NHL says “No” to 2018 Olympic Games


Associated Press

The NHL announced Monday that it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, refusing for the first time in 20 years to halt its season for three weeks so its stars can chase gold for their home countries.

From Alex Ovechkin and Jonathan Toews to Connor McDavid and Henrik Lundqvist, the world’s best players called playing in the Olympics important.

The league decided otherwise.

Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly informed the NHL Players’ Association that the matter was “officially closed” after weeks of speculation.

The NHLPA said in a statement that players are “extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision.”

The NHL had allowed its players to participate in the past five Olympics dating to 1998, giving the Winter Games pro-level star power akin to the NBA players who participate in the Summer Olympics.

The league said no meaningful dialogue had emerged in talks with the NHLPA, International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation.

Even after the IIHF had agreed to pay for players’ travel and insurance costs when the IOC refused, the NHL had been looking for more concessions that were believed to include marketing opportunities tied to the Games. The league wanted the matter resolved before the playoffs begin April 12.

“The league’s efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself,” the NHLPA said.

“NHL players are patriotic and they do not take this lightly. A decent respect for the opinions of the players matters. This is the NHL’s decision, and its alone.”

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who led Canada to consecutive Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014, told The Associated Press in a text message he was “disappointed.”

Players immediately blasted the decision. Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, in Sochi under Babcock, called it “very disappointing” and said it was short-changing younger players who hadn’t got to experience it before.

“Disappointing news, [the NHL] won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted,” tweeted Lundqvist, the New York Rangers goaltender who won the 2006 Olympic gold medal with Sweden.

“But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can’t be part of the most special adventure in sports.”

Former NHL forward Brandon Prust, who’s now playing in Germany, tweeted: “Way to ruin the sport of hockey even more Gary (hash)Olympics.”

“Good to see the NHL and Gary Bettman always looking out for the good of the game,” prominent agent Allan Walsh tweeted. “So much for that grand partnership with the players.”

The NHL and NHLPA teamed up on the return of the World Cup of Hockey last fall and had made strides on growing the sport internationally, including games in China and Sweden later this year.

The NHL has not ruled out participating in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, though the IIHF and IOC had indicated that could be conditional on the NHL going to South Korea. For now, the league is making its 2017-18 schedule without a break for the Olympics.

“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,” the NHL said.

“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.”

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