The biggest event on hockey’s international calendar, and one of the biggest events of every winter games, will not happen next year. The news disappoints players, who want to play, and fans, who want them to play. But it makes owners happy! The NHL will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the reason is, of course, money.
The Olympics are less than 11 months away, and the NHL is following through on the threat it’s been making for a long time, so I guess this isn’t a huge surprise. It still really, really sucks, though. (The league leaked the news through Sportsnet, and did so now “so it doesn’t overshadow the playoffs.”)
NHL owners hate disrupting the season for three weeks while the best players head overseas for the games. They hate risking the health of their players, a number of whom regularly suffer injuries. And they really, really hate not being able to make any money off the Olympics.
Participation at Sochi was saved when the IOC agreed to cover the costs of NHL players’ travel and insurance, but the IOC did not make the same offer this time. And the IOC declined the NHL’s demands to pay up in exchange for releasing the players.
As John Shannon reported last month, the NHL tried to negotiate some financial compromise. It asked for the IOC to “buy” a home date or two from each team. Failing that, the league wanted to be named an official Olympic supplier or sponsor, so it could attach and use the world-famous “rings” to its own brand.
That was also rejected.
This exact possibility was why the NHL rebooted the World Cup of Hockey. If you’re gonna have an international tournament with the best players in the sport, might as well make money off of it.
The players, on the other hand, actually care about the Olympics. All that patriotism isn’t just a marketing point to them. But they’re under contract to their NHL teams. Some owners, like the Caps’ Ted Leonsis, has said he’ll release his players to play in Pyeongchang. Others won’t. So you figure Team USA will be mostly college kids, while Team Canada a lot of junior players and European-based pros. Team Russia, with a mostly KHL-based team, are probably the early favorites.
Here’s the NHL’s statement on the decision:
It’s worded kind of oddly there (“this will confirm our intention to proceed with finalizing...”). So maybe this isn’t actually a done deal, but one last, dramatic, public negotiating tactic. We can only hope.