By Scott Taylor/Photo courtesy of Hockey Canada
The National Hockey League has issued a statement saying that the league will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
It also said it considers the matter, “Officially closed.”
Here is the NHL’s statement that was released at 3 p.m. Monday:
“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.”
There were many players, especially European players, who had indicated that they wanted to play for their respective countries. And the NHL Players Association wanted to accommodate them. The NHLPA released a strongly-worded response to the NHL’s decision.
“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.”
The NHL has been part of the Winter Olympic program since Nagano, Japan, in 1998. Canada won gold in 2002 in Salt Lake City, 2010 in Vancouver and 2014 in Sochi.
Hockey Canada has been working on a “Plan B” for some time now. It’s likely the players will come from Europe, US Colleges, perhaps one or two from the Canadian Hockey League, U SPORT in Canada and the KHL. In other words, Team Canada 2018 will be sourced from the same place as Team Canada 1994, a team that won the silver medal in Lillehammer, Norway. Hockey Canada President Tom Renney released a statement on the NHL’s decision late in the day:
“Today’s statement by the NHL is not what we were hoping for because, ultimately, we want best-on-best at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games which, for us at Hockey Canada, includes the participation of NHL players.
“This does not change our preparation for the Games – we have developed both a Plan A and a Plan B, and will be ready to move forward. However, for the next month, our priority is the 2017 IIHF World Championship, and we will be ready to advance the required plan following that event.”