By Helene Elliott
Los Angeles Times
The NHL will not take a break next season to accommodate players’ participation in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, citing opposition by club executives to “disrupting” the 2017-18 schedule.
The decision, announced Monday, could antagonize the NHL Players’ Association, whose members have been vocal in saying they favored playing on the world’s biggest stage for the sake of national pride and for opportunities to increase the game’s global popularity. The NHL has allowed players to represent their homelands in the last five Winter Olympics, starting at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
On those occasions the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation financed the hefty costs of travel and accommodations for players and their families. However, Thomas Bach, who became president of the IOC in 2013, said his organization would no longer pay those costs, which are believed to exceed $20 million.
The IIHF said it would contribute some money, but that apparently wasn’t sufficient to sway the NHL. The Olympics give the NHL world-wide television exposure and draw casual viewers but participation has not produced financial benefits for the league or its teams. In addition, the NHL has long chafed at restrictions on its ability to promote its players’ Olympic feats and reap marketing-related income while teams temporarily shut their doors.
“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,” the NHL said in a news release.
“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.”
The NHL last week announced that it will hold two exhibition games next autumn in China, which it sees as a vast and untapped market. Many prominent players have said they want to participate in the Olympics, with Washington Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin saying he intends to play even if the NHL doesn’t take a break.
The NHL will have to determine whether to handle such situations on a team-by-team basis or issue a blanket rule prohibiting or permitting participation.
Said New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist of Sweden in a tweet: “Disappointing news, [at sign]NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted.”
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning teams at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, recently said he hoped to play in the PyeongChang Games.
“That would be cool. Any time I could represent my country would be great,” he said. “We won the last two, so to try and win a third one would be kind of cool.”
Ducks right wing Corey Perry, also a 2010 and 2014 gold medalist, also hoped to play in 2018.
“You want to see the best of the best, country against country,” he told Curtis Zupke of The Times. “I’ve been a part of two of them. It’s [great] hockey. It’s exciting. It’d be disappointing if we didn’t go, but at the same time, guys want to go. Guys have the drive to go and play for their country, and that’s kind of what you want to do.”
With an eye toward international growth, the NHL and NHLPA last September revived the World Cup tournament and staged it in Toronto before the season. The league and the players’ association were able to keep the revenues generated by the event, which is not the case at the Olympics. The tournament drew mixed reviews and made for a long season for many standout players; Kings forward Marian Gaborik broke his ankle during the World Cup and never regained his effectiveness afterward.
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