The NHL has until Jan. 15 to decide whether or not they will allow players to participate in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, but Alex Ovechkin has already made up his mind.
Ovechkin declared that no matter what the NHL decides, he will compete in the Olympics. He will go even if the league imposes a ban on players from competing, and though this seems like defiance, it is fair for him to stand up for his right to play for Russia.
Because the NHL and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have been unable to reach an agreement when it comes to travel costs, insurance and other issues, the league may stop players from representing their countries. NHL representatives will travel to Pyeongchang in October to further negotiate.
“I think time is very short to make a decision, and I’m not sure there’s been a lot of progress made in the past six months, and I’m not sure there’s any prospect for progress to be made,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the media. “So on the basis of that, I’d say that I’m more negative today than I was two weeks ago.”
Prioritizing the Players
Despite the issues at hand, the league should in no way stop players from traveling and representing their respective nations. Therefore, it is imperative that they come to a deal so that they can put their players first.
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis made a strong point in support of players participating in the Olympics earlier this week in an interview with Alex Prewitt:
“It’s a players’ league. The fans come to see the players. They don’t come to see me play. But the players have to realize, is it good for the game? Is it growing the game? There’s the risk of injury. They have to weigh all of that. The union has to weigh all of that. The stakes get higher every four years. There’s more revenue. The players get paid more money. It’s a big business. And so I think it’s almost every four years, you have to have that gut check, and the union and the league and the players and the owners, we all have a voice. But to me, the overriding voice is of the players.” – Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis
The most important takeaway from all of this is that the players are the most important part of the game, and their interests should be a priority. Without the players, there would be no teams, and without teams, there would be no league.
Heritage is a big part of the game, and if players want the opportunity to utilize their talents and represent their country in the game they love, no one should stop them.
Benefits Outweigh the Risks
Like Leonsis explained, each Olympic game runs the risk of injury. However, that’s true of every preseason game, every World Cup of Hockey game and every All-Star game, so why are the Olympics not as important over these matches? Every time a player suits up, they could get injured, so that should not be an issue for the union to factor into their decision at all.
Another issue regards the marketing and money the league will make. The ratings will likely not be high in Pyeongchang, and therefore, the NHL will not be effective in marketing the game to South Korea. Though the league could miss out on the 2018 Olympics, they may choose to go to the 2022 Olympics instead, which would likely be held in Beijing, which would be a better market for the NHL.
This should not weigh on the decision either. Again, this is the players’ game, and though the league needs to further expand their horizons to each continent, the Olympics are not all about promotion and business. Sure, at the end of the day, the NHL is partly classified as a business, but it’s not all about money and transactions.
For the Love of the Game
This game is the players’ passion, and if they want to represent their native countries, they should not have to worry about being ambassadors to the game. It should be about playing the game they love for the country they were born in, and that is what the Olympics should be about.
While the league should worry about the business-side of things, it should not eclipse the players’ wishes or the true meaning behind the winter Olympics. The NHL needs to do a better job of putting their players first, and making them a priority.
In Ovechkin’s case, he is making the right choice, and Leonsis will support him no matter what choice he makes.
“…The Olympics are incredibly meaningful to Alex and his family,” Leonsis told Prewitt. “So my commitment to them was, I will always do what’s in Alex’s best interest, and I said it 10 years ago, I’ll say it today: If Alex Ovechkin says this is really important to me to go represent and play for my country, I’m going to support him. What’s the worst that could happen? We’ll get fined or something. I hope it doesn’t get to that. But I’ve got to have my captain’s back, and I will.”
Ovechkin has made his case and will do what is in his best interest, but which players will follow?
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.