Players Respond To NHL's Decision To Pass On 2018 Winter Olympics

Players Respond To NHL's Decision To Pass On 2018 Winter Olympics
Photo: © Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Monday the league's players would not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"A number of months have now passed, and no meaningful dialogue has materialized," the NHL said in its statement.

Over that time, NHL players, including Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson and Henrik Lundqvist, have been vocal about wanting to play for their home countries.

Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's best defenseman, didn't hold back when asked about the decision. 

The opening ceremony is a little more than 10 months away, and there remains some optimism on NHL participation.

"Next year's schedule is not out yet," Ovechkin said in an interview Tuesday. "So if the schedule is not going to the Olympic Games, then you can see they don't bluff."

The Washington Capitals superstar has held firm to his notion he will play for Russia, no matter what the NHL says. Dating back to last year, Washington owner Ted Leonsis has supported Ovechkin's decision.

"He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what's so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that," Leonsis told ESPN in December.

NHL In Asia

The NHL recently announced that the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks would play a series of preseason games in Beijing and Shanghai.

While the NHL hasn't mentioned it publicly, there is belief that South Korea's location -- neighboring the dictatorship of North Korea -- is a concern in regard to player safety and security during the Games.

The IOC has already stated the NHL will not be allowed to pick and choose its Olympic participation and that the league will not be welcomed back for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Bettman has said the preseason games are a long-term plan to grow the NHL market in China and that he's not looking past Pyeongchang.

One can't help but notice the contradicting viewpoints. The NHL wants to grow in the Asian market while skipping the Olympics, the biggest stage in the world, which takes place in an Asian country less than a year from now.

Player Reactions

Players from around the league have been increasingly outspoken since the NHL's announcement.

Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar, who will be playing in the Beijing and Shanghai games during the preseason, expressed his disappointment after his home country of Slovenia qualified for the Olympics in 2014.

"That is the biggest sporting event in the world, and again, being able to grow the game, we should be there and grow it that way," Kopitar told Jon Rosen of L.A. Kings Insider.

In 2014, notable NHL players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Steven Stamkos, and Mikko Koivu dealt with injuries that forced them out of playing for their homelands.

"I'm not going to be able to go anymore," Koivu, 34, said Tuesday. "It's the next two that they said we're not taking part in; that's it for me. It's very disappointing news."

NHL leading scorer Connor McDavid was also disappointed in knowing he wouldn't be able to represent Canada in 2018.

League Implications

In a summer that holds a much-anticipated expansion draft, players looking toward Olympic participation could opt to play elsewhere during the 2017-18 season.

Igor Esmantovich, president of CSKA Moscow of the KHL, has already stated he will make every effort at bringing Russian players back to the team this offseason with Olympic participation in mind.

Esmantovich was specific, naming Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Alexey Marchenko and Nikita Zaitsev as well as Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko and Philadelphia Flyers forward Roman Lyubimov.

Each of the four players are on expiring NHL contracts; however, there is a rumor of Zaitsev closing in on a seven-year deal with Toronto.

In recent years, notable players have been forced out of the game as teams look to trim salary and bring youth through the system. This could have a dramatic effect on players choosing to move overseas with an eye on competing for their respective country in Pyeongchang.

The Maples Leafs' Leo Komarov already took this route three years ago. He left the organization to play professionally in his native Finland, knowing he would see more playing time as he made an attempt to earn a spot for Team Finland, which he ultimately did.

Related: Finland The 2018 Favorite If NHL Skips Olympics

Don't be surprised to find fringe players leaving the league and choosing Olympic participation over the NHL.

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.
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