It’s official. The National Hockey League announced on Monday, April 3, that as they go forward and plan the 2017-18 schedule across the league that they will not accommodate a break in the schedule for players to participate in the Olympics in PyeongChang in February 2018. The statement the NHL released was straight forward:
“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 (e.g., the IOC, the IIHF, the NHLPA) as to reasons the Board of Governors might be interested in re-evaluating their strongly held views on the subject. A number of months have now passed and no meaningful dialogue has materialized. 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. As a result, and in an effort to create clarity among conflicting reports and erroneous speculation, this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing our 2017-18 Regular Season schedule without any break to accommodate the Olympic Winter Games. We now consider the matter officially closed.”
NHLPA Suggests Otherwise
Interestingly enough, just after the NHL’s statement, which referenced a lack of interest by the National Hockey League Players’ Association, the NHLPA released their own statement which in essence told a different story:
“The players are extraordinarily disappointed and adamantly disagree with the NHL’s shortsighted decision to not continue our participation in the Olympics.
“Any sort of inconvenience the Olympics may cause to next season’s schedule is a small price to pay compared to the opportunity to showcase our game and our greatest players on this enormous international stage.
“A unique opportunity lies ahead with the 2018 and 2022 Olympics in Asia. The NHL may believe it is penalizing the IOC or the players, or both, for not giving the owners some meaningful concessions in order to induce them to agree to go to PyeongChang. Instead this impedes the growth of our great game by walking away from an opportunity to reach sports fans worldwide.
“Moreover, it is doing so after the financial issues relating to insurance and transportation have been resolved with the IOC and IIHF. The League’s efforts to blame others for its decision is as unfortunate as the decision itself. 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. It is very unfortunate for the game, the players and millions of loyal hockey fans.”
It certainly does force the question of why the NHL and the Club owners are so adamant about not participating in this particular Olympics. It certainly has little to do with the Olympics being in Asia, or in the actual scheduling of the NHL regular season, as they seem to have already expressed an interest in participating in Beijing in 2022. Combine that with the partnerships between certain hockey clubs, such as the Boston Bruins, and companies like O.R.G. Packaging, and it would seem like traveling to Asia in 2018 would simply build these endeavors.
This past summer, the Boston Bruins sent over some players to China to interact with youth interested in the game. Those children then came to Boston later in the year and had even more experiences, including playing games on the ice at TD Garden. The L.A. Kings have plans to host a four-day hockey camp—for youth ages 14 to 16—in Shanghai in conjunction with the Feiyan Hockey Program in July, 2017.
And while the NHL doesn’t want its players to participate in the Olympics in 2018, they announced that the Vancouver Canucks and the L.A. Kings would play in the 2017 NHL China Games Presented by O.R.G. Packaging as part of a multi-year deal with Bloomage International. The games will take place at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai on September 21, 2017 and then at Huaxi LIVE Wukeson’s Le Sports Center in Beijing on September 23, 2017.
Perhaps the only place that the NHL wants to expand the game when it comes to Asia, is more specifically China.
For those players who would represent the United States, USA Hockey responded after the NHL announcement was released.
“We knew it was a very real possibility for many months and certainly respect the decision of the NHL,” said Executive Director Dave Ogrean. “The good news is that because of our grassroots efforts over the course of many years, our player pool is as deep as it has ever been and we fully expect to field a team that will play for a medal.”
“We respect the NHL’s decision and will examine our player pool options and plan accordingly,
concurred Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations, Jim Johannson. “In the end, we’ll have 25 great stories on the ice in South Korea and will go to the Olympics with medal expectations.”
What Does This Mean for Those Watching the Games?
Anyone who watched the IIHF World Junior Championship game between Team USA and Team Canada in January saw some of the most exciting play between players who brought heart, soul, and passion to the ice and gave 110% during each shift!
For many of the teams who have sent only NHL players in the past, the teams that will take the ice for the 2018 Olympics will consist of players who are hungry, eager to get out on the ice and show everyone what they can do. They will wear their country’s jersey with pride, leaving nothing on the bench.
That means that while the NHL players may not be there, the level of play is going to be not only intense but speak to the level of skill these players will bring to the NHL in a few years.
Disappointment for the NHL players could mean some truly exciting games for viewers all around the world. It’s clear that Team USA is planning on bringing their A game, and it is a certainty that other teams will do so as well.