All along it’s been clear that NHL players wouldn’t take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and all along, Alexander Ovechkin insisted that he’d play for Russia, no matter what the NHL said. But in a statement released by the Capitals today, Ovechkin admitted that it just won’t be possible.
It’s a long statement, and I like it because I genuinely think he wrote or at least dictated it himself. Here’s part:
I see the news this week and I am very disappointed that IOC, IIHF and NHL put me and all NHL players in this position when some of the best players in world do not have chance to play in the Olympic Games. This is not just about me but all the NHL players who want to play and have a chance to win Gold for their country. Our countries are now not allowed to ask us to play in the Olympics. Me, my teammates and all players who want to go all lose. So do all the fans of hockey with this decision that we are not allowed to be invited. NHL players in the Olympics is good for hockey and good for Olympics. It sucks that will we not be there to play!!
I said every time I was asked since last Olympics that nobody is going to tell me I can’t play because my country was going to be allowed to ask me. Now the IIHF and NHL say my country is not allowed to ask anybody in the NHL to play and there is nothing to talk about anymore. I talk to Ted [Leonsis] about this last year and he support me and have my back and understand what I want to do if I was allowed to be asked to go. Me and my family thank him for his support.
NHL players have taken part in the last five Olympics, so it isn’t as if this is some long tradition. But still, it sucks. Hockey’s my favorite sport to watch at the Winter Games, and the tournament reliably produces memorable moments, from Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver to T.J. Oshie’s shootout prowess in Sochi.
But the thing to remember is that Gary Bettman and the NHL owners aren’t the bad guys here, as much fun as it is to blame them. Puck Daddy has had excellent coverage of why the IOC’s to blame. The IOC demands that the NHL halt its schedule, risk injury to its best players, and receive nothing in return. Even less than nothing: This Olympic cycle, the IOC decided it would stop paying for travel and insurance costs for NHL players taking part in the games.
The NHL has made entirely reasonable requests, such as allowing the league to use Olympic trademarks in its own marketing, or even just to have the NHL listed as an “official sponsor” of the Olympics, but the IOC said no to both. The IOC rakes in money hand over fist, and relies on promises of “exposure,” and of emotional to players’ patriotism, to get what it wants without making any concessions. The NHL is a business, and it’s increasingly bad business to play by the IOC’s rules.
So, no NHL players in Pyeongchang. No AHLers on NHL contracts, either. It’s going to be a lot of young guys you haven’t heard of, and maybe there’s some appeal in that—maybe the Olympics will go back to making stars, instead of reaffirming them. But it’s still a huge bummer (and not just because Russia, where many of the top players are in the KHL, are likely to be prohibitive favorites), and the World Cup of Hockey isn’t a satisfying replacement.