The NHL had no problem delaying the start of their season for the completely phony and unnecessary 2016 World Cup of Hockey, but they will not put their league on hold next year for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, according to a league release.
“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, etc.) 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 statement released on Monday. “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.”
And while somewhat expected, this is a bummer for a number of reasons.
For one, the NHL is attempting to pick and choose which Olympics are worth their time, which is a dangerous gamble for what would have to be considered the fourth-most popular sport in the country (and maybe even fifth when you gauge the interest and rise of soccer — be it because of the MLS, European leagues, or international stages — and number of cities without an established hockey audience). Given the amount of effort the league has put into reaching the Asian market — the league has several Chinese sponsors, the Isles drafted the league’s first Chinese player back in 2015, and the Kings and Canucks will play a preseason game in China next season — potentially shutting the door on NHL players in Beijing in 2022 by skipping South Korea seems shortsighted and would almost serve as an undoing of all the progress that the league and those teams have made in that market.
It’s also pretty silly to suggest that there’s not a ton of interest in shutting the league down for two weeks so that this can happen. It’s factually incorrect to suggest that there’s not, actually. There’s tons of interest from the fans, those same fans that eat this product up still even after two lockouts in the last 13 years alone, but not from the owners who can’t swallow the idea of not generating revenue for two weeks. Fans happily woke up at six in the morning on a Saturday to watch Team USA back in 2014, and they’d likely do the same for these upcoming games in South Korea. It’s some of the best hockey you’ll ever see, and alarm clocks don’t really matter when you’re talking about those rivalries, so don’t try to tell me that it’s not an interest.
This is also something that the players love to be involved in, too, and how could they not? It’s them being named and actually honored as one of the best at their craft in their home country. There’s a massive sense of pride that comes with that. To take that away from them seems like a bad idea, and it won’t be a shock to see a revolt from those players typically involved on this stage.
This will be the first Olympics since 1994 that will not feature NHL players.