Alex Ovechkin told ESPN Thursday that no matter what the NHL decides on the 2018 Olympics, he plans on lacing up for Russia. If the NHL decides not to pause the season for the 2018 Games, he would risk suspension to head to South Korea and play for his country.
He said as much prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but now things look even bleaker for the future of NHL participation in the Games. “My decision is the same,” Ovechkin said. “So, I don’t know what’s going to happen right now, but we just have to wait what they say and we’ll see… It’s a situation where you don’t know what’s going to happen. But obviously I said I’m going to play.”
Puck Daddy quotes Ovechkin wryly saying NHL participation won’t impact his decision. “Maybe I won’t be in the NHL. Maybe I’ll be retired then. We’ll see.”
— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) September 15, 2016
The NHL has been a part of each Olympic Games since Nagano in 1998, two years after the first World Cup. But new IOC leadership has cast doubt on the future of NHL participation because they aren’t interested in footing the bill for NHL participation. Those expenses include travel and insurance, which is very costly.
Gary Bettman said over the summer that the NHL, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC will not discuss the situation again until the winter, which gives the NHL a chance to see how the World Cup goes. There is certainly the perception out there that the league is testing the waters to see if an NHL-sponsored event could replace the Olympics for international competition.
Ovechkin already feels that the World Cup is great for fans, but doesn’t replace the Olympics because of the inability of other countries to play into the tournament. “That’s why you can’t compare it to the Olympic Games,” he said. “You can’t compare those two tournaments. Basically, it’s three North American teams, one Team Europe and then Russian, Czech, Sweden and Finland.”
It begs the question of how the NHL will respond if more star players take a similar stance. Will the loss of star players in the middle of the season for a couple of weeks — plus any suspension time they might serve — deter the NHL from ending their partnership with the Olympics? It could be enough to get owners to change their tune. If Washington was losing Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov for a couple weeks heading toward the trade deadline while other teams aren’t losing players, might ownership feel like they’re better off having the season put on hold for the Games?