NHL’s Olympic Participation Update & More News

NHL’s Uncertain Participation at Olympics

Will the NHL send its players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea? It’s a question that’s been asked since Team Canada celebrated the country’s ninth gold medal in men’s ice hockey at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Carey Price (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)
Carey Price (Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

The topic received even more attention when the NHL and NHLPA put on the 2016 World Cup of Hockey Tournament this summer and looked to be coming to a head when the International Olympic Committee set a Jan. 15 deadline for the league’s decision.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director, weighed in on the issue when the deadline was given for the NHL’s participation at the Olympic Games and it was made public that league officials intended to visit PyeongChang at some point in October.

“We definitely always try to have the participation of the best athletes,” Dubi told the Associated Press, according to a report by The Hockey News on Oct. 7. “It is reassuring that NHL is coming to Pyeongchang and especially look at the operations in Gangneung…Until (Jan. 15) it will be work between all parties involved to make sure that we get the participation of the very best, and that’s for both Pyeongchang and Beijing.”

The league’s hesitation to send its players has revolved around concerns over the IOC’s unwillingness to pay for costs previously covered in past Olympics dating back to 1998 in Nagano. These costs include expenses for player travel, guest accommodations and insurance for player contracts. It was an estimated cost of $14 million in Sochi, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun.

Those concerns haven’t seemed to matter to some NHL players, including the Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin who has publicly stated he will be participating in the Olympics no matter what the NHL decides to do.

Alexander Ovechkin (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)
Alexander Ovechkin (Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Representatives from the NHL, NHLPA and International Ice Hockey Federation visited the site of the 2018 Games in late October, but the trip didn’t accomplish much in the way of the concerns the NHL had leading up to the visit.

“Nothing new on this front … the challenges that we have discussed publicly in the past remain the same,” Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, told ESPN after the visit.

On Wednesday, however, these discussions took an interesting twist during a meeting at NHL headquarters in New York City between league officials, the NHLPA, IIHF, and representatives of USA Hockey and Hockey Canada.

The IIHF has agreed to secure funding for player travel and insurance costs, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, but the NHL and NHLPA appear to be at odds with how player participation will effect the league’s current Collective Bargain Agreement.

IIHF President Rene Fasel spoke briefly after the meeting on Wednesday.

The NHL has reportedly told the NHLPA that the league will allow player participation at the Olympic Games if the players will agree to extend the current CBA by three years, but that term is uncertain, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Wednesday. The current CBA between the league and players expires on Set. 15, 2022, but there is an opt-out clause for both sides in 2020. Importantly, if the league wants to opt-out, they must notify the players’ union by Sept. 19, 2019.

Aside from the costs associated with sending the league’s players to the Olympics, the NHL is also concerned with shutting down the league for a two-week long period during the Olympic Games, as well as the reality of possible injury to players. (Who can forget the season-ending knee injury to New York Islanders captain John Tavares during the 2014 Winter Olympics and how it effected the end of the NHL season for his team?)

Phil Kessel (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Friedman describes the current situation as a poker game between the league and the players and one that has a lot of moving pieces. If the league is able to lock-in an extension on the CBA, they ensure that the league can continue to operate free of a potential lockout, at least for a little while. From the union’s end of things, they would be receiving the opportunity to participate in the Olympics — something that is important to players who have discussed it publicly — but at the same time, agreeing to the high escrow concerns that are the biggest issue they have with the current CBA.

The questions brought about by the decision of whether or not to participate in the Olympics will have potentially long-lasting effects on the NHL and its players, but what will these be? Stay tuned.

Odds and Ends

— The Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-1 on Wednesday, but the most memorable moment of the night came before the puck dropped. After the PA announcer at the Verizon Center introduced the singer for the evening’s National Anthem, it became quickly apparent for fans that his mic was not working. The crowd immediately began to sing the Anthem in union in what can only be described as a truly patriotic moment taking place in the heart of the capital of the United States.

— Rogie Vachon was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night in Toronto, but his exciting week was far from over. The 71-year-old former NHL goaltender had a hole-in-one during a round of golf on Wednesday!

— P.K. Subban released a trailer for a documentary giving viewers an inside look into this offseason for the star defenseman. The film discusses the four-month period in his life this past summer, including being part of one of the most talked about trades in recent league history on June 29. “Skate Past the Noise” premieres on HBO Canada this Friday.

— There are good shots for goals in hockey and then there are shots like the one Calgary Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk took on Arizona Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith for a goal on Wednesday. Have a look!

— Hockey players are often known for being some of the most generous athletes off the ice, whether it be through charitable endeavors or stopping to sign autographs and talk to fans. Coyotes forward Max Domi is known for a lot of off-ice charitable work, but sometimes, even the smallest things on the ice make a difference.