHL isn’t sending their players to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to grow the league internationally. The NHL had two preseason games between the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings Beijing as part of the China Games. There are also two games between the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 10-11 in the 2017 SAP NHL Global Series. Also with the reemergence of the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, which is played every four years, players still get a chance to represent their countries on an international level.